All posts by Brian

Rip DVDs to Video Files Easily with FormatFactory (Windows)

So, you want to rip DVDs to video files on Windows, but you’re not sure where to begin? While there are a ton of guides on the Internet on how to accomplish this task, most of them get complicated really quickly.

In this simple guide, I’m going to show you how to easily rip a DVD to a video file in as few steps as possible. Ready? Let’s get started.

Tools Required

  • A DVD drive for your computer (obviously). If you bought your computer anytime after the year 2000, it probably has one.
  • FormatFactory – FREE media converting software. This is what will do the ripping for us. Version as of this writing – 1.60.
  • DVD43 – FREE decrypting software. Basically, DVD43’s job is to unlock a DVD so that FormatFactory can access it.

Step One – Unlock

First of all, install DVD43. It takes very few brain cells to run DVD43 – the program will sit quietly in your system tray, waiting patiently for a DVD to decrypt. By default the tray icon is yellow (and not so happy).

Once you insert an encrypted DVD, the program will automatically get to work on unlocking it. If successful, the not-so-happy face will turn green (and much more cheery).

Step Two – Start FormatFactory

Next, install and launch FormatFactory. As the name implies, FormatFactory is an all-in-one utility for converting between media types. For our purposes, we’re going to look at the ROM Device\DVD\CD\ISO panel.

Under the ROM Device\DVD\CD\ISO panel, click on the DVD to Video File icon.

Step Three – Configure DVD Ripping Settings

In the DVD to Video window that spawns, there are only a few things you need to do before starting the DVD rip. First of all, select your DVD from the drop-down list at the top. On the left, select the titles/chapters that you want to rip. The video that I’m going to rip is The Big Lebowski (cult classic).

You can choose the format type for your video by clicking the drop-down list under the Output Setting area. The choices are: MP4, AVI, FLV, MPG, VOB, 3GP, WMV, and SWF.

Quality Settings

If you want to alter the video quality settings, click the Quality Setting button.

I recommend sticking with one of the built-in profiles, such as Medium Quality. Of course, you could always choose a Custom profile and alter settings manually.

Subtitles

One of the last steps is to select whether or not you want subtitles included in your video. Under the Output Control area, take a look at the drop-down list next to Subtitle Language.

Select a subtitle language for your video, or just choose None.

You’re almost done. All that’s left is to choose a filename for your video and a location to save it. Under the Output File section, type a name for your video and select an output folder.

When you’re finished, hit the Convert button at the top.

Step Four – Let It Rip

After you hit Convert, FormatFactory will return to the main window and you will see your job lined up in the queue. The final step is to simply hit the Start button to begin processing.

Depending on the speed of your computer and the length of the DVD, the ripping process will likely take hours. Go outside and run around, or maybe do your DVD rips overnight.

That’s it. You’re done. Eject the DVD, and enjoy your new video.

P.S. Need a place to store your new DVD rip online? Give MyBloop a try.

Add Watermarks to Video for Free with MPEG Streamclip

MPEG-Streamclip is a powerful FREE tool for working with video. Not only can it encode/convert between formats, it can also cut, trim, and join movies together. As an added bonus, it can also directly download videos from YouTube and Google Video.

These features alone are enough to make MPEG Streamclip an essential tool for both Windows and Mac users, but the program has another trick up its sleeve: it can also add watermarks to video. I’ll show you how.

Special note for Windows users: MPEG Streamclip requires either Quicktime OR Quicktime Alternative (but not both!). Please see their site for details.

Adding Watermarks

First of all, launch MPEG Streamclip and open the video to which you want to add a watermark. For kicks, I’m going to add a watermark to Jesus and Frosty, the first animated short by Matt and Trey (of Southpark fame).

MPEG Streamclip - Southpark vid

Next, go to the File menu and Export to your desired format.

MPEG Streamclip - File Menu
MPEG Streamclip - File Menu

In the Exporter window that spawns, don’t be intimidated by the multitude of options in front of you. All you need to do is click the Adjustments button near the bottom-right.

MPEG Streamclip - Exporter

Just type the text for the watermark and hit OK. Make any other adjustments to resolution or audio quality that you want, and press Make Movie when you’re finished.

Choose a place to save your newly watermarked video, and voila! Go get a cup of coffee while your video exports.

The watermark will show up near the bottom-right corner of your video. As of this writing, there is no way to alter the position of the watermark.

Demonstration Video

Of course, no article of this nature would be complete without a tutorial video, so here’s a visual guide that walks you through the process of adding watermarks.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

Download MPEG Steamclip (Windows/Mac)

Create Screencasts Easily with Capture Fox (for Firefox)

A while ago I wrote an article on Creating Screencasts on (nearly) Any Operating System. There have been several new developments since I wrote the original article.

One slick program is called Capture Fox. As you might guess from the name, this is a FREE Add-on for Mozilla Firefox (link). Though limited, it allows you to record the action on your screen in two ways:

  1. Record video of just the Firefox window
  2. Record video of the entire screen

There is currently not an option to record a custom-size area of the screen. On the other hand, it does record audio.

Capture Fox is currently available only for Windows XP/Vista/Server 2008.

Video output – AVI

Usage

Capture Fox installs just like any other Firefox Add-on. Once you have restarted Firefox, look under the Tools menu for the Capture Fox option.

To begin capturing video, first bring up the Capture Fox Settings menu (Ctrl+Shift+U). You can also do this by clicking the tiny camera icon in the bottom-right corner of the browser.

Here is the Settings menu:

Once you have chosen your options, hit the Start Capturing button! The video capture will continue in the background until you stop it by pressing the keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+U) or clicking the camera icon again.

You can also easily keep track of how long you’ve been recording by checking the timer next to the camera icon.

As you can see, my screencast-in-progress is currently 21 seconds long. Yay!

When finished, you can save your new screencast to disk, or start over if you screwed up.

Speaking of screencasts, here’s the obligatory demonstration of Capture Fox in action. In the video below, I’m demoing the use of Switcher (Exposé clone for Vista/Server 2008).

(RSS and e-mail subscribers, you may need to click through to see the video.)

Capture Fox appears to only capture about two frames per second, so it isn’t the smoothest screencasting software available. Still, it’s extremely easy to use, and is hard to beat for ease of installation and tiny download size.

Suggestions: of course, I would like to see versions available for Linux and Mac OS X. I would also love the ability to choose a custom-sized record area. Since Capture Fox is still in Beta, these shortcomings may soon become realities.

Download Link

We The People – A Song by TipsFor.us Authors

This is not a political blog by any stretch of the imagination, so consider this off-topic. Since politics have been dominating the news recently, I though I would share a song written and performed by two of your humble TipsFor.us authors.

Title: We The People
Written by Everett Griffiths, additional vocals by Brian Bondari

How can we make this related to technology? Oh, I know! The video was recorded entirely using the built-in webcam on my Apple Macbook.

Thanks for humoring us. Back to our regularly-scheduled technology tips.

Free Antivirus Program Roundup – 10 Months Later

Many moons ago, I surveyed and wrote reviews for most of the free antivirus programs available. I covered ten different programs in detail, and even gave a few recommendations.

Major Updates

Since I wrote those reviews, many changes have occurred. First of all, many of the programs have received major updates. Both AVG and Avast now include protection against spyware, a welcome addition. Avira AntiVir has received a facelift, and PC Tools Free Edition has ascended a couple of versions, though I’m not sure it has added any features.

In the unchanged category, Comodo Antivirus is still slogging along on version 2.0 Beta, though I’m crossing my fingers that version 3 will be released soon, hopefully before the release of Windows 7. BitDefender 10 appears to be collecting virtual dust (their requirements don’t even mention Vista), Blink Personal Edition still remains largely (and unfairly) overlooked, and EAV Antivirus still isn’t worth using.

In what I feel is a great loss, AOL will soon no longer offer a version of McAfee Antivirus. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I received recently:

We are writing to inform you that your subscription to McAfee® VirusScan® Plus — Special edition from AOL will no longer be a complimentary benefit of your Free AOL membership. Your McAfee® software will continue to receive updates and operate normally until your license expires, one year from the date of registration.

Instead of offering a free version, AOL claims that they will offer more advanced security software at a substantial 43% discount. Whoopee. No thanks.

Upcoming Reviews

I’m not finished with my free antivirus reviews. There are at least two more that I have planned. One is an upcoming program that I’ve been watching for months, and another one I just discovered a few weeks ago. Both have a lot of promise, and look forward to testing them.

What am I using?

So, have any of my recommendations changed since last time? Yes.

First of all, I no longer recommend AVG Free Addition. While I still think it is a good product, the Achilles Heel in the free edition is the lack of rootkit detection. See for yourself:

Uh oh.
Uh oh.

Since other free programs DO offer rootkit detection, this glaring omission from AVG is too much to ignore.

I wish that I could recommend the McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Despite its name, I thought it had terrific potential, and I actually used it on my main computer for a few months following my review summary.

The free version of Avira AntiVir remains popular, and I reaffirm my recommendation for it. Based on detection rates alone, AntiVir is a superb product that also includes anti-rootkit support (are you listening, AVG?), but I reserve my recommendation primarily for users who:

  1. Rely on web-based e-mail only. AntiVir (free) does not support POP3/SMTP e-mail.
  2. Rely on a separate anti-spyware program. AntiVir (free) has no anti-spyware support, unlike its paid versions.

If you’re so inclined, don’t forget to deal with the nagging AntiVir popup.

I still think that Blink Personal Edition holds a lot of promise, though you almost never see its name mentioned amongst the main contenders. Perhaps its inherent complexity and level of customization deter people who are mainly looking for an “install and forget” product.

So then, which program is installed on my main machine 10 months after those reviews? None other than Avast Home Edition! The current version – 4.8 – includes anti-spyware and anti-rootkit support, as well as POP3/SMTP e-mail support. It’s simple to use, functions well as an install-and-forget program, and I love how it gets out of your way quickly during a right-click targeted scan. Curiously enough, Avast was the first free antivirus program I ever tried (6 years ago), and to it I have returned.

I’m not saying that Avast Home Edition is the subjective BEST free antivirus program. It just happens to my favorite, and therefore most recommended, for the moment.

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m an idiot? Feel free to tell me in the comments. Oh, and don’t forget to vote in the poll located in the right-sidebar.

FREE CodeWeavers Software – Lame Duck Challenge – October 28 Only!

Important: Tuesday, 28 October 2008 ONLY! Get FREE software from CodeWeavers!

CodeWeavers, corporate backs of the Wine Project and creators of CrossOver products that help run popular Windows programs on Mac OS X and Linux, created a Lame Duck challenge last July to President Bush, asking him to try to affect at least ONE positive change whilst in the last six months of office. The potential goals were:

  1. Reduce the Price of Gas: Gas costs about $3.79 a gallon in the Twin Cities, a full buck more than this time last year. If the average price here drops below $2.79 per gallon, this goal is met.
  2. Reduce the Price of Food: With the rise of fuel prices has come a similar rise in food prices. A gallon of milk is about $5 these days. It was $3.50 a year ago. If the average price of a gallon of milk comes down to $3.50 gallon in the Twin Cities metro, this goal is met.
  3. Create More Jobs: We started the year with 138,002,000 people in the U.S. working non-farm jobs. Since then, total non-farm employment has decreased by 366,000. If so much as a single job can be created this calendar year – meaning if employment can be at least 138,002,001, this goal is met.
  4. Rejuvenate the Housing Market: Median home values in the Twin Cities have fallen 12 percent year over year – from $233,000 to $205,000. If that median returns to $233,000, this goal is met.
  5. Bring Osama Bin-Laden to Justice: Every American would like to see Osama Bin-Laden captured or terminated. We won’t be picky about how President Bush gets him. If it happens, this goal is met.

If at least ONE goal was met, CodeWeavers pledged to make their software available for FREE for 24 hours. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us!), the first goal was met recently. As the CEO admitted in the middle of October:

That morning, I was filling my tank at Big Steve’s Gas Palace in St. Paul,” said Jeremy White, president and CEO of CodeWeavers. “I had just finished my morning corn dog and 64-ounce Dr. Pepper when I looked at the pump and noticed gas was at $2.79. I screamed ‘Woohoo,’ then I yelled ‘Oh, crap!’ as I realized every American can now have my software for free. Kind of upsets my fourth quarter revenue projections…

Therefore, if you want FREE CodeWeavers software, visit their site on 28 October 2008 and you will be given a license code for one free copy. From the above quote, it sounds like this deal is limited to residents of the USA only.

Read the full press release

Stop SPAM with Disposable E-mail Addresses

I think we can all agree that spam is evil. It’s awful. Deplorable. We all hate it, unless you are a spammer. And if you’re a spammer, you deserve swift, repetitive, merciless kicks in the junk.

Though we may never win the war against spam, we can still fight to reduce it. One effective way is to use a disposable e-mail address. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you need to provide a functional e-mail address for a temporary purpose – a web form, online shopping at a random store, posting in forums – but don’t want your e-mail address harvested and spammed to death. All you have to do is use a disposable e-mail address from one of the many services listed below, use it temporarily, and then forget about it! The possibilities, and the number of disposable addresses are endless.

Here are 10 services that you can use, all for FREE.

10 Minute Mail
10 Minute Mail

1. 10 Minute Mail

As the name suggests, 10 Minute Mail gives you a disposable address that’s valid for ten minutes. With a single click, you can automatically generate a temporary e-mail address that allows you to read incoming e-mails, click on links, and even reply!

If you need a few more minutes, you can easily reset the timer back to 10 minutes.

For sheer simplicity and functionality, 10 Minute Mail is one of my favorites.

2. BugMeNot – Email

If you’re a fan of BugMeNot, you’ll be pleased to know that they also offer a disposable e-mail service. The idea is simple: create your own disposable address (does not expire), give it to the potential spammers, and check it anytime by entering it at BugMeNot’s site.

Here’s an example: let’s say you register with a site that needs to send you a verification link. Simply give them any address that ends with bugmenot.com (something_really_random@bugmenot.com). To check it, go to BugMeNot and enter that same address.

Of course, if anyone else enters that same address, they can read your e-mail (see for yourself – look at junk@bugmenot.com), so I recommend creating a unique address with lots of numbers and random characters.

The account is currently limited to reading/clicking links only. Replies and attachments are not supported. Mail is deleted every 24 hours.

3. dodgit

dodgit is similar to BugMeNot in functionality. Pick your own e-mail address (@dodgit.com), give it out freely, and enter that same address at dodgit.com to check it.

Once again, choose a unique address unless you want other people ogling at your junk mail. Mail is deleted every 7 days.

dodgit does not support replying, but does include RSS support for incoming e-mails. Nice.

Make Me The King
Make Me The King

4. Make Me The King

The curiously named “Make Me The King” works the same way as BugMeNot and dodgit – make up your own @makemetheking e-mail address, and check it by entering that same address back on their site.

Unlike the aforementioned sites, Make Me The King supports deleting files manually. RSS support is also included, and while Make Me The King supposedly supports replying, it’s disabled as of this writing.

As always, choose a unique e-mail address.

5. YopMail

YopMail is another service with which you can create your own @yopmail address on the fly and check it by logging in to YopMail. One advantage of YopMail is that they offer many different alternate domains in case someone blocks the main domain.

The YopMail client looks like traditional e-mail software, including the abilities to forward and print e-mail, but sending new e-mail is limited to other YopMail addresses. Replies are not supported.

There’s even a YopMain plugin available for Firefox and Opera, plus an automatic address generator.

6. Mint Email

Mint Email brings elegance to the idea of disposable e-mail addresses. When you visit the site, it automatically generates an e-mail address for you AND copies it to the clipboard. All you have to do is paste it into whatever spam-hole you like. Mint Email will automatically check for new e-mail.

Temporary addresses are valid for four hours. If you like, you can set Mint Email to automatically use your own desired e-mail address every time you visit. Just take a look at the Preferences (relies on cookies).

Replies are not supported.

7. lite drop

With lite drop, you can choose to set your own disposable address or generate one automatically. Addresses are valid for one hour, though you can easily reset the timer if you need more time.

lite drop checks for incoming e-mail automatically, and includes RSS support. Replying and attachments are not supported.

8. Spam.la

For sheer simplicity and starkness, it doesn’t get much easier than Spam.la. ANY e-mail that is sent to ANY @spam.la address is publicly readable on the main page. That’s right, it’s all dumped right into public view.

That said, you can still choose to filter content based on the address that you created. Just be aware that someone else is probably reading it, too.

9. Mailinator

Mailinator is another service that lets you create your own on-the-fly @mailinator disposable address and check it by entering the same name on their site. However, Mailinator allows you to solve a unique problem: by giving someone a disposable address from sites like Mailinator, YopMail, BugMeNot, etc, you are also telling them HOW to check your e-mail, since anyone can go to the corresponding service and enter that address.

Mailinator solves that problem by giving you an alternate e-mail address for every mailbox that you create. Mail sent to the alternate address will be routed to the original. Neat! Read more about alternate inbox names.

10. SneakEmail

SneakEmail is one of the oldest providers of disposable e-mail addresses. Of all the services listed here, SneakEmail is the only one that requires registration. However, the service functions differently from the others. Here’s how it works:

Create an account that links to your regular e-mail address. Once you’re logged in, you can create new SneakEmail addresses to hand out to potential spammers. Mail sent to these disposable address will be routed to your regular e-mail.

The nice thing about SneakEmail is that no one ever sees your true e-mail address. If you reply, it is routed back through the disposable address. Nice! You can also filter, disable, or delete the disposable addresses that you create.

One benefit of SneakEmail is that by creating multiple addresses, you know from what site a spammer got your address.

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Of course, there are more available services than the 10 listed here. Do you have another service that you recommend? Tell me in the comments.

Oh, and just for the record, my favorite services listed here are 10 Minute Mail, Mailinator, and SneakEmail. How about you?