VLC + Handbrake + DVDs = iPod/iPhone video joy

I’m leaving tomorrow on a business trip to Iași. It will be my first trip there in over a year, and a bit longer than my normal trips (a full work week; something I don’t normally do).

Now that I’ve got this iPod touch thing though, and it has injected itself into many aspects of my life, I decided to try to take advantage of its 32GB storage capacity. I have several DVDs sitting around waiting to be watched. Why not watch them on the plane on my iPod tomorrow? But how can I rip the DVDs (something I’ve never done before) to a format my iPod touch can handle?

I downloaded a few trial versions of payware DVD rippers, and they didn’t work so hot (wrinkly distortions in the final product, plus the watermarked logo until you cough up for the software registration). My favorite geek reference site — ISCABBS, a place so geeky you have to use telnet to get in there — came to the rescue with a recommendation to use Handbrake together with VLC. At least on Mac OS X and Linux, having these together on your computer will allow you to rip right from a DVD into an iPod/iPhone compatible format — for free. Handbrake also nicely converts other video formats — apparently pretty much all of them — into a few of the more modern ones, like MP4 via the H.264 codec. I ripped the DVDs (and converted a few other video files I had lying around) in Handbrake and then dragged the converted files from the Finder windown onto my iPod in iTunes.

Works like a champ — love that.

Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter

Late in the workday today, Herr B. stopped by my office (shared with 3 other colleagues) to inquire whether my desk neighbor R. had already left for the day or would be back. It was a little odd; pretty much everyone knows R. starts his workday early so he can leave early too.

“Ist R. noch da?” Herr B. asked me. I pantomimed looking at my watch and with an exaggerated expression, replied “Och nee, R. ist schon längst heimgangen.”

“Und Sie? Sie machen als Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter ruhig weiter, nicht wahr?”

I had to chuckle at that — I’d never heard the term Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter before, but I kinda liked it.

“Na, bin koa Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter. Ich haue jetzt auch gleich ab.”

“Einen schönen Abend und eine gute Besserung wünsche ich Ihnen dann.”

I haven’t had so much as the sniffles in quite a while, so the fact that I’ve caught whatever cold was going around here seems to have raised some eyebrows…once they’re sure it’s not swine flu.

But that started me thinking. What other inventive uses of English words have surprised you in your Daily German Life context?

Oh, and this next question is posed to the readers out there who, like me, came from a “salaried” job in the home country where overtime was like a bad joke and comp time was hard to justify to one where every minute on (and off) the job is counted, overtime carefully measured, and only rarely gets paid out (but more often results in big comp time blocks). Isn’t that weird? I was kind of offended at first (in 2004) when they explained to me how to fill out my monthly timesheet, since I’d not had to do that since leaving my food service and mall jobs, but dang…Considering what I stand to lose (at least in the short term), becoming a true Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter can wait, if you ask me.


Welcome to November!

I’ve been working a lot — seems like my department has become Fire-Fighting Central. I like being the guy who can put out the fires (it’s nice to be needed), but even that gets old fast when everything is on fire. That’s bad for my goal of getting and keeping my accumulated comp-time hours under control, but good for future long-weekend trips, which are bad for getting and keeping my accumulated comp-time hours under control…

As a distraction, we’ve been experimenting a little in the kitchen:

new suitcase…and outside of the kitchen with our vacation photos. While making new friends at the WEBMU in Bremen in September, one of them handed us a neat little card with his contact info. It was about half the size of normal business card (by American dimensions — standard business cards here are a little different, just like Letter vs. A4) and had a photo on the front and his contact details on the back. I thought that was so slick. I visited MOO.com and got a set of our own printed minicards for 13,79 € and a nifty little holder for another few Euros. The best part: you don’t have to re-upload those photos if they’re already hosted on flickr. Ordering those, and a set of postcards also based on our flickr photostream was a snap, and they turned out great. So I’m vouching for MOO.com. I like that the Europe-based orders get shipped from the U.K.

Using QOOP was just about as easy — they offer the same kind of behind-the-scenes link to flickr.com. Their focus seems to be not just printing your stuff, but also allowing others to print your stuff (if you like) for fun and profit. I went to them because they offered custom luggage tags, and having recently bought a new suitcase without an integrated luggage tag, I wanted something eye-catching and MINE. Paid too much for it, if you ask me ($9.95 + $6 shipping!). But it looks pretty cool and seems durable. Oh yeah, and if you’re a cutting-edge surfer and using the Google Chrome browser, designing your photo products won’t work…stick with Firefox or MSIE (boo!) I guess.

off again

I’ve been back from Ireland for three whole days, and now it’s time to head out again. Tomorrow morning I’m headed to Romania on business, but not to my usual destination of Iaşi. This time my Iaşi team members are meeting me in Sibiu for two days, where we will get to know some new colleagues doing similar work, to explore our similarities and differences and try to make a proposal for future collaboration.

Then, I’m off to Timişoara for two days to soak up some knowledge from two kinds of experts — one German and one Romanian — before returning home to Germany on Thursday evening. But that’s not all; I’m in Nürnberg for the day on Friday, so it’ll be a full (work-)week on the road.

Here’s how it looks:

Größere Kartenansicht

calm, assertive, rolling awesomeness

Thanks to Tammy and Matthias, we’re watching Season 2 of The Dog Whisperer. In one episode, they showed more of Cesar Millan’s sweet wheels — the ones attached to his feet.

They’re called LandRollers and they look really, really cool. I could totally see myself using something like these to get to and from work as a way to change it up from my daily bike ride (which I’ll miss while I’m in Iasi May 5-10) or to get more of a workout on the way to work. My bike rides are all-naturally powered by Yours Truly of course, but they’re about 17 minutes on average — not long enough for an aerobic benefit. I suspect the cobblestones surrounding our building would be too much for them, but once I can get out to the sidewalks on Obermünsterstraße or the flat pavers on Neupfarrplatz, it should be smooth sailing from there.

I’m already known for riding my bike to/from work in all kinds of weather; cruising in on a pair of these shouldn’t be that much of a switcheroo. And besides, that’s by far not the weirdest dude in the office. A certain Dr. S. is known for zooming from office to office on our floor on his kick scooter and even wore his Darth Vader mask all day in the office on his birthday.

I’m a size 11½ should anyone feel like donating a pair to me.

Größere Kartenansicht

not dead, just busy

It’s been like 10 days since either of us has last posted. You might be wondering, “Are they in a Banana Bread coma?”

Nope, but we have been busy. Here’s what we’ve been doing:

  • Sarah took a 3-day road trip to Frankfurt with our pal Andrea.
  • I have been to Nuremberg twice and Frankfurt once for one-day busines trips.
  • We have been to IKEA twice in person, and once by proxy (thanks a lot Natasha and Tommy for the delivery service).
  • As a result of that, we’ve been exercising all those muscles necessary for lugging big flat packages up narrow staircases and cranking hex-head screws into wood with allen wrenches.

<rant>Allergic to Microsoft?  Yeah, fine.  I get that.  But why Notes for Pete's sake?Most recently, I’ve been struggling with Lotus Notes as a result of being bought & sold last year. Other acquired units in the new parent company who were forced out of Exchange/Outlook years ago have advised us to just stop resisting and just accept it. They’ve also said,

“Notes is really powerful with regard to embedding workflows and distributed collaboration. Cliff, you like to tinker, right? You could do a lot within the Notes platform.”

It’s true, I do, but I’d prefer to be able to hit the ground running, and that’s not going well. I am severely missing my — or even any — keyboard shortcuts.

They don’t even have to make sense or be compatible with Windows de facto standards (ctrl-n does a new <anything>, ctrl-s saves the current <anything>, et cetera). Just don’t make me use the freakin’ mouse please! Alas, there really is no keyboard shortcut for replying to a message in Notes* — I have to select the “reply” button on the screen in order to reply to a message; something that every other email program I’ve ever used (Outlook, Outlook Express, Mail.app (on the Mac), Mozilla Thunderbird, Eudora, and even Gmail) has made more accessible with a keyboard shortcut.

Those who have asked me for computery help of any kind have undoubtedly been annoyed by my “helpful” suggestions to “just hit tab twice, then press shift-ctrl-[whatever], and it’s a lot faster.” Your eye-rolling does not go un-noticed, as you ignore me and pore over your screens, looking for something to click on. And while you’re doing that, I’ve already deleted three emails and started composing a reply to another one with an embedded screenshot showing you how you could have done it faster.

Prior to the big switcheroo from Exchange/Outlook to Domino/Notes, I did some googley research and found a plethora of Lotus Notes hate speech sites. From those I got an idea of what awaited me on the morning after the mailbox conversion. They weren’t wrong; Notes is a disaster for people like me.</rant>

the irony just kills me — but not my work ethic

Today starts my vacation! I’m not officially working again until March 31st.

This vacation isn’t voluntary (unlike the involuntary vacation I got in 5th grade… but that’s quite another story). I have to use up 5 more days of vacation left over from last year, or else I actually get paid less. And I’m not allowed to accrue more than 200 hours of overtime (actually, at 150 hours accrued, alarm bells are supposed to rouse us out of our slumber meetings and inspire us, together with our management, to develop a short-term overtime reduction plan). And I’m not allowed to average more than 180 hours worked per month on a quarterly basis (I’m fudging the numbers here a bit, because the HR coordinator in our department read me the riot act and then gave me the 13-page “work time law” on paper for my reading pleasure , but it’s something like that). What’s the big deal? I’m risking my bosses’ status as free men.

Wie bitte? This is about as weird as not being allowed to call Dr. Tammy “Frau Doktor”, which I very much enjoy.

If I work too much, cause some kind of accident (or maybe go postal), guess who gets in trouble? Well, practically, of course, I do (not to mention Sarah). But also the guy signing my time sheets.

This of course is not good for the company; it is unacceptable for people whose titles include the terms “Vice President” to be open to prosecution like that. So I’m taking pretty much the rest of this month off (with thanks to the Easter holidays as well). And it’ll be tough, but it’s better for the company if I just don’t work on Fridays during the month of April.

it’s 3:15 a.m. — do you know where your immune system is?

I’m really getting tired of work kicking my butt all over the place. Fortunately, it would appear that my massive overtime accumulation has attracted some attention — for better or for worse — and my boss is starting to realize just in how many different directions my choke chain gets yanked.

Unfortunately, working like a dog since…well, late December, I guess (by German standards at least) appears to have taken its toll on my immune system. All winter I haven’t even had a case of the sniffles, but these past two days something has gotten into me, and I don’t mean inspiration.

Vitamin C BombePrimary counter-measure: chug as much of the „Vitamin–C-Bombe“ as possible. We normally drink this (and other juices) as a Schorle, but lately we’ve both fallen off the wagon. Perhaps this is showing itself in my cold. Either way, when my lungs start rattling or that scratchy feeling in the back of my throat comes around, I go full-strength on this stuff at work, drinking it hot with a cinnamon stick or two in it. Half the fun is watching Germans watch me prepare it. Today (yesterday really) a secretary asked me, “Whoa — you can tolerate that undiluted? Stomach-wise, I mean?”

Well yeah; it’s just apple juice with acerola in it for the Vitamin C boost. What really gets them is my one gloved hand and giant cappucino mug coming down the hall out of our Teeküche. I need it hot, but I can’t carry it with bare skin at the necessary temperature.

solvin' your mucus since 1978!I’m also taking some Hustensaft (aside: Cough juice? At first that seemed totally oddball to me until I thought about what kind of pancakes would go with cough syrup) called “Mucosolvan“. It seems to be working. After crashing out this evening immediately upon arrival, I woke up coughing a couple of hours ago.

And now I’m hungry.

Political and Environmental Impact of Just Getting Around

I’ve been thinking about some stuff on the way to Frankfurt. I’m listening to “When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden,” an audio book by comedian Bill Maher. I’ll wager the guy makes some serious sense to you, no matter on which side of the aisle you feel more at home in Congress. Check it out.

Here are some points he makes on the first disc that hit home with me this morning:

  • Americans since WWII treat gasoline as if it were a life-sustaining element like air or water.
  • We throw a tantrum whenever even a small price increase happens on things for whch we already have a pretty good price (compared to the rest of the world) — he names postage as an example alongside the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • Our standards are illogical. We get upset when we have to pay $2 a gallon to go 10 miles in “the Couchmobile” but tip the valet dude $5 for him to go 10 feet.
  • Conservation is the only short-term option, but it would help a lot. Overall fuel efficiency improvements to the tune of less than 3 mpg would completely eliminate our dependency on oil from the Persian Gulf.
  • What’s up with our car culture? He attributes this to Americans, but from my perspective it’s alive and well here in Germany as well. Why must every new car model be billed “a totally new driving experience?”

    “A totally new driving experience would be a car with wings. Otherwise everything is still basically a Chevy.”

    “Wouldn’t it be great to go to a PTA meeting in a TANK?”

  • Whose agenda are we really serving?

    “Being slaves to cheap oil has corrupted our politics, threatened our environment and funded our enemies and had us doing the dirty work for a lot of royalist dirtbags in the Middle East for a long time.”

This morning before getting on the train, I realized I’ve been traveling so much lately, a frequent-rider card for me would make sense for the company as well. Below are all the trips I have or will have taken by car or train that would have been conceivable by train and taxi in basically the last four months:

October 31: Frankfurt
November 2: Frankfurt
November 8: Frankfurt
November 9: Frankfurt
November 16: Frankfurt (except that I was out that week due to my gall bladder removal)
November 27: Würzburg (overnight stay)
November 28: Frankfurt
[Not sure what travel would have been required of me if I’d not been on vacation until December 18th]
December 19: Nuremberg
January 11: Ingolstadt
January 22: Nuremberg (workshop, overnight stay)
January 23: Nuremberg
January 25: Ingolstadt
February 1: Frankfurt
February 11: Nuremberg (except it got cancelled because someone got sick)
February 15: Frankfurt
February 25: Frankfurt

To be sure, I’ve got a lot of inter-regional travel going on here. I’ve had to miss at least one meeting in Hanover, too (I think I was on vacation or perhaps out during my surgery).

There’s a lot happening via various teleconferencing solutions. Those can be tricky when you’re network-hopping — which I will be doing a lot while network infrastructure issues as a result of the sale of my company from one corporate parent to another are sorted out. And where possible members on our team carpool on business trips. But even carpooling still means someone has to drive, and after a couple of road trips to and from Frankfurt up and down the A3 on Friday afternoons, you learn quickly: driving under those conditions is neither pleasant nor productive. At the smallest level, I’m the only person on my little team in Germany, and I’m the only person related to Purchasing Systems in Regensburg, so I am often traveling by myself. And let’s not forget: the train doesn’t drop you off at the office doorstep. You still have to get from a Hauptbahnhof to the office park or local HQ from the train station somehow. That usually means taking a taxi (not exactly cheap) in addition to the cost of the train ticket (even if it’s reduced by the frequent-rider card). From what I’ve heard, public transportation (bus, subway, or tram) to/from the train station at any of these office I’ll be visiting regularly is really only viable in Regensburg.

So, I’ve decided to ask my company to spring for a BahnCard 50 or at least 25 for me. I don’t really expect the number of road trips to be sustained over the next phase of our integration into the new corporate structure, but despite carpooling and virtual conferencing, I see more travel ahead for me. Our team assistant says 6 trips to Frankfurt and back per year are required before a BahnCard 50 pays for itself. I really should have asked for one of those right up front. But I don’t expect to stop traveling to these other locations altogether over the next year. And over the past 4 years here in Regensburg, along with repeated trips back to North America just to remind me, I’ve learned something important:

View from up in the village of Saint MayI like driving for pleasure on little country roads through places like Provence or Oberammergau or Brenner, but not really very much anywhere else. Anywhere else, it’s loud, a little scary, and generally stressier than I’d like to be.

rainstorm on the waySo here’s to improved emphasis on mass-transit. I can’t honestly say I moved to Germany to get away from driving my truck (and I do miss my Dad’s truck), but I can definitely say it’s one of the factors keeping me here.

last work day before the cruise

Yesterday was a weird day.

I think in a lot of workplaces, people tend to cut loose on Fridays. Our company is undergoing a lot of changes, not the least of which are happening in our department and location. We used to be the headquarters and I always thought that was the place with the safest jobs. But that can be fatal when you get bought.

I think it was healthy for us to blow off some steam.

Kerstin3 Cliff8 Simone4

Yesterday was also a particularly yummy day.

We were graciously invited by Christina and Rainer out to their house for dinner. I had hinted pretty strongly during the planning phase that I wanted her to make Green Mango Salad. I almost felt guilty about that until it (a) she enlisted me in the preparation and (b) we sat down to eat it.

It is amazing (Tammy: I’m gloating at you. Oh, how was the Dult?). It’s like energy waves from the four dimensions of taste have intersected in my mouth:

– sweet (julienned mangoes*)
– sour (lime juice)
– spicy (thai chilis)

Oh, and Christina left the cherry tomatoes whole, so I could pick them out quite easily. This stuff also makes a great leftover-breakfast. We also had Son-In-Law Eggs and Penang Curry. I’m trying to put pressure on Christina to post the recipe for the Penang Curry, but it will be difficult while I’m lounging on deck chairs and grazing the shipboard buffet, etc. But I promise I’ll try.

Here are some shots from the meal:

P9071332 P9071337 P9071330