Several free programs for ripping and burning movies and CDs

As many of you know, I’ve Gone Legal with my digital content. But some things aren’t easily attainable. Say, for instance, you wanted the entire series of Space Above and Beyond – it’s just not out there digitally, not that I’ve found anyway. But you can rip your own! So today I’m just going to provide you a few names of programs that I’ve used in the past. You’ll have to figure out how to use them. But the good news is, most of them make it fairly simple, and in the coming weeks I may post a guide or two for some of them. But today? Just the need-to-know information.

Before we begin: KNOW YOUR TERMINOLOGY. To rip something is to make digital copy from the source media. i.e. making a DivX/Xvid AVI file from a DVD, or an MP3 from a CD. If you want to simply make a copy, or duplicate a DVD or a CD, you typically do not need to rip the contents first.

Decrypting a DVD / splitting up episodes of a TV series: DVD Shrink (I don’t know if the current program at DVDShrink.org is affiliated with this classic, so I still grab the freeware edition from Afterdawn).

Ripping a DVD Movie to an AVI file: Once the decrypted files are on your drive, point AutoGK to them, specify an output file size, and let AutoGK or Auto Gordian Knot do the rest. Geek info: from my days on the download scene, I can tell you that “the people on the internet” have worked around the limitations of their media and come up with, basically, standards, for ripping your content. Target file size of an average ~90 minute movie should be between 700MB and 1.5GB, depending on the desired quality. An average 30 minute episode of a TV show is around 175MB (4:3). This of course increases slightly for “widescreen” 16:9 TV shows. These are rules of thumb, not hard and fast rules – play around to find what quality works best for you.

One click DVD & BluRay ripping to MKV file: Handbrake gets a lot of talk around the web. I didn’t like it in the past, but I recently gave it another shot and like it more than I used to. It takes a lot of the work out of the combination of programs above, like using DVD Shrink then AutoGK. Rumors are Handbrake works with BluRay, though I haven’t tried it, yet, myself. I plan to give it a shot in the very near future.

Convert an AVI to a DVD ISO: If you have a movie you ripped, and you want to burn it as a playable DVD, you’ll need to start with AVI2DVD.

Burn any ISO to a DVD: once you have an ISO file, you’ll need to burn it to a disc. Whether it’s a CD, DVD, VCD, whatever, let IMGBurn take the guess work out and burn the DVD for you. Quick, simple, free. It’s one of the first applications I install on any new computer.

Rip MP3s from a CD: Yeah, iTunes made it popular, but CDex was there first… and it’s still a go-to, for me, because it has all of the features I need, and allows for much more customization.

Burn MP3s to a Music CD: InfraRecorder can do that for you. It can also burn an ISO, make a VCD, or just clone from disc-to-disc.

Decrypt a BluRay movie: The only paid-app on my list is one that has been working hard for years. While I do like their entire suite of software, you can get by using most of the freeware I’ve listed above. But the one tool you need is AnyDVD HD. I don’t know how they make their software, but there are frequent updates, and they keep it legal by keeping it out of the US. It’s a questionable product by some people’s standards of legality, but a must if you’re ripping your own content, and well worth the investment, as it does seem that SlySoft is going to be around for a while, still.

How to accept a friend request in Skype for Windows 8

The other day someone asked me how to accept a new contact request in Skype for Windows 8. I remember struggling with this, and remembered the final answer was really stupid, but I was stumped. Ready for the answer? It was painfully obvious once I realized what my eyes were glossing over. Look above. In the 2nd column, on the first screen you see, you will see your recent activity. What’s there? Oh, look, a friend request. Wow, it really is that simple.

People still ask what if it does not show in your Recent Activity on the main page? Simple – right click! Or, if you’re using a touch screen, swipe down from the top. A menu will drop down from the top of the screen. There you can scroll side to side through your recent items until you find the friend request you’re looking to accept.

Good luck out there, everyone!

Force your Windows Phone 7.8 update – worked on my HTC Arrive

So, it’s not an app, but I did want to share with everyone this week how I got my Windows Phone upgraded to 7.8. As Windows Phone fans have no doubt heard, Windows Phone 7.8 has been out for a while. There was a lot of worry that certain phones, including my handset (the HTC Arrive on Sprint), would not be receiving the update. Luckily, there is a process that can be followed to upgrade your phone to Windows Phone 7.8, and it doesn’t involve any sort of “hacking” or modding, or HSPL unlocking, or anything like that. Plug your phone in to your computer, run a program, and wait. It’s that simple.

I first found This article on WindowsPhoneHacker that describes the process. Once you download the executable and plugin your phone, it will tell you if you require any missing files (I was missing them!). Once again, it’s a small download – extract the zip file as it tells you and then run again. You will see the phone download, flash an update, and reboot – continuously. Each time, your phone will indicate that the update is complete, but don’t worry, it isn’t the final update. Don’t unplug or touch the phone. It took my phone almost two hours of the same cycle. For a while I began to worry that my phone may be stuck in a loop, but if you’re fast enough, you can actually see that the build number is changing with each reboot. Eventually, it will pop up a message on your computer telling you that the updates are 100% complete. You will know when you’re getting close because your 7.5/Mango boot screen will change from a red logo to a blue logo.

I could’ve waited, or tried more Zune trickery, but I was having all kinds of problems with my update process, and having the option to just start this process and walk away for a bit was a great help. For anyone wondering if the SevenEighter method works, it does and I encourage you to give it a shot. If the download links in the article I link to no longer work, please post a comment below and I’ll upload them here, as I have kept a copy. I typically don’t like to link to other articles without providing instructions here, just in case the article ever disappears, but I don’t want to take credit for this one, it was all WindowsPhoneHacker!

Where are my regular Desktop programs Windows 8?

So you’re in the Windows 8 “Desktop Mode” – because the Start Screen just doesn’t feel right. You installed a few programs, but with no Start Menu – you can’t find them! Sure you can try to browse using Windows Explorer and find you way in to program files, but that’s just not what you want to do. So where are the desktop programs?

Well, good and bad news. The good news is they’re easy to find – the bad news? They’re in the new Start Screen. Go ahead, put your mouse down in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, or press the “Windows Key” on your keyboard, and scroll all the way to the right. There are probably several small, not exciting icons. Those are your Windows desktop applications. “Apps” you install from the Windows 8 App Store get live tiles, and are different sizes and more bright and vibrant. Most normal applications that would put a shortcut in the Start Menu are going to also create an icon here. If it doesn’t? You’re not out of luck.

If you have the Start Screen open, just start typing the name of the program! You can also move the mouse to the right side of the screen or press “Windows Key + C” to bring up the “Charms” bar and begin searching. As you can see in my screenshot above, I installed a program called Handbrake – and in order to find it in the Start Screen, I just started to type – and sure enough it showed up in my list of “Apps.” The same goes for my installation of Office 2010 programs, and other applications like Steam and games installed like Half-Life!

If you’re looking for something like how to pick and choose your Windows Updates, you can search for Windows Update, then click Settings on the right side of the screen and then click on the icon to Install Optional Updates.