Backup Your DVDs and a Contest!

How often have you wanted to take a DVD that you own and move the contents to your laptop, iPod, iPad or, shudder, Android phone to take on a trip. Or maybe you just want to make a backup copy of that DVD for when the original gets lost or scratched. Well there are a number of tools to let you do so, but I was recently given the opportunity to try out one of the easiest. Daniusoft DVD Ripper

Daniusoft DVD Ripper for Windows and DVD Ripper for Mac OS X are basically the same program, just for the different platforms. DVD Ripper not only allows you to extract whatever movie it may be on your DVD, but will also convert it into MP4, AVI, WMV, MOV, FLV, MPEG or other formats for playback on almost any device. Additionally, you can use DVD Ripper to extract just the audio from a DVD and save that out to MP3, WMA, WAV, M4A, AAC, OGG or AC3 formats. In other words, there are an abundance of options for how to save out the files.

And that is why I said this is one of the easiest tools. DVD Ripper comes with many presets already established so that you don’t have to know the video size, frame-rate, or format of the output you want. Simply select your target device and DVD Ripper will take care of all of this for you. While not as fast in the copying process as some of the other products I have tried, such a the freeware HandBrake or MacTheRipper for the Mac, the pure ease of use wins hands down. Additionally, since DVD Ripper is developed by a commercial entity I would hope that they will keep up with technology. Unfortunately many free products, such as those I mentioned, have been left to languish with no updates. This sometimes makes those products finicky to use on newer operating systems or with new hardware. I have had no such problems at all with Daniusoft’s DVD Ripper.
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A Mindmapping Software Win

I wanted to take a moment to thank David Allen of the Mac 20 Questions podcast. First, of course, I would like to thank David for an informative podcast. Not a show goes by that I don’t learn something new or pick up a new tip. If you are looking for a source from interesting and practical Mac and iOS info, give the Mac 20 Questions podcast a listen.

Michael Carnell Mind MapBeyond that I would like to that David for his recent contest and my win of the superb mindmapping software MindNode Pro for Mac OS X and its counterpart product MindNode Touch for the iPad. Both of these software packages were provided to David by Markus Müller – the developer.

I had been using the free version of MindNode for a few months, but was thrilled to be given the opportunity to use the Pro version as well. Among other features, the Pro version adds such things as embedded hyperlinks, wi-fi sharing of the mind maps to the Touch version and enhanced printing. I find Markus’s software intuitive, easy to use, and of the highest quality. That goes for the free version too, so you should definitely give it a try.

Mind mapping isn’t for everyone, but I started using the process recently to map out website designs, the flow of training presentations, and even the features of software development. Not only has this helped me visualize my own tasks, but I am then better equipped to explain those tasks to my clients and partners. For a lot of people, the graphical representation of a mind map conveys a great deal more information than a simple outline or flowchart.

The Mind Node products are all designed for the Apple platforms of Mac OS X and iOS, but there is plenty of software out there for the Windows user as well. Additionally FreeMind is written Java so there are version of it for many different platforms and MindMeister is web-based. And don’t forget, you can also do mind mapping with a simple pencil and piece of paper.

If you are doing any mind mapping, either paper or software, I would love to hear your experience. I am a newbie at the practice so am very open to any tips or tricks. And if you have a favorite program for creating mind maps, would welcome a review of it too.

Handy Utilities

Presented here for your approval are a few handy free web-based utilities that will help with some bothersome tasks. None of these utilities is complicated or difficult to use. They are also probably not something you are going to use every day. But, when you need the service they have to offer, you usually need it badly and quickly!

Web UtiltitiesThe first is CometDocs which will convert documents from one format to another. The most powerful conversion in my book is the conversion of PDF files to Word or text documents. Not only does this make all those frustrating read-only files editable, but it maintains the formatting and is far less prone to error than OCR. I have tried this conversion on multiple documents and have had consistent success. Beyond converting PDFs, CometDocs can transfer between all sorts of Office and Graphics files. The utility is quite easy to use in that after the free sign up, all you do is upload the file to the service and it is email back to you.

Another on-line utility that I use all the time is WordOff. When you generate html files for a website with Microsoft Word, Word puts tons of extra code in the document that not only bloats the file, but can also mess up the formatting. WordOff just strips all that extra Microsoft Formatting out. Just the kind of utility I like – a one trick pony that does that trick to perfection.

Finally, a service called DialMyCalls is excellent if you need to keep groups of people updated by phone on news, events, or statuses. After signing up, you can record short phone messages of up to 30 seconds and the service will then broadcast that message out to the list of phone numbers you establish. DialMyCalls is free for one message per day to up to 25 people. That would roughly cover a small office or youth soccer team. If you need more people or messages, you can sign up for the pay service at rates of 7 cents per call or less. A great time saver if you have lots of calls to make and also don’t want to get caught talking to lots of people because you have work to do!

So there you have some useful tools that can help solve that one particular problem you might be having. Bookmark them and store them away under “Web Tools” and just pull them out of the toolbox when needed. And don’t forget about DropBox for online file storage and sychronization and Mozy for backups. All free, and all great.

Tools for Twitter – Part 1

Twitter is great. I love it. It is fun, it is informative, and it can get out of control fast. If you are using this great social media party-line, then sooner or later you will start to wonder how to gain control of what is going on there. While there are lots of excellent applications for actually using Twitter from your desktop, such Twhirl and TweetDeek which are Adobe Air cross-platform applications, what I am looking at here are three web-based tools that will help you actually manage your friends and followers.

Twit Who?The first tool we come to is actually called “Friend of Follow”. This site will show you a simple but visually appealing tabbed overview of those people who you are following but who are not following you back, those who are following you but that you don’t follow, and those that are both followed and following. While the display is nice, and by mousing over each user you can get some basic information, Friend or Follow doesn’t really provide enough information for my to find it to useful for most uses. What I do find useful sometimes is that I can put the people listed in order by location or number of followers. This is perfect for when I want to know if there are people local to my area I’m not following.

Next up is “MyCleener”. Ever wondering which of your friends are deadbeats? Or which of your friends just isn’t keeping up? MyCleener will pull the list of people you are following and then put then in order by the last time they tweeted. I was actually surprised to find out that one of the people I was following hadn’t tweeted in over a year. While technically there is nothing wrong with following someone who doesn’t tweet often, it does inflate your following to followers ratio. And many people, myself included, use that ration as a kind of rule of thumb to your legitimacy.
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Mindless backups

We all know we should be backing up our computers. We also all know we should exercise more, eat more leafy green vegetables, and spend more quality time with our families.  Well, I can’t help you with the lifestyle choices, but I can give you a way to make doing your backups as painless as possible.

What is my secret painless backup method? One word, Mozy. Mozy is a remote backup service that works on Windows or Mac. Basically it backs up your data to the cloud. Yes, the famous Internet cloud we all keep hearing about. The software is a quick download and is simple to install and setup. And here is a real cool thing – it is free for up to two gigs of data. Yup, if you are just going to backup a subset of your files, it is free! And if you want to backup more or even all of you data, it is only about $5 per month for as much space as you need.

Back The F: Up!There are both pro and home versions of the Mozy software, so if you are looking at backing up an office environment they have you covered. And, heaven forbid, if you ever need to do a restore you can do it over the Internet to the same machine or to a different machine. If you have backed up a huge amount of data they can even just send you a physical copy of the data instead of having to download it all.

I’ll tell you the truth. I use Mozy because it works and it is kind of just a “set it and forget it” solution. I don’t have to swap tapes. I don’t have to worry about taking something off-site, and I don’t have to fear that the backup media or disks might get stolen and compromised. Everything is stored securely far away from here so I just let it run.

Again, there is a totally free version for up to 2 gig of storage, meaning there is no reason not to try it. So please, backup your files. If you don’t use this, use something. There is absolutely nothing worse than losing your work, your taxes, your financial records, or your prized family photos and knowing that you could have prevented the loss.

Oh, and if you want help with all those other lifestyle issues… check out ZenHabits.