Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Month Without Posting

I didn’t write a single blog post during the entire month of December – an unusual and troubling lapse. It’s not that I didn’t have ideas, because I have those all the time. Usually, I ruminate on them for a day or two and then start writing when I have a spare hour or so. It’s the hours that have been lacking.

It all started when we rearranged the furniture in one room of our house. Let me rephrase that: It all started when I rearranged the furniture in one room of my house while my wife supervised. In the process, I had to empty a bookcase. Two shelves of the bookcase contained commercial VHS videotapes that my daughter had watched when she was little. Most were produced by a giant entertainment conglomerate associated with a cartoon mouse.

We deposited most of them in the Goodwill box, but about a half a dozen tapes were designated as my daughter’s favorites. My wife, realizing that VHS tapes were prone to disintegration over time, asked me if I could find those titles on DVD. I was surprised to discover that the giant entertainment conglomerate is hoarding their back catalog, releasing titles on DVD only when it suits them. This probably has something to do with annual earnings, but I suspect that the creative well has run very dry and it’s the only way they have left to make real money.

So my wife asked if there was any way to copy them onto DVD, which would enable my daughter to watch them with her own children someday without fear of destroying the tapes. I did a little research and discovered an inexpensive device that converts analog VHS signals to digital files that can then be burned onto DVD fairly easily.

We were down to one VCR in the house, which I moved to my computer room and hooked everything up. I was unprepared for what happened next. My wife walked in with a gigantic armload of the videotapes we had taken of my daughter during the first 10 years of her life. She dumped them on the desk and said, “Copy these, too.”

For those of you unfamiliar with this process, there are several steps. The first step is to digitize the videotape, which is a real-time process. In other words, ten 6-hour videotapes will take 60 hours to digitize. Each file is hundreds of megabytes in size. You have to take each file, cut it up into DVD-size chunks, add a DVD menu with chapter divisions, and burn the DVD. I’ve done over 40 of them in the past month.

They include videos of the pregnancy, the birth, first steps, first birthday, first pony ride, first roller skates – you get the idea. She’s an only child and we had a video camera and lots of time. Mixed in with all of the usual nonsense are some genuinely adorable moments. I’m sure every parent probably feels the same way about their kid, and has hours and hours of shaky, blurry videos, so I’m not going to post any clips here, even though I’ve invested a month of my life making them.

If you have any videotapes you want to digitize, drop me a line and I’ll tell you what to buy. But don’t ask me to do it for you, because once this project is finished, I’m going to smash this little box with a sledgehammer.

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