Tag Archives: This American Life

The Pros and Cons of the Serial Narrative

For the last month I’ve been addicted to Serial, the This American Life podcast spin-off covering one story from week to week. The first story is the case of a murder that happened fifteen years ago and the case for and against the man convicted of the the crime. Each week we’re treated to an in-depth analysis of some aspect of the crime, from high-school relationships, to the layout of the park where the victim was buried, to recreating the route of the prosecution’s timeline.

This episode marked the halfway point for the season and in some ways it feels like we have enough to have formed some kind of an opinion as to whether or not Adnan Syed (our supposed killer) is guilty or innocent and what it would mean if he was either. My own opinion is mixed along the lines of whether he should have been convicted based on the evidence and whether he actually did it.

I trust the This American Life people to tell me a good story, and on that they have delivered, even if it is likely to be as unresolved as many of those Dateline true crime specials. It’s definitely interesting as someone who writes mysteries to realize how mushy real-life cases can be: conflicting accounts, evidence that could mean one thing or another, evolving understandings of the validity of technology as evidence, etc.

But the week-to-week format is getting a little frustrating. With a deep focus on one aspect in every 30-45min episode it can often feel like we’ve only added one or two pieces of information to our appraisal of the case. It still feels that there’s a lot being held back, even after this latest episode that tries to lay out all the reasons why the killer looks guilty. If anything it’s giving us a sense of the way a real investigation would work, you spend a lot of time learning one or two pieces of information, and then you have to figure out how that fits into the building narrative you’ve made of the case.

And Sarah Koenig, our journalistic host and guide through this whole tale, is a bit of an unreliable narrator. Not in the sense that I believe she’s lying to us at any point. She actually lays her vulnerabilities bare in each episode, her shifting opinions, her uncertainty, areas she pursued that don’t play out. One thing in particular that struck me in this last episode were some awkward conversations with Adnan with some long silences that other people might have edited out. These give the listener a sense for the true flow of the conversation and how some statements or questions can stop and make you think.

Probably I’m most frustrated that I don’t just have this whole thing to listen to now. If this were an audiobook it would be like missing the last six disks of the story. But since the episodes are being produced as the show airs, I’ll have to wait patiently each Thursday for a new bite. And I’m also trying to resist the temptation to listen to each episode before I can bring it home for the little red haired girl, who has been listening along with me. In the meantime I’ve been listening to each episode repeatedly trying to absorb every detail (even to the point of e-mailing the show with a question about cell phone timing).

The truth is, no matter my frustrations with individual episodes, how long this is all taking, moments when I feel like I’m only getting part of the story, I’m going to keep listening. On that at least, Serial and the This American Life team have succeeded again.

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Trube on Tech: Making a DVD Video

Elle was kind enough to provide the first question to “Ask a tech guy”. She’s having a little trouble burning DVD’s from her Sony Handycam:

I cannot get Nero 12 to make a DVD from my Sony Handycam video camera. I know it can be done because I was successful about a year ago. Now each time I connect and pull up the video and try to burn it tells me it cannot write to a DVD disk and instead asks for a CD. I cannot find an option to change it to DVD.  My only option has been to create it on windows media which will only play on a computer. When I Google the problem I get everything but an answer! If you can’t help me with this at least I vented.  ;)Thanks!


After some digging and a little more feedback from Elle, we found out that her camera creates MPEG (.mpg) files. While I have neither Nero 12, nor a Sony Camcorder, I have a decent amount of experience creating DVD’s from all sorts of video files.

Today I’ll cover how to make a DVD from any video file, and more importantly, how to burn it to a DVD.

For today we’ll need a couple of (free) third-party tools:

We’ll be creating a DVD working directory from her video files, and then cover how to burn these to a DVD that will play on most DVD players.

Creating a DVD

1) Open DVD Flick and click Add Title. Browse to your video file on your computer and click Open. (I recommend copying the file off the camera to somewhere on your computer for ease of generation). You can add multiple videos by repeating the Add Title step.

2) You’ll see your title in the main editor view.


The indicator on the left-hand side shows how much of a standard DVD the final video will fill. Typically I recommend burning between 90 minutes to three hours on a single DVD (the quality will automatically adjust in DVD Flick). My example video is almost two-hours, the latest live special from This American Life.

3) Click Edit Title. You’ll see this screen pop-up:


From here you can change the title of your video file (Name) and choose a thumbnail from the video that will show up on any menus we create. You can adjust the time index by using the arrows, or by typing in a time (takes a moment to refresh the picture).

4) Click Chapters on the left of this dialog. From here we can create some chapters for easy navigation in a long video.


For the moment I just went with uniform 10 minute chapters.

5) Click Accept to save Title changes.

6) Click Project Settings to adjust the overall title of your DVD. For the moment the default settings should be fine.


I’m using kind of a long name here (as you’ll see when you create the menus). You’ll probably want to keep the title to 20 characters or less. Click Accept to save changes.

7) Click Menu Settings. This allows you to create a basic menu for your DVD based on a couple of pre-selected templates.


8) You can preview how your menu will look and operate by clicking the Preview button.


As you can see, my project title was a little long.

9) The preview will also show you any titles you’ve added by clicking the Select Title option.


Click the X at the top-right to close the preview. Click Accept to save menu changes.

10) Save your project by clicking Save Project. A saved project will work as long as the video file is kept in the same place (so it’s a good idea to copy this file to your computer).


11) You’re now ready to create your DVD files. Click Create DVD to create your DVD.


12) Running this will take a number of hours so DVD Flick has some built in ways to entertain you. Click Entertain me if you’re really bored.


Actually this program runs pretty much in the background, so you can use your computer normally while it’s working. You can speed it up (a little) by adjusting the Process Priority up.

13) When the program is finished running it will create a DVD folder that looks something like this:


The sub-folder dvd contains the two folders AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS required for all DVD videos. It’s these folders we’ll be burning to a DVD. Here’s what the inside of the VIDEO_TS folder will look like:


The number of VOB files will vary based on your project.

Now we’re ready to burn our movie.

Burning a DVD movie

1) Put a blank DVD in the tray and Open InfraRecorder. Select Video Disc from the front menu.



2) This will bring up the basic project window. Browse to your DVD folder and add the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders as shown:


3) Click Actions–>Burn Compilation–>To a Compact Disc (works for both DVD’s and CD’s).


4) Burning options are pretty simple (defaults are probably fine). Click OK to burn your disc.


And you’re done. It might take a little longer than the Nero process did, but it offers a lot more flexibility with the kind of DVD’s you can make. Nero may have a DVD video burning function like the one shown in InfraRecorder, so you may want to try that, but that will typically require the AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS folders we generated with DVD Flick.

Let me know if you have any questions, and for those of you with tech problems of your own, feel free to submit them in the comments, or by using the Contact menu option. If you do, you’ll get a personalized response like this one.


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I Heart NPR

I love public radio and television.

My local station is WOSU, out of the campus of THE Ohio State University, and I can drive by it on Olentangy River Road on my way to a writing session.

Now before you become too worried, I’m not here to debate the federal subsidy (which is really tiny), or Mitt Romney’s feelings on Big Bird (he did say he loves him after all). I think the Obama ad featuring the big yellow bird was stupid, and the Children’s Television Workshop was right to ask him to take it down (something I’m not sure he did).

I just want to tell you I heart NPR.

I got the back struts on my car and my wife’s car fixed because of listening to Car Talk. I unpacked a lot of the Foxconn controversy and the financial meltdown with This American Life and On Point. I heard touching stories of my college president, his daughter, and a legacy his wife left many years after her passing. And I get a weekly laugh with the irreverant Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (particularly their Sandwich Mondays).

I listen on the radio, through podcasts, and reading their website. I can download the full audio of the debate, without commentary, the day after the event from the NPR “It’s All Politics” page. Every Friday I can download the “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast and listen to a panel talk about TV, music and all sorts of pop culture conundrums.

Simply put, I learn about culture, science, economics, politics and life, and they ask so little in return.

It’s pledge season til the end of the week. I used to think pledge drives were a drag, but with Ira Glass calling up people who don’t give and giving them “radio justice”, Alec Baldwin’s fervant speeches AGAINST NPR, and the local color which made me laugh out loud on my drive home, I’ve changed my tune. They’re not talking about Romney’s comments, or threats to Big Bird, they’re just trying to get a handful of us to support the thing we love so we don’t have to listen to ads all the time.

If you heart NPR, consider giving. Otherwise Ira might have to call you at home.

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Review: Sleepwalk With Me (The movie not the book, radio story or video game)

SPOILER ALERT: I discuss the content of a movie based on a one man show based on a book based on a radio story first told at the Moth some 5-6 years ago. You’ve been warned.

The little red haired girl and I finally got a chance to see Sleepwalk With Me this weekend (I’d been begging her to go for a week or two and somehow managed to convince her to come down to Ohio State on a Friday night with me. She loves me 😉 ) Now, full disclosure, I am if not in the target demographic for this movie, at least demo-adjacent. We both got a kick out of the twenty or so other people going to see this movie, guys with beards and glasses, and girls with glasses (if you have seen Portlandia then you know the type). I have discovered my tribe.

But anyway, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Sleepwalk With Me is based on the very real story of comedian Mike Birbliglia’s struggles with REM Behavior Disorder, a sleep disorder which causes him to act out his dreams, dreams which involve running from wild animals or guided missiles. But the real story is how he and his then girlfriend discover that they’re really not right for each other.

The movie is peppered with Birbiglia’s Mitch Hedburg inspired musings, and embarrassing personal stories. Birbiglia starts the movie off by asking you to turn off your cell phone and listen to his true story. Is it true? Yeah. Is it? Uh…YEAH!

They had changed Mike Birbiglia’s name to Matt Pandapiglio (not sure about spelling), which was largely unnecessary and maybe even a little distracting, since it clearly is biographical material. The dream sequences felt very real, and not the Hollywood dreaminess, but just what would happen if you were winning an Olympic event for dust-bustering. The climatic scene where he jumps out of a second story window at a La Quinta inn is exactly how I would have pictured it (down to the selection of Lutz from 30 Rock as the guy at the front desk). Still, the story is not really comedic, and would probably be characterized by most as an art film story of the end of a relationship.

Again I’m not sure if I’m an unbiased source, having been very familiar with the material (and a fan of This American Life, Ira Glass and Birbiglia for a long time). If I had seen the Hunger Games without reading the book I would have had no idea what was going on in spots. With this movie it’s not that things were left out per-say, but there wasn’t as much NEW as I would have expected. And the movie ends on a slightly more depressing note than I know Mike’s life does in reality. He is now happily married to someone else, and the story of how he made that decision could be a movie all its own (sequel?) JK.

I was delighted by the casting of all the secondary characters including Ira Glass as a photographer, and Wyatt Cenac as another struggling comedian (and not the only Daily Show or 30 Rock veteran in the cast). While many of the jokes weren’t exactly new to me, they were told in a way I had never experienced them (and frankly though this is ubiquitous in some circles, most of you have probably never heard this story).

In short, go see this while you can, or at least Netflix it. You won’t be disappointed.

If you do want to see it in a theater here are listings (only 1 in Columbus, Gateway 8).

Here’s the original radio story.

And the book.

And an interview with Ira and Mike on Fresh Air.

And yes, I am an NPR junkie.

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