House Projects: before and after

The past few weekends have been Russell Home improvement weekends.
The goal is to finish up as many big house projects as possible before our son is born...
I call him "Our second son" or "He who can not be named" because we haven't
settled on a name yet.

The Front Yard

The first project was our front yard. We used to have two nice piles of
dirt with lots of weeds on either side of our front steps. These have been
replaced with piles of Rosette Marble rocks which I think look a lot nicer than
the dirt. Alex is a huge fan of rocks. When he came downstairs the morning
the rocks were delivered I told him we got him a present and pointed out the window.
He looked for a few seconds and then ran to the front door yelling "Out, out... ROCKS!".
Best present ever...

The before picture is a very cool shot of Christine and Alex, but it
lacks in the "Before picture" sense since it's actually a during. Also, you can't
really see how bad it looked before we started... The fact that we have several
thousand digital pictures, and not a single one shows the front of our house is
suggestive of how bad it was...

Before (actually during):

Christine & Alex installing the faux rock border.

Check out the rock pile in the bottom right... Alex and I shoveled all those


Christine & Alex on the steps in front of the house.

Those litle lamps are solar powered! They just start glowing when it gets dark.

The Attic

The next project was installing flooring in the attic. The attic was filled
with blown insulation... That stuff is great at keeping you warm, but horrible
to work in... Anyway, I purchased 6, 4' x 8', 3/4" boards and carried them up into the attic.
I did the work on a rainy day. With the sun blocked the attic only got up to about 90 degrees.

The first step was to sweep away the excess insulation, then get the boards in
position and screw them down. It got a lot easier once the first few boards went down.


I had the 4' x 8' boards cut in half so I could fit them throught he attic opening.
This pic shows the first two boards. in the bottom right you can see where I had to
cut around a bathroom seiling vent that suck up above floor level.

That is a lot of extra insulation. The pink thing is a board of insulation that
came in handy for cutting boards. Theres also some sheet rock. It came with the house.


This is a picture standing behind the stairs into the attic.
It turns out there is room for 3 more 4' x 8' boards, but that will have to wait until
it cools off again.

Heres a look from the far end of the house. I'm standing at the far
end as shown in the "before" pictures.

So thats it for now. Next I'm installing new light fixtures in our kitchen...

How to make an iPod AudioBook from a CD AudioBook

Update 2005-09-04: I've learned a faster way to make Audiobooks from CDs and posted the directions here.

I recently figured out how to get my CD Audiobooks onto my iPod. It required
a lot of reading and trial and error, so I thought I'd share what I learned.

Simply ripping the CDs to MP3 does allows you to put the CDs on your iPod,
but you miss out on some cool stuff.
If you can convince an iPod that a file is an Audiobook, it will give
you a really cool set of features such as:

  • Pick up where you left off (even if you listen to something else in between)

  • Listening at 2x or 1/2x speed

  • Access the audio book through the Audiobook menu (No need to create a playlist)

The important concept:
An iPod AudioBook is an
(iTunes gives these files the file extension .m4a) encoded sound file
that has the file name extension .m4b. There is no magic to it. If you
manually change the file name of filename.m4a
to filename.m4b, your iPod
will treat the .m4b file as an AudioBook.

How to Convert CDs to an iPod AudioBook

  1. Rip the CDs to mp3 format

  2. Combine the mp3 files into one big file

  3. Re-encode the mp3 file to an AAC format

  4. Rename the AAC encoded file to be filename.m4b

  1. Rip the CDs to mp3 format

  2. Goal: Get the audio off the CDs and into a format that can be merged
    into a single file (step #2) and later be merged into a single
    audio file (step #3).

    What to do:

    • Get a piece of software that will allow you to rip a CD to mp3.
      I used CDex.
      It works well and its free!

    • Set the encoder options for ripping the
      Audio Tracks (Options->Settings->Encoding)

      • Encoder: Lame MP3 Encoder

      • Version: MPEG II.5

      • variable bit rate: yes

      • Bitrate min 8 kbps

      • Bitrate max 160 kbps

      • Quality: Voice

      • VBR method:VBR-New

      screen shot

    • Rip each of theCDs in your AudioBook to your hard drive.

    Notes: The important point is to choose settings such that the audio quality
    sounds VERY good to you. The goal is to get a very goos quality mp3 so that
    re-encode the audio in step #3 results in a good quality sound.
    The mp3 file size doesn't matter (so, bigger is better here) because step #3 will result in the
    same size AAC file no matter what size file you get from this step.

  3. Combine the mp3 files into one big file

  4. Goal: Make one big file out of the AudioBook mp3s.


    • MP3 Merger is a simple tool for merging mp3s together.

    • MP3 Book Helper is a helpful tool for bulk renaming lots of mp3s. If the files you?re merging aren?t named such that they sort well in MP3 Merger, this tool makes it easy to rename the files. It?s a very powerful tool, but it takes some getting used to.

    What to do:
    • Merge (in their intended play order) the mp3 files from step #1 into one big mp3 Audio File.


    • I have read that older iPods have some issues with large > 120Mb files. As a guideline I try to keep each audio book to 6 hour parts. I've found that iPods can behave strangely with bigger files. If the audio book is longer than 6 hours, create multiple parts. Good luck.

    • There is no magic to this step. It's basically the same as calling cat to concatenate all the mp3s together.

  5. Re-encode the mp3 file to an AAC format

  6. Goal: get one step closer to what your iPod considers an audiobook.

    What to do:

    • Drag the .mp3 file from step #2 into iTunes

    • Set the iTunes encoder options for importing Audio Tracks

      • Import Using: AAC Encoder

      • Setting: Custom

      • Stereo bit rate: 64 kbs

      • Sample Rate: Auto

      • Channels: Mono

      screen shot

      screen shot

    • Right click on the file in iTunes and choose "Convert to AAC"

    If you used variable bit rate like I suggested in Step #2 iTunes will tell you that it estimates the conversion process to take ~60 days. The iTunes countdown timer is confused because iTunes doesn't really understand how to estimate the length of variable bit rate mp3 files. Not to worry. This will use a lot of computer power, and you should just leave your computer alone for a bit. Go get yourself a coffee or beer & come back in 20 minutes. If its still going, give it another 20 minutes.

  7. Rename the AAC encoded file to be filename.m4b

  8. Goal: make an audio book out of thin air.

    What to do:

    • Using a file browser, find the file in the "iTunes Music" directory that iTunes made in step #3.

    • Rename the file from .m4a to .m4b.

    • From iTunes, select the old file you imported in step #3 and the file that was created in step #3 and delete them.

    • Import the newly .m4b file into iTunes. (drag & drop from the file browser should work)

    Congradulations! You have created and iTunes audio book!

This worked for me.
Before you start recycling your CD
AudioBooks I suggest you test to make sure your satisfied.
If you learn anything helpful, add a comment.
For more
detail check out the
iPod Lounge.
I found a lot of good information there.