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Projects
Thanks to Marcin Ignac for pointing out that the below project grid is not working properly on OS X Safari. The long horizontal line of items is not intended ;). Please use another browser to view this until i get it fixed in the next 1-2 days. Happy Holidays!
Circumnavigating the RealAudio

My parents are good jews. My mother and father both read torah and haftorah on a regular basis during Shabbat services at their conservative synagogue. That's why they love visiting their favorite site "Navigating the Bible" at bible.ort.org to get the weekly torah portion already color coded and even pre-recorded by a cantor. And while they make the material available online for free, the audio files are in an outdated Real Audio format. At the time I write this, the real media plugin only has 23% penetration on the web, and is a proprietary format that is not backward compatible. My parents were not able to figure out how to play the audio files. So after giving a try myself, I saw that the only thing that would play those .ra files on their mac was VLC and ffmpeg. First I tried writing my parents a 7-step email explaining how to use VLC to transcode the .ra files into .mp3 files. Then at some point, I decided to sit down and write them a [password protected] proxy through which they could visit bible.ort.org. It would allow them to click on the audio links and have them appear as mp3s in their browser. I did this in PHP by using the simplehtmldom library to parse the tags and by installing ffmpeg on the server. I found the html dom parser to be a lot of fun, and I was really happy that installing ffmpeg on my server was as easy as apt-get. This only worked because that particular site used basic HTML. It inspires me about the possibility of using a web proxy as a kind of commentary. This idea parallels biblical commentaries, like the commentaries of Rashi which even have their own rashi-script. Maybe if people like the idea of solving the real audio epidemic this way, we should set up a dedicated media cleaner proxy site so people can visit any url they want and have the media magically converted for them this way (and call the service Rashi).