The ultimate solution to multiple iTunes libraries?

I just found a fascinating solution to the problem of having multiple iTunes libraries on multiple Macs (or PC’s for that matter): A service / software called MediaRover.

This solution consists of a software package for Windows or Mac OS (free) that you install, as well as a service account that lets you control up to 8 (eight!) of these so-called „Rovers” to sync to a central server, such as a NAS box.

You get to set up the sync options (including the choice of wether you want songs deleted or not) for each „Rover” (Mac or PC with iTunes on it) individually.

The software then syncs all music to a central server directory to each Rover. The caveat: you need to have such a central repository, which can be either a „real” server or a NAS box acting as one. I set up a new share on my NAS, installed the software on my Mac Mini Media Center and off it went - copying all music and playlists to that share.

Next comes the same install on my MacBook, and hopefully it will then have an exact replica of the Mac Mini. Last but not least, my iMac.

It sounds like a dream come true and - at least for now - the service is free of charge.

Solved the overscan problem on the Mac Mini Media Center

After Googling the topic a bit more and reading about other people’s experiences with using a Mac Mini as a Media Center with, especially, Plasma TVs with 1024x768 resolution, I figured out the solution to the problem: Overscan on the Mac OFF and Overscan on the Plasma ON. Pretty simple, really. Now the Picture uses the entire screen perfectly while watching a video, with just a little being shaved off the edges of the MacOS GUI.

Still no solution for 720p vs. 768 pixels...

Unfortunately, I still don’t have a fix for getting a 1024x768 resolution working on the Plasma.

I’ve noticed today, while doing a reboot after updating to 10.6.4 - when the screen is mostly white with an Apple logo in the center - that I’m getting a certain degree of burn-in on the screen!
Or rather, since the outer border always stays black now, it isn’t being “used” so much.

Not a good thing. Hopefully, I can figure out a way to get a proper 1024x768 image going.

What’s the best way to work with the MMM?

I did some experimenting of what the best way to use it might be - by that I mean actually working with the unit. I did get the keyboard as a wireless model, which isn’t that easy to find if you’re looking for a model with touchpad. I picked up the ___ (tbfl) which had some decent reviews online and offers a small form factor with good reach and a pretty decent touchpad. In parallel to the touchpad, I’ve added my old LogiTech trackball right underneath the plasma.

The trackball - if you like that sort of thing (I do) - is the better mouse mover, hands down. I have to admit that I thought I was going to use the MMM to surf the web from the couch, which isn’t something I’ve done yet. I have looked up a couple of things about drivers or instructions, of course, but that was while standing in front of the plasma.

Chances are, I’ll never use it to browse the web - I can just grab my MacBook for that - and I can tell you the screen quality difference is really worth the couple of seconds you need to retrieve the notebook.

That is one of the issues I still have, by the way: while the Panasonic was recognized as the monitor, it is just a “Panasonic” monitor, not a specific model. The display settings offer a whole bunch of different resolutions, some of which are pretty ridiculous. Four of them have a little TV icon next to the resolution indicator, so I’m assuming that these are the preferred resolutions to use for the Plasma.

Two of them are 1080 (i and p), both of which produce a horrible picture. That’s to be expected, however, as the specs of the Plasma indicate that it does 720p maximum, everything else is upscaled. The first one is 480p, which is unusable.
Setting the display to 720p gives good results, though I would have expected text (i.e. black on white background) to be crisper - after all, a Plasma has discrete 3-color pixels and should be able to give a relatively good picture.

One thing I haven’t figured out - if it is possible at all - is how to increase the font size in Mac OS. Windows offers this option (even though it usually doesn’t work well in most applications), and I would have though this to be part of the “Universal Access” control - but it isn’t.
For example, the various views in EyeTV could use a much bigger font and still fit on the screen, at least horizontally. It would make things much easier to use, even from the couch. Working with EyeTV (or any other software with lots of text) from anywhere but right up front just doesn’t work well. I’ll have to research that a bit more.

The real problem with the 720p mode, however, is that it produces a picture that is approximately 40” across (on a 42” display) - which is pretty annoying - after all, a 40” TV is considerably cheaper than a 42”. I wasn’t able to find a monitor profile on the Panasonic website, so I’ll have to research that some as well.

First Update: Mac Mini Media Center

Wow, honestly, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this device as much as I do.
It is - at least for me - a real upgrade in both quality and versatility to what we had before.

First off, let me mention one of the more important aspects: the quality difference even between watching digital cable on a cable receiver connected by SCART (analog signal) to the MMM connected by HDMI is like taking pickle slices off your eyes. It is truly astounding. I tried switching back just to see the difference (the Elgato tuner does both digital + analog) and I felt nauseous viewing the analog signal.

Cable tuners with HDMI and hard disk are only now appearing on the market, but I’m very glad I chose to go with the MMM, since the price difference is marginal!

Unbelievable Experiences with Entourage 2008

Folks, I’m not a big fan of Windows, that’s why I use a Mac. I don’t make a big secret of that.

Unfortunately, a large part of the IT world is still blinded by the dark side; subsequently, my employer makes software to run on MS Windows, not on Linux or Apple. Which also means that we use Microsoft Office internally, including that wanton beast, Exchange Server.

Mind you, I much prefer Exchange / Outlook to what I used at my previous engagement, which was Lotus Notes. You think you have it bad because you have to use Outlook? Think again!

Microsoft has offered “Office for Mac” for a number of years now; an ex colleague was extremely happy with it, even proffed that it was better than the comparable Office for Windows. You might think “okay, that isn’t very difficult to achive” - and I would agree.

Unfortunately, to keep with the standard file types my colleagues generate, I’m using Office for Mac 2008. Let me tell you: it is the worst piece of software on my machine. Sometimes I think Microsoft put in all those bugs and rediculous “ergonomics” to create some sort of disappointment with that non-dark-side operating system this software runs on.

Besides some serious stability issues with the rest of the applications, as well as lacking VisualBasic or even Macro support in Word and Excel, MS also provides an Outlook “replacement” for Exchange, called Entourage.

I doubt that I have ever used a piece of software more bug-ridden than this sad piece of work. Besides the fact that it regularly spits out bizarre error messages with error numbers you will find NOWHERE on the internet (certainly not on Microsoft’s extremely sparse support site for the Office 2008 suite), I have the strangest problems with it.

I’ll give you an example that is currently plaguing me: I write emails in German and English, and sometimes I need to include words in Turkish when I communicate with our Turkish reseller. I’ve already turned off the spellchecker, yet Entourage insists on changing words I enter in Turkish to some bizarre German “equivalent”. I can’t get it to stop. It won’t even let me change the words back - if I do that in the About field and then go back to my text, for example, BANG it changes it back.

Microsoft is bringing out Office 2010 for Mac sometime this year - and let me tell you, I certainly hope the “real” Outlook that is supposed to ship with that package is any better than this crap!

Upgrading the Harddisk of my 2007 20” iMac

The original harddisk of my iMac purchased in April 2007 had 250GB, which - of course - filled up mighty quickly. I added an external dual drive box and set these two Terabyte drives up as RAID-1. I synchronise this regularly with a NAS box, also with RAID-1 setup, so the RAID-1 on the iMac is really somewhat overkill. The issue with it is: to save power, I have the drives spin down after some time (Apple doesn’t permit specifying a time), but they spin back up for seemingly unrelated tasks (that don’t require the RAID-1 data).

This is pretty annoying, as you constantly sit around, waiting for the drives to spin back up to do even simple things. So I decided to pimp the iMac with a new hard drive.
I did some research on upgrading, and was happy to find out that my device belonged to those that are still relatively simple to upgrade. The current generation of iMacs is - apparently - a real nightmare.

I used the excellent photo set found at this URL. These instructions are, for the most part, perfect and really well executed; however, my machine looked differently inside, even though it was only built a couple of months later. Also I have a couple of tips and tricks that may help you in successfully upgrading your iMac.

Mac Mini Media Center - Still in Beta

Okay, I splurged. I ordered a Mac Mini with 2.26 GHz CPU and a 160GB Hard Disk from Amazon - it was a bit cheaper there than from the Apple store. I also ordered a 500GB 2.5” hard disk, an EyeTV Hybrid and a Mac-compatible wireless keyboard.

The idea was to replace a Panasonic harddisk-recorder and a cable receiver, both of which do not offer HDMI connectivity, and add lots of functionality (useful or not).

The connection to our Panasonic 42” Plasma is via the standard DVI adapter that came in the packaging and a DVI to HDMI cable from ebay (for less than 9€, including shipping!).

The first thing I did was buy a replacement hard disk, as the 160GB that came with the unit would hold the operating system and about 12 movie-length recordings -- not what I had in mind. I followed a couple of the really excellent instructions on the Web for replacing the hard disk in the iMac, which is a bit of an iffy situation from a warranty standpoint. While lots of people argue that if the HD in the unit wasn’t to be replaced by the owner, Apple would have had to mark the case with “no user servicable parts inside.”

To be honest, though, even if that is the legal situation - I guarantee Apple will make a stink about it should I ever have to send the unit in within the 24 month warranty period. After doing the “operation”, I have to admit - I would, too, if I were Apple. The replacement really isn’t for someone with even a touch of fear of what is required... there are a couple of screws that are tough to (re-) position. What really cost me time was re-attaching the Wifi (or was it Bluetooth?) antenna connector to the mainboard - what a job for very small hands! It is difficult, because while you can position the connector relatively well using an angled tweezers (luckily, I have one), that tool doesn’t give you enough pressure to make it click in place.

In any case, the iMac now has a 500GB HD built in, which was really a good decision.

Installing the OS and the EyeTV software for the receiver is - as usual - a snap. I also put Skype on it (incredible: my age-old Logitech Notebook Pro USB Webcam runs without a driver!) as well as iTunes, of course. I’ve also moved my iTunes library from my iMac in the basement office to the MMM.