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#665: Entertainment In A Tiny Box, Tip/Repair of the Week, Reader Feedback


Happy Tuesday,

It’s always great meeting up with old friends. I went down to Boston with Tony Amenta over the weekend and met up with Ed Shepard and several high school friends at Fenway Park for Phish’s summer tour opener. Phish is a band started at UVM in the early 1980s that somehow exploded into a phenomenon, and they remain extremely popular despite a five year breakup. The Mad River Valley saw its share of Phish shows through the eighties and nineties, but today there isn’t a venue large enough around here to accommodate the inevitable throngs of people looking to get in to a show.

Next week will be dedicated to travel. I’m heading out to San Francisco and Cupertino with Don for Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC). We’ll be in meetings most of the time, but there will undoubtedly be a few hours here and there to get out and enjoy some summer California weather. Next week’s Tech Tails will be written by the technical services team with help from Ed and Kali. If you’d like us to address something specific, don’t hesitate to email me with suggestions!

Enjoy this issue, and keep in touch.


  Entertainment In A Tiny Box  

After my article last week I received a reply from a faithful reader asking for more information on my Mac mini setup at home:

“I read with interest your piece on using your mac mini as a kind of server, along with Dyndns to deal with back to my mac issues. While I am interested in the Dyndns issues, I would also like to hear more about setting up your mini as a quasi-server. How do multiple users access your iTunes/iPhotos/iMovie files? Is it in that way really a server, or is it just a user account you remote access into? I often thought that having a home server made sense, given the kinds of files that should be shared among family members, but I have no idea how that would happen.”

One of the reasons that I’ve never written an in-depth article on my Mac mini “server” is that it’s really as basic as one can get. As I mentioned in last week’s article, my Mac mini is attached to my television via S-Video (alas, I do not have a fancy HDTV) and the audio outputs to a Klipsch receiver which is attached to a 5.1 surround-sound system. I keep my main user account on there and access the account in-home using screen sharing via “Back to My Mac.” On the road, I connect via Remote Desktop or, if I’m sharing files, via AFP directly in the Finder.

When I’m at home and I’d like to play music for my guests I use my MacBook Pro or my iPhone to control iTunes on the Mac mini. When I want to sit down and watch a movie that I’ve either downloaded from iTunes or on my own, I turn on the TV and use either the Apple Remote or, again, my MacBook Pro or iPhone to control the Mac mini’s screen. Photos can also be controlled in Front Row via the Apple Remote. It really is simple! The only reason I don’t have an Apple TV instead is that there are several sources beyond iTunes that I get my media content from, so by using a Mac mini I can choose to download media from any application and still view the result on my TV.

I also periodically use the attached 2TB RAID to back up the other computers in my home. This is also very basic and, no, I don’t use Time Machine. I simply use Carbon Copy Cloner and I’m among the few left that have a house filled with FireWire-capable machines. While I could set up network backups as well, I just haven’t had a strong enough need for that yet. To be honest, since I work with technology all day long, I like to use the simplest technology at home to do the tasks that I need done so that I can focus on my pets and my hobbies instead of spending my nights toiling over my in-home network (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

As for users, I’m the only person who uses my machine, so I do everything from the one account. That said, with Leopard it’s very easy to create multiple user accounts for file-sharing purposes so that people can remotely access the files on the system. This is done in the Accounts pane of System Preferences and then one can set the permissions for different folders by selecting the folder and hitting “Get Info.” That way, certain folders can be set up to allow access to only certain user accounts; it’s a great way to restrict the information that your visitors can access.

The last tidbit that I want to throw out there was a hot tip from one of my co-workers here. He just turned me on to a piece of software called Plex which appears to be similar to Apple’s Front Row, but much more robust. It has a sleek interface that can pull media not only from your iApps, but also from YouTube, Hulu, other areas of you hard drive and several other media sources. I’ll admit I haven’t played with it yet, but I’m planning on it. It’s free and seems really fun. If you’ve used it, I’d love to hear what you think of it!

  Tip of the Week: Emergency Eject  

If you’ve ever called Small Dog or Apple for technical support because your Mac wouldn’t boot, odds are it was suggested that you attempt a reinstallation of your operating system from the disks that came with your computer. The problem here is that if the reinstallation fails for whatever reason, there is no apparent way to eject the disk if the computer doesn’t start up.

A huge percentage of computers entering our service facilities have disks “stuck” in the drive when they’re checked in. To eject a disk, simply press and hold your mouse or trackpad button immediately after powering on your machine. Once the disk ejects, you can let go, and press and hold the power button for about ten seconds to force your computer to turn off.

Alas, this tip works only with a wired mouse. No bluetooth or similar wireless mouse will work unfortunately. If you have a wired keyboard but wireless mouse, there is another way: use the boot manager.

The boot manager is a screen summoned by pressing and hold the Option key on your keyboard immediately after pressing the power button. After a few moments, a screen will come up showing you the available startup disks. Once this screen appears, wait about ten seconds and then press the eject key on your keyboard to eject the disk.

Your mileage may vary on this one. Note that a drive that makes the usual ejecting noises but fails to eject a disk will require removal of the drive itself to save the disk. Failure to eject and inability to eject are two completely separate issues!

  Repair of the Week: My MacBook Pro  

Mail on my MacBook Pro quit unexpectedly late last week, and when I restarted the program none of my mail or folders were present. It was the middle of a work day, and my Time Machine backup is at home (a USB hard drive connected to my AirPort Extreme) so I could not access last night’s backup.

I decided to just let Mail download my messages again from our server which, considering the size of my mailbox, took several hours. When I got home, I set out to let Time Machine rescue me. Since I had all of my Mail downloaded from the server after the “event,” I did not restore that from the backup. I was left without folders and rules, which was not acceptable. I soon realized that opening messages from Spotlight searches gave only the broken alias message.

I restored the following folders from Time Machine, restarted the computer for good measure, and was right back to where things were the night before.


To fix the broken alias message given when trying to open messages found by Spotlight, I forged Spotlight to re-index my entire hard drive. I was dissatisfied by the speed of Spotlight searches, and re-indexing made searches blazing fast. I used mdutil, a command-line utility pre-installed on every Mac. It’s used the manage the metadata stores used by Spotlight. In Terminal, I typed:

sudo mdutil -E /

Despite the inconvenience, both Mail and Spotlight are considerably quicker during normal use. I’d call this a big success, thanks completely to Time Machine.

  Reader Feedback  

“In your newest Tech Tails (another marvelous issue!), there’s an article about using F11 to reveal the desktop in all its beauty and F9 to show all the open windows. While this works fine on a desktop Mac, there’s another key to press if you’re using a laptop—as the primary function of the, er, function keys has been routed to other tasks. On a laptop, pressing the function key (fn) in addition to the F11 or F9 or F10 (which reveals all the windows you have open in the application currently in use) gets the job done.

Thanks for all the tips and hints, and keep up the great work!”


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