The Big Think

December 23, 2007

Mini Us

Filed under: Macintosh — jasony @ 5:05 pm

Last week a power surge brought down the whole home automation system. I managed to get it up and creaking again, but the hard drive was starting to hiss and smoke. It was obviously time for us to replace the thing and get the house up to date.

Giles let us use one of his three friend’s and family discounts on a brand new Mac Mini (Thanks, G!). I ordered it last thursday and it arrived 20 hours later on friday, even though I had chosen free shipping. Within a day I had up and running and happily loading movies and other content onto it. A day later I plugged it into our (analog) TV and installed/configured our home automation software (Xtension) on it. Unfortunately, the new machine comes with Leopard (OS 10.5), and Xtension isn’t fully compatible with Leopard yet, so there were some fairly hilarious and debilitating bugs with the setup. After I paid my upgrade fee for Xtension, I asked the one of the co-writers (the inestimable James Sentman) if he maybe had an alpha build of Xtension I could test. Boy! Am I glad I asked. I installed the alpha an it’s never run better. The HA machine has been rock-solid stable and doesn’t have the quirks that the older Xtension did on Leopard. The Mini is incredibly powerful and doens’t even blink when I ask it to run the HA machine, compress a movie, download content from Miro, and play back a hi def stream, all while hosting music and doing a few other things- simultaneously. And this is the low end machine. I got an Apple wireless keyboard and the bluetooth mighty mouse so now I can sit back on the couch and surf or watch a movie from the hard drive. Granted, the screen on our 28″ analog TV is only 28″ and very low res, and we’ll rectify that once prices drop a bit more, but it’s a game-changing thing for us to have easy access to so much content.

The other great thing about the switch is that the home automation system is much more reliable than it was before. The old system was relegated to the corner of an upstairs room and sometimes the signals didn’t get to the computer. The new system is relegated to the exact opposite corner of the house (downstairs corner by the TV), but for some reason signals seem to propagate much better. I haven’t had nearly as many collisions or failed triggers as before. We’ve been through several nights with the system watching over us and so far (finger’s crossed) we haven’t had any lights go on in the dead of night. I think I killed those logic errors several years ago.
Eventually I’d like to speed the system up by getting a wireless antenna so the motion detector signals don’t have to clog up the power lines, but that’s somewhere down the road. Oh, and the mini’s paltry 80 gig hard drive will be cleared up once we get a ginormous firewire drive. I’d love to get a dual terabyte (mirrored) drive, but those’re still out of the price range. I’d hate to get anything less than a 750 because we’ll be filling it up too soon (still don’t have the pictures or music on the mini). How much storage do we really need? About 50% more, it seems. I think in the meantime I’ll look for a cheap ATA to Firewire enclosure and repurpose an old hard drive. Enclosures are only $20-$30 and I can put a lot of music in the 160 gig that I have in the loose drive.

So Christmas came early to our house. Erin loves being able to surf on our TV, and getting rid of that noisy machine upstairs has been a boon. With so much power in the Mini I’m looking for ideas for ways to use it. I’d appreciate any suggestions.

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