October 06, 2006
The perfect Mac mini case tool
I've upgraded my first-gen, low-end Mac mini to its full 1 gigabyte of RAM. It continues to capture TV programs, converting them to iPod format and streaming them to other machines on the home LAN, and to serve a few static web pages and images associated with my weblog (including my resume).
I was concerned about getting into the box. The mini literally snaps together, and all the online sources I've seen suggest you have to take great care to keep from damaging the tabs that snap the cover into place when opening the machine for upgrades.
The recommended tool around the web is a standard putty knife, and many sources suggest that you bevel one edge of the putty knife so you can more easily slide it between the bottom and top cases of the Mac mini.
When I went hunting around the tool shelf, I discovered that I have a wallpaper scraper that's essentially a 4 1/2" putty knife with a beveled edge. Having successfully upgraded the mini, I would suggest this is the perfect Mac mini open/close tool. It almost certainly came from Home Depot, and is labeled a Hyde Tools 33200.
The extra width means I was able to pop all 6 side tabs on either side or all 3 side tabs on the front at the same time. If I did this all day, I would use two at the same time. With just one, you have to open one side far enough that it won't slide back into place while you're prying open the other side.
It took three tries to get it back together right -- the trick is to get the back in place, then work the top on from back to front, until it snaps on the front tabs, good as new.
February 14, 2005
Hot Mac mini love, now online
The response to the Mac mini has been even more insane than I thought it could be. I've had mine a little over a week now, and I almost feel like there's nothing more to be said about this awesome little box. Of course, I've never let that stop me before, so here goes...
There were a few people who didn't believe me when I said I was going to buy a mini with my spare change, so the evidence is at right: $586 in rolled change, that's been laying in an undisclosed location for at least a year, gradually building up. I weighed it, and it's 46 lbs. of change, converted into just under 3 lbs. of Mac-y goodness.
As of tonight, the mini is my new internet-facing server. It's taken over for a 450 mhz K6-2 Linux box that's 17 x 15 x 9 with a 230-watt power supply (I have no idea what it actually draws, but newer boxes have much beefier power supplies than even that). For comparison, the mini is 6.5" x 6.5" x 2", and has an 85-watt external power supply, so in no circumstances will it draw as much power or generate as much heat as the box it's replacing. It will also stay up longer when pulling power off a UPS.
I bought a second mini for work; we've been looking for a project box we could quickly set up and tear down, and the mini looks like just the thing. The work machine is a 1.42/80/256, where my home mini is 1.25/40/512. They might also replace small-form-factor PCs in some of our field installs; we've piloted using a Cappuccino PC, but they're slightly larger and significantly more expensive than the mini. I just configured a Cappuccino EZ3 with Pentium III, 1 gHz, with Bluetooth, only 256 megs of memory, a 40 gig hard drive, and a combo drive, and it priced at $814. My mini with all that and twice the memory was $624. Their Mocha system offers a Pentium IV at 2 gigahertz and 512 megs of RAM for $1,035.
Some early buyers are reporting video issues when using VGA connectors, but I can't really see them on mine. I'm generally working the mini through my G5 and VNC, but it's also (for now, at least) running a 17" Sony CRT, and I've been able to get the CRT looking very good -- the whites are noticeably whiter than my LCD.
Software setup has been a breeze. The primary duties of that Linux box were to filter outbound web requests by the kids, serve images and redirects from my old weblog, pre-TypePad, serve some ads from Amazon, and manage my dynamic DNS address at DynDNS. None of what I'm doing here is unique to the Mac mini in any way. All of this will run on any Mac that will run OS X.
The Linux box was running DansGuardian and Squid to filter the kids' web requests. Instead of a pure POSIX install, I found the OS X-targeted distribution at Dave Lopata's website. It includes Squid, DansGuardian, and an AppleScript-driven management interface. The POSIX bits run as daemons, but you can do basic configuration and monitoring through the interface. And the Lopatas live just up the road in Buford, to boot.
I found a similar solution for DynDNS: DNSUpdate. It installs as a background daemon, but you can add users and hosts through a Cocoa front end.
And that's also how the latest version of OSXvnc (1.5) works. I fired it up, had it install the daemon, and rebooted. Later, I fired it up again, and it wagged its finger at me: "OSXvnc can't listen on the specified port. Probably because the OSXvnc server is already running as a startup item." I've connected through several different clients without a hitch.
MovableType installed almost without a hitch. I took the opportunity to install MT 3.15, where the old box had 2.63, because I never figured out how to delete unwanted pingbacks in 2.63, and 3.15 has a control for that. I used the directions at Lawver.net. I transferred all those redirects and images using Panic's Transmit. I still don't have outbound e-mail working -- I tried Adriaan's suggestions for enabling Postfix under Panther, but Earthlink blocks outbound requests on port 25. Their status message suggests they may open relays on a case-by-case basis, but I guess I'll wait another day or two for that.
On the Unix/BSD side, I've decided to use DarwinPorts to manage downloading and installing applications. So far, I've fully installed Webalizer, and downloaded Apache 2.0.52. I'm still pondering if I want to migrate to Apache 2; I did almost 2 years ago on the Linux box, but on the Mac, I don't want to give up the integration with user accounts, Rendezvous, and so on that Apple has baked in, so I'm going to tiptoe through that upgrade.
January 13, 2005
Pundits on parade
"Where, in other words, is the BMW strategy? It is as if BMW suddenly tried to undercut Honda's Accord or Toyota's Camry. While there's no denying there is a large market for value-priced cars, by competing directly against those products BMW would be putting its margins at risk. More importantly, it would be ample reason for investors to wonder whether BMW executives had lost their minds. Why would they suddenly abandon what they did best -- engineering interesting products -- and start trying to sell family econo-boxes?"
Perhaps BMW could create (or purchase) a second brand that sold cars that were not quite so expensive. Maybe comparable in price to other cars, but maybe a little smaller, and fun. Maybe they wouldn't use quite the same high-performance motor, tires, and other parts, so they could maintain reasonable margins even at a lower price, while providing a stair-step into the BMW family of brands.
Maybe they would be highly customizable, with users adding options that reflect their own needs and desires, building their car to order and tracking it all the way to delivery through the web.
But what could BMW possibly call such a company?
January 12, 2005
Never mind the pundits, here come the Mac minis
I'm pulling the trigger as we speak. I'll save $100 by taking the "low-end" processor. I'll save the $50 on the bigger internal drive, since I have a 200-gig FireWire drive currently looking for work. I'll save the $100 on Airport, but they got me on Bluetooth -- ding! Fifty bucks. I'll pay the $75 for the 512-meg DIMM, since they're about $80 at Crucial, so I'm looking at $624.
Christy is a true saint -- she mentioned we could almost pay for this from our "big box of change", and buying a new Mac for change is certainly appealing.
First blush suggests Apple has a hit on its hands: Yesterday, the minis were listed as shipping "for delivery by January 22nd", and tonight, they're listed as 3-4 weeks. Some things at Apple apparently never change.
The prize-winning screed on the Mac mini has got to be Bill Palmer (no surprise), who I'm guessing, well, won't be buying one. Other folks I'm putting down for a "no, thank you" include E. (for Enigmatic, perhaps?) Schwartz over at InfoWorld, and a couple of "industry analysts" quoted over at TheStreet.com, one of whom notes:
But it's still less robust -- though at a fraction of the price -- of Media Center PCs, which offer spruced-up applications to manage digital photos, play music and record television shows. Promisel said the Mac mini would need more ports, a TV tuner and stronger wireless support to offer the same experience as the Media Center PC.
Unless I'm reading wrong, the mini comes with iTunes and iPhoto, and has Airport Extreme available, with the same speed as anybody else's wireless solutions.
I just saw HP's Home Entertainment Center PC advertised on TV for $1300. Pair a Mac mini with the newly released EyeTV Wonder USB 2.0 (or their pricier EyeTV 200) and an external FW hard drive, and you're looking at maybe $800-$900, and you've got one kick-ass little home entertainment system.
Least I hope so, since that's what I just ordered.
Added a Mac mini category. I'll probably move some of the iServe stories over there, and chronicle my experiences with the new box there.