Nirvana: Three Screens!

I have used a 2nd screen off my 24″ imac for quite some time, and I had a 3rd screen, another 20″ monitor, just sitting there idle 90% of the time… I would sometimes use it as a larger screen for a laptop or my netbook… But most of the time it sat dark.

I have looked into a few different solutions to use the 3rd screen via USB, but they were either too expensive (in the $250-300 range), or they would just create one large extended 2nd screen.  (Which meant the 24″ screen would be on on side, and the two 20″ screens would need to be right next to each other on one side or the other… I never liked that lack of symmetry.  🙂  )

But when OWC came out with their USB to DVI adapter at just $99, I had to give it a shot.  I did exchange a few emails with OWC tech support to try to determine that this was what I was looking for, and while the responses weren’t as clear cut as I would have liked, it seemed like there was a decent chance it would work.  So I ordered it knowing I could return it if it did not do what I wanted…

Here is what it looks like — as you can see, it works!


While the manual is not well written, and it is 95% for windows, I was able to figure it out, and it integrates nicely with OSX System Preferences once you install the included software…  It works just like any other extended display on osx, where you get an individual display pref scren for each monitor:


And you can set up the “arrangement” however you like:


So far I have been very happy with it.  It integrates fine with Spaces, which was one of my concerns.  I am still not 100% sure how I will use all this screen space…  Having 3 screens and 4 spaces may not be the ideal set up anymore, and I may drop spaces, or use less spaces.

Mini Projector on the Mini 9

I sat next to a fellow gadget fiend on the flight home the other night, and we hooked up his mini projector (a little bigger than a deck of cards) to my hackintosh dell mini 9, to make a 30″ screen on the airplane wall!

This isn’t a great picture, but I still had to share…  (Shot with an iphone in a pretty dark airplane cabin…)


Dell Mini 9 Project

I ordered the following Dell Mini 9 from Dell on one of their one day only sales ($50 off) (which seem to occur every few weeks, so it pays to be patient — or indecisive!):

  • Ubunutu
  • 4GB SSD
  • 512k RAM
  • 1.3M web cam
  • Bluetooth

I ordered the following upgrades:

  • 2GB RAM from crucial
  • 32GB SSD
    • originally ordered the “fast” runcore from My Digital Discount, but it is still on back order almost 4 weeks later
    • ordered a “slower” SuperTalent since I was tired of waiting

First I tried to install OS X on an old 160 GB external USB HD since I could not wait for the SSD, but kept running into issues.  Maybe it was the drive… I had enough “components” lying around, so I then tried the install on a 16 GB USB thumb drive instead, and that worked fine, though obviously it was slow.   I will post a couple benchmarks below.

Rather than go through all the details, I will just point you to the forums at   I must say that I don’t think doing a “hackintosh” is for everyone.  I ran into several problems along the way.  While there are step by step directions, they  are not as simple as plug and play, and it seems like even following the instructions does not work for everyone depending on their exact gear.    I was able to work through the issues I had by reading through the forums, asking questions here and there, etc.  I want to thank the real hackers over there that have made the process as easy as it is, but again, I still don’t think it is ready for casual computer users…

The main post I followed was:

I tried method A with the external USB HDD, and when that failed, went to method D where I used an external DVD drive, and changed the install location from the onboard SSD to the USB thumb drive.  Again, I did have issues along the way, but by searching the forums and reading through a few other posts, I was able to get everything functionion properly.


Once I had it working I installed the following apps:

  1. First upgraded 10.5.1 to 10.5.6
  2. Firefox
  3. 1password
    1. migrated my main computers 1pw file over
  4. tabmixplus FF extension
  5. dropbox
    1. which installed growl
  6. copied over ssh config file so I can ssh everywhere I need and use ssh tunnels
  7. Set up mobile me
    1. tried back to my mac for accessing my imac from the mini, worked fine
    2. set up syncing (contacts, calendar, dashboard widgets)
    3. (see note below)
  8. adium
    1. copied prefs file from main computer, so all I had to do was enter pw’s (and I probably could have avoided that if I had copied my mac keychain over)
  9. skype
  10. silverlight
    1. had to download a hacked package for this since there is a check in the default installer that checks to see if you are intel or ppc, and that fails with the system info from the DellMiniEFI install package
  11. Adobe Air
  12. Tweetdeck
    1. here I symlink my tweetdeck prefs file to point to my “global” prefs file on dropbox, so I can keep tweetdeck sync’d across all my computers.

Again, this was pretty slow from the USB thumb drive… Here are a few benchmarks:

  • bootup:           2 minutes 15 seconds
  • launch firefox: 36 seconds but then a total of 90 to load my 4 default tabs

I couldn’t resist the final step in turning the Dell into a Mac — the logo!

When the SSD finally arrived I physically installed it in the dell and then used the built in OSX disk utility rather than superduper or carbon copy cloner to clone (restore) the thumb drive to the SSD.  My 1st attempt failed because I restored the USB thumb drive to the SSD without properly formatting it (1 partition, os x journaled, GUID), and that took a few tries to figure out because once you clone the drive, you have to run the DellEFI script again.  I kept trying that and getting different errors.  When I finally booted from the thumb drive OSX install and checked the SSD, I realized my mistake, formatted it properly, and restored again.  BTW, restoring from the thumb drive took a long time — probably longer than if I had just done a clean install!

Once I had it running cleanly on the SSD that I timed bootup and firefox launch:

  • boot:    ~35 seconds  (woohoo!)
    • I then enabled quiet boot by editing in /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration and that got boot time to ~30 seconds.  See this link for more info.
  • firefox:    less than 15 seconds to start app and load tabs

Much better than the thumb drive, as expected!  I decided to cancel the Runcore SSD for now since this is plenty fast enough…  When the price on the 64GB drops and you can actually get them without waiting weeks, I may try to order again.

Once all that was done, I installed:

  • Office 2008
  • X-Chat Aqua
  • iLife (just iphoto, imovie, and iweb, though I probably will only use iphoto)

It is a great little machine, and runs OS X great!  Lots of fun working through the “upgrade” process and solving the various problems…  🙂
And here is a picture that gives a feel for the size of the Mini…  This is it sitting in front of a 24″ iMac (and a 20″ Dell screen).


(*) Note on mobile me:  At some point in migrating from the usb thumb drive to the SSD, MobileMe stopped working… You can see all the trials I went through in this post.  I don’t know what I did different on that last go round, other than having console logging open so I could watch the errors go by.  And of course it worked then.

UPDATE: I upgraded to the DellEFI 1.1 level, from 1.07, as outlined here.  I manually deleted the dsdt.aml file from the terminal rather than letting the script do it, since some people were having problems that way.  Now the battery life indicator is accurate.  I am noticing wireless takes 6-8  seconds to reconnect after sleep, which seems a litlte long..

Delicious Library 2

I learned of a new mac application today on another blog, and got to play with it a bit.  It is basically a media library “organizer,” though I likely will just use it with books.  It automatically pulled in all the music and movies from my iTunes library, so I do need to play with that a bit more.

The cool thing about books is that you can hold up the book’s UPC symbol to the mac’s built in iSight camera and it will attempt to scan it and pull in all the relevant info.  (You can also use a bluetooth scanner…)  I tried this out on about 30-40 books, and it was about 90% successful.  The ones it failed on were Borders Classics books, and it appears that Delicious gets most of its data from Amazon, so that would make sense.

For books, it allows you to create “shelves” and drag and drop books from the library to the shelves.  It also allows smart shelves, though I have yet to play with that.

I added a link to my “blogroll” but here is a direct link to my published library.

My Books

So far I like it, but there are a couple of key features missing.

The main feature I want is to be able to publish my “reading notes,” which I post on the blog, from the library manager.  There is a place to add a “personal synopsis” and that would be ideal for keeping my notes.  But I also want them published to the blog, and there is no way to do that.  Since that is not possible today, I would at least like some way to tie the  blog post to the book in my library.  I am still working on that.

Also, when published to the web, if you click on the book cover, it only shows either my synopsis, if I have added one, or Amazon’s.  But there is a bunch of other cool info in my manager that is not published, such as details about the book (size, pages, date published), quick info on reviews from amazon, etc.   I am trying to figure out if I can have any other information that I can see linked to my public page.  If I can’t, then just copying my notes from my blog into my synopsis may be the way to go, though I really want Amazon’s summary plus my notes available…  :-/

There are a bunch of other cool features, though I don’t know if I will use them all.  But so far it seems like a handy tool and it is fun to “publish” my library and reading lists in a more visual way.

Let me know what you think.   Is seeing a “virtual copy” of my library on the web cool to anyone else?  🙂

iMac mountpoint problem

This is somewhat to help me remember the next time this happens, but maybe someone else out there has had the same problem in the past and this will be here to help them….

I run my iMac in what Apple Care told me was an “unsupported” configuration on the phone, though they said the genius bar could maybe help.  Basically I run my entire /user from an external drive, not the internal drive.  I do this for various reasons… I like all my data in one place, rather than just having each application like itunes or imovie point to the external drive…

Anyway, in the year that I’ve run this, I’ve had the following problem happen 3 times.  Twice were due to power issues — even though I run a UPS, sometimes it doesn’t keep the charge long enough if I’m not close by to shut-down when we lose power.  The other time I accidentally knocked out the firewire cable of the external drive where /users is kept.  When the power comes back or when I plugged the cable back in, I was signed into my “sean” account, but it was not my real account, and everything was different.  😦  It is quickly obvious as the desktop image is the default OSX image instead of my normal image.

After digging into it, I saw that I was on a /users on the internal drive, not the external drive.  What happens is the mount point name of the external drive is changed to “ext_drive_1” instead of “ext_drive,” the OS can’t find my normal user account, so it uses the internal drive.  OS X assigns map points when the drive is attached, and remembers them when it is detached, and for some reason, it gets confused about the drive and gives it a new name.

The solution for this is as follows:

  1. reboot
  2. sign in as admin, not sean
  3. drag the drives imac24data and imactimemachine to trash (imactimemachine is serially connected to imac24data, so they both need to be taken offline)
  4. from terminal go to /Volumes
  5. sudo su
  6. rm -r iMac24Data  (this is where the wrong mount point gets cleared)
  7. wait a few seconds, plug back in the drive
  8. login to sean and all should be well

New Windows XP install

A couple of months ago I decided to re-build the Windows XP Pro OS my Shuttle PC, as had been a long time, and I was having trouble sync-ing with my AppleTV. I kept a list of the things I had to do, especially the s/w that I use on an almost daily basis. I thought this list would come in handy the next time I install… I recently ordered an iMac, and I plan on installing Parallels with XP Home, mainly so I can run Quicken natively, but it’s also nice to have a windows box around to tinker with. So much of what is in the following list won’t be needed in that install, since I’ll have most of it native on OS X….
New XP SP2 build

1) Install all current drivers for the hardware that XP
did not have

Shuttle specific:
– graphics card (on MB)
– usb 2.0 host controller
– sound card

Other hardware
– Canon Scanner
– Logitech video cam
– Epson Printer

2) AVG Free anti-virus

3) Firefox for web browsing

a) Extensions

Forecastfox Enhanced

b) PlugIns

4) Thunderbird for email

a) Extensions


5) Apple Software

a) AirPort utility for AirPort Extreme Base Station
b) Bonjour for printing to network printer
c) AirPort Disk Agent for access to network Air disk
d) iTunes for music
+ ilike sidebar to keep my stats up to date on ilike

6) Sharpcast for unlimited (paid) photo backup and cross
PC/platform photo sync’ing and sharing

7) Mozy Free for up to 2GB of free backup

8 ) EfaxPlus for fax viewing

9) trillian for instant messenging (aol, yahoo, msn, google, irc)

10) synergy for virtual keyboard and mouse sharing between two or
more computers

11) quicken for finances

12) Password Safe (pws.exe) for safe storage of all my passwords

13) skype

14) adobe reader

15) WinSCP
– and set up script to sync my internet server ( just
certain directories)

16) folderclone pro for backups

17) MS Office — tried to use google apps, but the track changes of
MS is a requirement… Maybe one of the open office packages
is compatible, but I did not have time to test…

18) GIMP — a free photoshop replacement that does all I need
and more

19) CutePDF, a free print to pdf driver

20 ) Picassa, for those things Sharpcast is not as good at… Such as direct email from the app.

Update: Forgot PUTTY and WinRAR…

Apple Airport Extreme Base Station (AEBS) 802.11n


I ordered this right after I ordered my Apple TV. In theory I could use the Ethernet cable that I’ve (partially) run from the office to the family room for that, but the AEBS had some other nice features, and running 802.11n to the Apple TV should work fine. It runs on 5 Ghz instead of 2.4, so the microwave and phone interference I’ve experienced playing music should (hopefully) go away. If not, I’ll get around to finishing the ethernet run.

The other features that it has that are nice are the ability to use the USB port for adding a printer, or a hard drive, or adding both a printer and a hard drive or drives via a USB hub, as networked devices, accessible to all pc’s/macs in the hosue.

Of course the Apple TV has still not shipped, but as soon as I got the AEBS, I set it up.

I changed my network around some, to eliminate some devices that I no longer need. One thing that could go was my very old 802.11a access point! Also, the AEBS has 3 Ethernet/Fast Ethernet ports, and I’ve been able to eliminate a FastE switch I was running. I do wish there were 4 ports, instead of 3, as I did have to go wireless on one of my devices that I had wired, but so far, so good with that. Second, it would have been nice to have GigE instead of FastE. Considering 802.11n’s speeds, the bottleneck to the wired devices will now be the FastE.

Adding a printer and hard drive via the usb hub was a snap. Just had to install Bonjour for windows on the XP box, and the mac saw it all easily. I am going to get one of the Lacie or ministack HD drives that are the exact same form factor as the mac mini, which is the same as the AEBS and the @TV. Thsoe drives have a USB hub built in, so I’ll just plug the drive into the AEBS, and then the printer into the drive. And I can easily add drives as necessary.

There are a ton of options on the AEBS — much more than with most home routers. So this could easily be used in a small business. One nice touch is that it has SNMP on it, so I am able to graph my DSL line usage. This allowed me to run my DSL modem in bridge mode instead of router mode. That actually makes synergy run nicer in my (somewhat) strange setup. And the interface to configure the AEBS is much nicer than the DSL modem, but can do all of the same things.

I have heard reports of VPN issues when using the AEBS, but I have not experienced any with the Cisco VPN client my work laptop uses.

I was hoping the range on it would be enough to get to my neighbors house so we could do cross house backups, but it doesn’t quite make it. But our homes are probably 275-300 feet apart, through woods. My AEBS is not in an ideal position to reach them. I haven not yet walked around outside with my laptop to test the range.

More computer problems

I posted recently about some computer problems. Well, I’ve had some more the past few days, and at least one of them doesn’t seem to have much info on line, so I want to document it here.

  1. First, Kelly’s HD on her mac died while I was out of town. She had been complaining it was acting weird/slow, and then one time mail seemed to get stuck, so she killed it, and then shut down and tried to reboot. Nothing but a blue screen. I suggested just pulling the battery, thinking that would fix it. Our neighbor does mac support, so she called him, and that was his 1st thought too, but after looking at it, he discovered the HD was no longer bootable. He was able to recover all the data, though with the backup solution I have in place, I was not too worried about that. He put in a new bigger HD, and all seems to be well again.
  2. Second, and the one I want to document for anyone else that may have this problem… I saw on slickdeals a 400GB for $89 shipped, from fryes. I couldn’t pass it up, and as soon as it came, I installed it. I had a lot of issues with the drive on windows XP…. First, I tried to install it with disc manager, and did a full format, only to have that fail at the end. I then tried using SeaGate’s DiscWizard to install and format it, and that seemed to go fine, accept that once it was finished, XP still showed it as unformated.
    I worked on it for a while, called SeaGate, and they said it was likely bad, so return it to fryes. I did that, but had the exact same problems on the new one! I had recently installed Vista on a different partition on the main drive, so I thought I’d give that a shot, and it worked fine! Formatted easily and quickly, and was able to copy files to it. So now I knew something was wrong with my XP build, and I called SeaGate back. This time they were able to tell me how to fix it without a problem.

    Here are some of the errors I saw:

    • When formating from windows xp (disk manager), it just failed with “windows could not format the drive.” Not very useful.
    • When formating from a dos prompt in windows, I got “the second ntfs boot sector is unwriteable.”
    • When formating from DiscWizard, I got no errors, and it looked like it was successful, only XP could do nothing
    • When formatting with Partition Magic 8.0, I got a #514 error.
    • When I successfully formated it in Vista, and then tried to use it in XP, I got “The request could not be performed because of an I/O device error.”
  3. This time, Seagate asked if I had the “Intel Application Accelerator” installed, which I did. Version 2.2. I don’t know where this came from, or when it was installed. I have a shuttle SB51G, and maybe it is part of the driver install that came with the barebones system, or maybe it happened when I upgraded the intel built in video driver. He said that applicaiton is known to have problems with partitions larger than 137 GB, even though I had done everything to make XP handle drives bigger than that. In fact, my primary drive is 160GB, even though it has several partitions, noe of which is greater than 137GB. So I downloaded the latest version, 2.3, installed it, rebooted, and right away, XP was able to see the drive and use it with no problems.

iTunes Stats

iTunes has an XML file that it uses to track all sorts of neat things, like ratings, play counts, date added, last played, etc. Some of these stats are useful within iTunes, to sort by date added, or play count, or ratings. Or to make smart playlists, etc.

For example, I have a smart playlist called NeverPlayed, which lets me see all the music that I’ve never played since importing it to itunes. Since I spent a fair amount of time a couple years ago re-ripping all of my CD’s, I have quite a few songs that I’ve never played. In fact, it is over 3000, but I’ve been letting the NeverPlayed playlist play a couple hours every day, so I’ll get that down eventually. Though I have to admit there are some songs that I probably don’t ever want to play! 😉

(BTW, I re-ripped to standardize. I started ripping CD’s sometime in 2000, and over time ended up with various formats, like mp3, ogg-vorbis, aac, etc., and different encoding rates. I really wanted to standardize to 192K variable mp3, so that is what I did.)

But iTunes doens’t provide much more insight into all the stats then what I’ve just listed. I do use the plug in, so I’ve got stats from when I added that a few months ago, but even that is limited (and I wanted stats for all-time, not just when I added the plugin), so I searched around. I found one called SuperAnalyzer that runs on Mac and Windows. (It’s a java applet.) It provided a little information, but not much. Mainly that I have too many tracks that don’t have all the information filled out. :-/

I also found iTunes Registry, which let’s you upload your XML file and then does an analysis on it. One thing that is neat about this site is that it combines all users’ data that is uploaded to it, so you can see some “global trends.”

I uploaded my XML file, and here’s a link to that page. I did find some interesting info — like I’ve listened to Dar Williams the most. And it gives some insight into how you rate artists, etc.

Anyway, there are probably a lot more cool things that could be done. I’d really like to know percentages like how much a given song, artist, or album, comprise my total listening, or total listening in the last year, or a given month, by song/artist/album/genre, or what percentage of songs are responsible for X percent play time (i.e. how long is my song tail?) Now not all of that would be availble, as the XML file doesn’t keep everything. But some of it would be possible and would be interesting.

Computer problems

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few computer problems that I thought I’d document here. A couple of them were the kind that normally would have sent my heart dropping, as the PC would not start at all! But since I now have a good back up system, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, my 1st thought was, “Oh, it’s about time to rebuild this windows box anyway.” Of course rebuilding is a pain, but it’s a chance to start fresh and get rid of a lot of things I don’t use.

Anyway, here’s a run down of the problems I’ve seen:

  1. pci.sys corruption

    So i installed the “Instant Media” client which promises to download Internet HD videos. Well, apparently my video driver was too old, so I downloaded the latest and greatest from Intel, installed it, and could see Instant Media clips in HD. Great! Well, the next time I tried to watch TV via my WinTV card, it was all garbage. So I downloaded the latest and greatest hauppage drivers and installed them. It failed for some unknown reason, so I tried their “erase all” program. Upon reboot, I got the big blue screen saying the pci.sys file was missing or corrupt. Uh-oh. Trying to boot from CD to do a recover gave “setupdd.sys could not be laoded, error code 4. Uh-oh again.

    Using another PC to search around on the Internet, I found that the suggestion was to remove all PCI devices and reboot, and then put them back in one at a time. My shuttle has only one PCI slot, and that is where the wintv card is. So I removed it, rebooted, all was well, powered down, put the wintv card back in, powered up, and all was ok. The next time I installed the wintv software, it all worked. Problem solved.

  2. Partition Magic and Grub don’t mix

    I needed some more space on my music partition, so I ran partition magic to do that. When PM tried to do the steps required, the pc failed on reboot. Uh-oh! After some searching, I found that my master boot record was probably toast. I booted up with a windows CD and ran fixmbr. I was then able to reboot, but just to windows, as it basically got rid of the grub info. I hadn’t booted to debian in 6 months, so I decided to just get rid of it, though if I had booted with my debian CD, I would have been able to fix it from there. When I finally did re-run partion magic, I got error 1201, warning 1211 messages, about bad blocks and block counts. I just had to again boot with my windows CD and run chkdsk /f on each partition, and then re-run partition magic. Problem solved.

  3. Bad DVD-RW drive

    At some point in all this booting from CD, the DVD/CD combo drive stopped working completely. I had to use a paper click to get the CD out, and then ordered a new one from newegg for about $30. That came 2 days later so I swapped it out, and all was well again.

  4. Bad HD on the old iMac

    I pulled the iMac out of the basement to set it up for Riley. It’s probably been down there for 2 years unused. On boot up, I get a little finder face alternating with a question mark in a folder in the middle of the screen. Called up my neighbor who does Mac support, and he said it can’t find the start up disk. Hmm, the spindles on the HD are probably suffering stiction. I tried shaking the whole imac, but that was difficult since it’s a bit bulky and heavy. I then removed the hard drive using the instructions in the link. I tried to start the imac up with just the power to the drive connected, and then twist the drive hard and fast as it was getting power, but it would not come free. Since it’s just a 13GB, I ordered an 80GB one from NewEgg for about $40, should be here today.

I think that wraps it up, though the last day or so I’ve heard a strange clicking coming from beneath the desk. I haven’t been able to place it yet. It sounds kind of like what the old ISDN link sounded like when it was coming in and out, but I seem to see it when the shuttle’s HD is coming on. :-/

All of these issues have me thinking about what I would replace the shuttle with. I love the big imac’s, but I’m also happy with my 2 20″ dell monitors, so perhaps a mac mini. I’d run parallels and windows on it to get the best of both worlds. But a loaded mini, plus parallels, is getting close to $1k. So building another small form factor PC for under $500 would also be an option. At any rate, I need to wait a couple weeks to see if any of the current mac rumors about new mini’s are true. (And figure out what hte clicking is!)