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!

3screens

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:

osxpref1

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

osxpref2

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.

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?  🙂

Remember the Milk.

rememberthemilklogo.jpg

I’ve been using this “to-do” list for a few weeks now, and am really happy with it. The main thing that makes it great is that it is pretty easy to integrate into Google Calendar, which I constantly use. Now I can see my to-do’s for any given day right on my Google Calendar. You can add, edit, and mark completed all from Google. Beyond that, it has nice features like iTouch application, different categories and priorities, etc.

Upgraded Apple TV to 250GB

appletv.jpg

I was tired of trying to squeeze exactly what I wanted onto my original 40 GB Apple TV. While the streaming worked ok, it was not perfect. I really wanted my entire library on the apple TV in the living room. I had been eyeing an upgrade, but held off until Apple TV take 2 came out. Once that was out, I gave it a couple of weeks, but finally gave in, picked up a 2.5″ EIDE drive for about $115 from OWC, and started the process.

I started followed the steps as outlined at this old engadget post, though this does not seem to work fully anymore, and I had to modify the steps near the end to get it to work.

http://img.engadget.com/2007/03/23/how-to-upgrade-the-drive-in-your-apple-tv/

The hardest part may have been the 1st step of peeling off the rubber bottom. I probably was not patient enough, and should have started with a putty knife. I ended up with a few small tears, but nothing disasterous. Since my unit is in a cabinet anyway, it doesn’t really matter… In fact, if the bottom does tear, putting on a four rubber feet may give it better airflow/cooling anyway. For now, I just put the sleeve back on with the tears.

I then had issues with my USB <-> IDE adapter… The power connection I have it is only for 3.5″ drives, and I couldn’t get enough juice with just the USB. My neighbor had a macally phr-250cc usb/firewire 2.5″ drive encolusre that he let me borrow, and that did the trick. Plenty of power on firewire. (I have since picked up a couple of the phr-250cc’s as they are pretty nice…)

Once that worked I made an image of the original Apple TV drive… From the terminal use diskutil list to find out which disk to use, and then the following command to make an image:

dd if=/dev/disk2 of=/Users/Sean/AppleTV.img bs=1024k (mine was disk3, and I actually did this on a different volume)

There is no progress indicator, but you can go in to the finder and do a get info on it, or use another terminal window and issue a killall -INFO <pid> and that will show you how many bytes have copied.

Once that is done, you disconnect the original Apple TV drive and connect your new drive. The engadget article says you can just do the following, which is copying the 1st part of the drive rather than the whole drive, to save time, but I tried this several times and had issues further in the process…
dd if=/Users/Sean/AppleTV.img count=1335 of=/dev/disk2 bs=1024k

So I finally gave up with that and found a comment later in the thread that just copied the whole drive as follows:

dd if=/Users/Sean/AppleTV.img of=/dev/disk3 bs=1024k

When that is complete, issue this:

diskutil list

diskutil eject disk3

And then:

gpt recover disk3
diskutil eject disk3

Then remove the old Media Partition based on what you see in diskutil list:

gpt remove -i 4 disk3
diskutil eject disk3

Then find the new start:
gpt show disk3

diskutil eject disk3


Then create the new partition, using the info from the last step.

gpt add -b 2732072 -i 4 -t hfs /dev/disk3 <== this number will vray based on your drive size

diskutil eject disk3

Engadget then has your format the partiion, but that did not work for me. Either the format would fail, or if it did work, the following steps would fail — either booting the Apple TV or trying to do a restore on it.

Instead, disconnect the HD, install it in the Apple TV, and power it up. When it has booted,do a Reset Settins and then Factory Restore. It will fill the media partition from the original size to all the space that is left on its own. One interesting thing is that it comes back on s/w version 1, but it upgrades to 2 with no problem.

I then configured iTunes to sync all 110 GB of my content, which took many hours.. I run mrtg on my base station, so you can se here I got around 25 Mbps via wireless to sync. I had a misconfig in which only 5 of my movies synced the 1st time, so that is what that second spike is…

picture-1.png

It has been running fine and it is nice having everything there all the time, with another 120GB or so free to grow into. 🙂

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

Fasterfox
Forecastfox Enhanced
TabMixPlus

b) PlugIns
flash

4) Thunderbird for email

a) Extensions

QuickQuote

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

aebs1.png

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.

iLike

I love music stats. Recently I had this post about iTunes stats. I also like music recommendations. I wrote about MOG and last.fm here, and Pandora here.

Last.fm is what I have been using the most, and my last.fm profile is here. It combines stats, with a recommendations / social networking aspect.

There is now a new one called iLike on the scene, and so far I really like it. One thing that was missing from last.fm is that it didn’t analyze your listening habbits prior to installing it, so it only showed stats going forward. iLike actually takes the time to analyze your entire library, looking at which artists you’ve played the most and which songs you’ve played the most. It doesn’t do an analysis of your ratings, like iTunes Registry, but that one is a bit of a pain as you have to upload your iTunes xml file manually, whereas iLike does everything once you install it, and continues to update your profile as long as you keep listening.

Here is a snapshot from my profile showing recently played songs, top artists, and top songs.

Here is a link to my iLike profile.

Another thing that iLike is missing is the “weekly top artists” that last.fm keeps, but last.fm only keeps the last weeks information. I’d love to be able to go back to any day, week, or month in time, to see what i was listening to way back when.

iLike also let’s you hook up with friends that use iTunes and iLike, and it let’s you listen to what they listen to. I don’t have any iLike friends yet, so I haven’t been able to use this feature. I just installed it a couple of days ago, but if you are reading this, and you use iTunes, give iLike a try and let me know, so we can hook up.

As far as the recommendations, it does a couple of things. First, it shows other users that have similar listening habits (even if you don’t know them) and what they listen to. Second, it shows songs you may like, and let’s you listen to them. Some of them are even free MP3 downloads, so that is pretty cool.

So far, it does seem to slow things down a bit in iTunes, but I haven’t really spent that much time figuring out if that is the case — it could be that I recently got iTunes 7.0.1 to actually work. But that is my only complaint.

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 last.fm 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 last.fm 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.

Carbonite

Carbonite is the last online storage/backup site I’ve tried, and so far I’m sticking with it on my PC. It is $5/mo for any amount of storage! As my last post stated, with most home broadband, anything over 40 or 50 GB is probably not worth it, though if you have a few PCs, you could quickly get over that amount and recovery on just one would be reasonable.

One review I read thought Carbonite had a simplistic interface, but I actually like it. You can use windows explorer and right click on a drive, folder, or file, and tell Carbonite to back it up, or not back it up, or back up this file type, or not back up this file type. It seems to use less bandwidth while I’m doing other things per my mrtg graphs. It is still going, but I realized that when I clicked on my “data” drive, that there were lots of things in there that did not need to be backed up. For instance, I back up my internet server to my data drive, and while I may back up some of that in more than one place, my users Maildir’s don’t need to be backed up againa and again!

Carbonite has a 15 day free trial, which is what I’m in now, but I imagine I will keep using them past that. The do not let you use your own encryption key yet, but say they will in the future.

There is no Mac support for Carbonite, though they say the will have it sometime this year. I saw that for Mozy as well, BTW.