The holidays are a great time to step away from work and have a go at those ‘round-the-house projects you never seem to have time to get to. One such project in my house is the living room media server. I’m a proud PlayStation 3 owner, and prior to this project, was using it as my main media server. The drawback of using a PS3 as media server comes down to two things: format and size. Meaning, currently the PS3 will not decode Matroska format files, nor, because of its FAT32 format, accept any files on it’s internal hard drive over 4GB. To get around the file size limitation, I’d been streaming media to the PlayStation via the excellent PS3 Media Server. To skirt the .mkv issue, I’d been using ps3 muxer, converting to .m2ts files, and then watching via a memory stick. Working…but not exactly ideal.
The day after Christmas, some call it boxing day, I was digging through some bookshelves only to be reminded that I’ve got an old (and I do mean old – circa 2006) MacBook that’s just collecting dust. Hmmm…well, I didn’t get a mac mini for Christmas, but let’s see what the old black beauty can do.
After checking to make sure that I had all the cables and adaptors needed, I blindly started assembling my media chain. First and foremost, just to give everybody the best possible chance, I reformatted and applied all the updates to the MacBook. I then added the fresh Snow Leopard installed machine to my local network. Personally, I use a NetGear WNHDEB111 5Ghz N-wireless bridge from my Netgear WNDR3700 router, so I left airport off. A quick click on the sharing options from my main iMac, and the new MediaCenter (the black MacBook) can now see and access the files that I’ve designated within the sharing properties.
Great. I’ve installed VLC, and should be ready to go. Yes, but let’s be honest, VLC plays just about everything, but isn’t the snazziest of players to look at. I was on the hunt for something a bit nicer. After a short internet search, I stumbled upon Plex, and let me just say…this app has completely changed the way I view media in my living room.
Plex is a stand alone app that functions as a media interface for your mac. Initially, I started out with it only on the MediaCenter, but have quickly added it to all of my Macs, as well as my iOS devices. At it’s core, Plex does the exact same thing that Apple’s FrontRow will do, but does not limit you to the iTunes (read: .mp4 format), and…looks a whole lot better to boot.
Setup of Plex was fairly easy. Since the MediaCenter was already a member of the network, and I could freely trade files back and forth between the two, I only had to tell Plex where to look for my media. A quick setting here and there, and a library refresh, and boom – the best looking media server I’ve ever seen.
Not only will Plex keep your files organized in an easy to find and watch format, but will add value to the entire experience. If you’re familiar with how the Sony PlayStation handles media, you’ll know that it’s extremely basic: a folder and a thumbnail (if you’re lucky). It seems as though the development team behind Plex was just as disappointed in this interface, as they’ve gone in the complete opposite direction. In the Plex Media Server interface, you’ll find the option to update show, film, and music information as pulled from various sources around the internet. So instead of getting a thumbnail and a file name (PS3), I now get an overall synopsis of the show, and if I drill down further, specific information about the episode of Lost I’m about to watch. Pretty snazzy.
But the fun doesn’t end with just your own media. Thanks to the Plex Online feature built into the app, you can search hundreds of streaming media apps to install on your version of Plex. For example, I normally download the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams video podcast. Or, I should say…did download, as Plex has an MSNBC app that will stream Mr. Williams smiling face right to my MacBook – no podcast needed. And better yet…with the Plex MSNBC app, I’ve got episodes on demand. Meaning, if I’d had the podcast, I probably would delete it the minute a new episode arrives, but what if there was something I want to show a friend from last week? I’m outta luck via iTunes, but with Plex…click, click….and streaming. Awesome.
Sadly, because I live in Europe, I’m forced to crumble under the laws of Geolocation, and can’t view everything I’d like. NBC (not MSNBC) for example is a no go, as is Hulu (that was the one I really wanted). During the setup phase there were also streams that I could hear but not see. As it turns out, this is a Flash problem, and not a Plex problem, with a very simple fix to be found here.
The Plex group even goes above and beyond in this highly detailed tutorial (and tool) regarding tuning your DVI-out display to perfectly fit your monitor. If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded Overscan option, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and how to fix it. With that said, this calibration isn’t 100% necessary, as the app offers it’s own overscan compensation tool. But let’s be honest…if you’re reading this, chances are, you’re a Geek-Like-Me, and are going to tune it anyway.
The Plex media server for mac app is completely free, and available via plexapp.com. Sadly, I couldn’t find a “Donate” button, so I did the next best thing – I bought the iOS app. In addition to supporting an awesome group of developers, I now have the added benefit of being able to keep on watching Lost while I’m on my way downstairs to pick up the post. I know…I know…perhaps a bit “Do you really need that?”, but hey, at a total cost of $4.99, go ahead – live a little.
Plex for Mac – it changed my media viewing experience; what can it do for you?
With all the hoopla surrounding Monday’s announcement of a new and improved version of Google Docs, there’s one little phrase at the bottom of the announcement that may have passed by the average office worker: Gears is going offline. For good.
Google Gears is/was a plugin that allowed users to access their Google Docs sans internet connection, i.e. an ‘offline’ mode. Starting May 3rd, this option will no longer be available to Google Docs users, with functionality being “temporarily removed” … at least according to the official blog announcement. The same announcement does however, cite that Gears support will still be available for Gmail and Google Calendar.
So what gives? Why is Google taking the toys away? Well, the plain and simple answer is: HTML5. If you’ve not already familiarized yourself with HTML5, now would be the time, as these changes are likely to effect you. HTML5 is the next version of the markup language used to code the web (in one form or another). Note the phrase here: to code the web. Looking at Google Gears, we see the suffix: plugin. What we have here is a web standard vs. a plugin. Which one do you think is more attractive to developers?
By utilizing a new web standard, Google is freeing itself from the compatibility problems that can often arise when using plugins. For example, Apple’s Snow Leopard OS and Safari 4 introduced some new features that effectively squashed the ability to use Gears on newer Macs. Internet Explorer users were never able to view spreadsheets offline, and ‘other’ browser users either had zero Gears functionality, or had to jump through a ring of fire to obtain even minimal functionality.
Likewise, by switching to an HTML5 standard, Google is preemptively removing itself from the current shitstorm surrounding Apple’s decision not to allow the Adobe Flash plugin. In other words, they’ve found a clever, and competent, workaround to Apple’s sometimes draconian control of what makes it, and what doesn’t make it to their platform(s). With the inclusion of a new web standard, all Google has to do is conform Docs to this standard, et voilà, a cloud based document creation tool that will work in both off and online modes … internet connected or not.
While Google is remaining tight lipped on when exactly the HTML5 implementation will go live, they are hosting a webinar on 4/20 to further outline details of the ‘new’ Google Docs and all it’s functionality.
It’s not too often that I get really jazzed about browser plugins, but this one, InvisbleHand is simply too genius NOT to get jazzed about. The concept is simple enough, but no one’s gone the distance to actually write the script. Until now.
InvisibleHand is a firefox addon that will let you know when a product you’re viewing is available elsewhere at a lower price. If you’re like me, you might go to one of the big guys first to have detailed product descriptions, images, etc., and then likely begin the Googling to find it at a better price. InvisibleHand does the work for you (and probably does a better job).
When browsing for products on the big ones, Best Buy, Amazon, Overstock, Borders, etc., InvisibleHand will slide open from the toolbar alerting you that the item you’re looking at could be purchased elsewhere on the cheap.
Not only will InvisibleHand give you the absolute rock bottom price, but also present you with options from other retailers, sorted by price.
In this example, I chose a MBP, but the plugin works with a wide variety of popular electronics, toys, games, books, home improvement, DIY gear, etc. The full list is here.
I put InvisibleHand through it’s paces, even looking for some rather obscure gear on Crutchfield, and the plugin performed beautifully. The largest savings I (would have) recorded was a decent $123.87 on an HD video camera. And all of this for free? Bonus!
Check out InvisibleHand today, and get the Christmas savings going on early this year!
Update: the good folks over at invisible hand are doing a great job with their PR, and just sent me (and 200 of you) an exclusive beta key for their upcoming version. Leave a comment below, and I’ll ping the code on over to you.
As a gamer, of course I’m aware of Razer’s line of products, but sadly, they’re still serving the winblows world, and only offer one mac supported mouse. It’s white and cute, but feels more like a laptop, on the go business type mouse, rather than something substantial under hand. And while Razer’s still sticking with the Redmond crowd, they have recently announced that they’ve started shipping an industry first: and MMO specific mouse.
Dubbed the Naga, Razer bills this new input device as the next level in gaming mice for MMO players. Tested in combination with leading MMO gamers and community sites, including the number one MMO addon go to, curse.com.
“Gaming interfaces have been growing but there’s a gap in providing gamers a true experience of control in the virtual world,” said Robert “Razerguy” Krakoff, president, Razer. “Razer’s engineering team addresses this issue with the Razer Naga, designed to be unique and innovative by offering MMO players more customization and balance in-game. “
If you’re not familiar with the typical MMO setup, the quick and dirty looks like this: Most have an action bar at the bottom of the screen that corresponds to the number keys 1-12 (1-0 plus the – and = key). This action bar allows you to press a number that corresponds to the action that you want to take, while leaving your mouse hand free to target, move, etc. Personally, I’ve developed what I consider a great skill in being able to run forward (the W key) while still being able to click on the 2 or 3 key (depending on which spell I need) to cast while on the move. What the Razer Naga seeks to address here is freeing up the left hand from having to turn/twist into unnatural key combinations (think photoshop ‘save for web’ keyboard shortcut – or the PSclaw as I’ve heard it referred to). This industry first 12 button thumb grid allows players to map the 1-12 keyboard commands to the mouse, and access them via a thumb click. Optimally, I could see this remapping allowing for a full 1-12 action bar full of macros or modifier keys.
Razer has already lined up a number of supported titles (can you have a guess which one tops the list? WoW, I knew you could do it!) and includes add-on software that will allow players to save an unlimited number of profiles. These profiles allow for thousands of in-game commands for each individual character, thereby eliminating the need to re-map every time a player re-specs a character.
Again, I’m a mac gamer, and won’t be able to test this one out in person, but admittedly, the concept is intriguing. I guess the only thing that I’d worry about is mis-clicking. Heck, I’ve been known to have a click fail now and again, and that’s with a full sized keyboard. Trying to touch feel 12 buttons under thumb might be quite a challenge. Having said that, I’m sure the average 14 year old would have it mastered in just under half an hour, and 12 additional ‘don’t click – push the button’ macros could be quite handy.
Razer Naga Stats:
COST: US: $79.99, Europe: euro 79.99
- 5600dpi Razer Precision 3.5G Laser Sensor
- 1000Hz Ultrapolling(TM) / 1ms response time
- 200 inches per second max tracking speed
- Zero-acoustic Ultraslick(TM) Teflon feet
- 17 MMO-optimized buttons (including 12 button thumb grid)
- Optional MMO-specific software AddOns
- Unlimited character profiles with AddOns
- Approximate size: 116L x 69W x 41.6H (in mm)
When the news of an OS update for Mac users hit the streets, many users (myself included) got pretty jazzed – only to find out that we were going to have to wait quite a while to get our hands on Apple’s newest creation. Dubbed Snow Leopard, a clear indication that this is more of an expansion pack for Leopard, rather than a whole new version, this OS upgrade release date is set for September. Planned improvements include speed and performance, as well as improvements to the architecture our beloved Mac apps run on, and improved Exchange support (I can haz Mac now, boss?).
Again, as this is more of an expansion pack rather than a completely new OS, Snow Leopard will be Apple’s cheapest OS upgrade to date – priced at around $29. And frankly, at that price, I’d be hard pressed to see why anyone wouldn’t want this update. The exhaustive list of planned features is available from Apple, but for this article, I’d like to present the highlights that do it for me.
I arrived to the Mac world with a fresh copy of Leopard in my hands, but I have worked on Tiger, and rapidly discovered the benefits of Exposé. Spaces, I’m not that much of a fan of, but Exposé provides a number of productivity benefits, as well as the occasional…wait, which window was that yadda yadda in, answer. Snow Leopard is bringing exposé to a dock near you. Personally, I use hot corners and mouse shortcuts to access my exposé goodies, but Snow Leopard will now offer users the option to place an icon on the dock. Clicking and holding this dock icon will arrange all open windows in a far more organized manner, aligning themselves to a grid.
Oh QuickTime, how I love to hate you most times. I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one on this trip (think VLC development community), and it looks like Apple’s noticed. Other than the addition of the H.264 codec in Leopard, not much has changed with QuickTime for quite a while. In addition to a new icon to be used, QuickTime X includes a number of interface enhancements including improved streaming video ability, speed increases, and last but not least, a gorgeous border-less display window (finally!). Oh, and did I mention screen recording? Seeya iShowU.
Stick ‘em up buddy! Stacks first appeared in the Mac catalogue with Leopard, and personally, I love them. The idea is simple enough, one way to navigate through entire folder contents directly from the dock. And while highly functional, one of my major gripes is that you only were able to access the top level of this folder structure. Snow Leopard addresses this and allows you to drill down through folders while still in stack mode. Sft+cmd+a is looking further and further away.
Install Speed and Space
If the niceties above didn’t make you smile, perhaps improved system speed, and a bit more HDD real estate will. According to Apple, Snow Leopard will reduce the time spent installing the OS by up to 45%! Granted, this is a (hopefully) one time only deal, but shaving the install time in half? Well done Cupertino. And how about some extra storage space? Snow Leopard is touted to free up to 6GB of space!!! Granted, both of these claims come with fine print, but heck…even if I got only 3GB back, my iTunes collection would be mighty thankful.
If you’re a developer, Snow Leopard is either going to cause you a bushel full of woes, or make your life much easier. Either way you look at it, Apple is fundamentally changing the way things work under the hood. If you’re not a dev (I assume a majority of my readers full into this category), you’ll probably only notice the changes via improved speed, security, and system stability/reliability.
64 Bit Speed
All the latest Intel Macs ship with 64 Bit processors and are capable of performing at much higher speeds. Leopard has taken advantage of this technology, to an extent, but Snow Leopard will really saddle this pony and take it out for a ride. The OS update includes a number of re-writes for system applications that should make things noticeably faster.
These re-writes will also reduce the amount of memory that can be handled by any given application, thereby (theoretically) allowing for a maximum of 16 billion gigabytes of memory!
These leaps in speed aren’t going to melt your face off, but they should provide a noticeable snappier Mac (provided you’re running on a 64 bit system).
Do More with Core Duo
If you’re running a Mac with Intel Core Duo technology, Snow Leopard’s addition of Grand Central Dispatch will offer even more speed. Preliminary research of how GCD works caused a mild headache, so I’ll leave it at this: It makes things go faster.
Chances are the graphics on your Mac are already pretty darn impressive. With the addition of the new OpenCL architecture, your graphics processor will be able to handle a wider range of tasks. Hailing from the gaming world, this new technology will stand by waiting to assist and increase the speed of your every day use tasks.
Even the most die-hard Mac offices have to interface with the outside world, and their non-Mac toting counterparts. To this end, Snow Leopard represents Apple’s first steps in making Macs better suited to the suited world. The new Exchange support features will integrate MS features into local OSX applications including Mail, iCal, and Address Book.
Again, a full list of Snow Leopard’s features are available directly from Apple, and I’d suggest you take a look at it to get the full lowdown. The above represent the ones that get me jazzed, but there are sections I didn’t even get to (i.e. if you’re using a Time Capsule for Time Machine backups, you’ll be delighted to discover the process should be up to 50 percent faster).
With that said, my top 5 reasons for upgrading ASAP are:
- Price – $29? Seriously? For that price, heck, I’d buy two if it’d quadruple my speed increases.
- Speed – anytime someone says to me, “Hey, I’ve got something here that’ll make your machine run faster” I’m generally all ears. Knowing that it’s coming out of Cupertino directly from Mac engineers, call me sold.
- 6GB of free space – for $29 and most probably half an hour of my time to install the upgrade, and I get speed and space? Hmmm…what to do with 6 extra GB? iTunes what?
- 64 Bit optimization – perhaps falling under the speed category, but re-writing how the OS accesses and handles key hardware components is nothing short of brilliant.
- The Future – Obviously any time Apple makes a significant OS change, application developers scramble to get the very best out of their current product to take advantage of these features. I’m quite excited to see what type of updates/changes some of my favorites make to meet the new limitations of OS X Snow Leopard
So from where I’m sitting, September looks only a mere 41 days away. Apple’s not given a definitive date for release, but chances are, I’ll be lined up at 9am at the shop to get my hands on Snow Leopard. Will you be upgrading? Leave a comment below.
Every once in a while, someone brings a product to market that just makes me think – why? Naturally, my second reaction is – ooo…can I get one? Such is the case with NEC’s CRV43 ultra-widescreen curved monitor. Essentially, what we’ve got here Bob (watch This Old House, and insert Norm Abram‘s accent here), is four DLP (digital light processing) screens stitched together with some fancy LED backlighting to deliver a whopping 2880×900 double WXGA native resolution, 0.02 second response time, 200 cd/m2 brightness and 10,000:1 contrast ratio.
Now settle down there Skippy. I know what you’re thinking…I thought the same thing – OMGZ!! games are gonna be unbelieveable with this thing. Not so much. This Enterprise bridge like display has a highly unusual 32:10 aspect ratio (standard widescreen is 16:9 or 16:10). Rather, NEC says that this monolith is targeted at high end users in the simulation, digital imaging as well as the command and control industries, which require lightning-fast response times, a broad field of view, greater dynamic range, wide color gamut and employ multiple monitor set-ups. In other words, not your typical home office setup.
Since this big ol’ monitor is DLP, it’s not exactly svelt in the dimensions department. Weighing in at 52.5 pounds, she’s not exactly going to get carried to the next LAN party. Have a look at the side views in the images below to get a better idea of just how wide and deep those hips run.
The users taskbar extends across the entire width of the monitor, which according to NEC increases productivity and lowers frustration by eliminating the bezel and screen gap issues that occur with multiple monitor setups. That, and it just looks really f@(*%#ing cool! Windows users, might not get the whole panache, but my mac peeps – imagine your bottom task bar just wrapped all the way around. Oh dear god…I can plz haz?
One input setup may be achieved thanks to a single DVI-D and HDMI 1.3 input connects. And while it should go without mentioning, Big Bertha also comes with usb 2.0 connectivity. The LED backlighting provides for a wide color gamut with 100 percent coverage of sRGB and 99.3% coverage of Adobe RGB.
Originally unveiled at the 2008 CES, NEC plans on bringing this behemoth to market new month. Bragging rights are going to set you back a bit though. At $7999, Bertha isn’t exactly cheap, and not the most cost effective multi-monitor solution, but seriously…just look at this thing.
One of the primary reasons that I switched to mac just over a year ago was the stability of the Operating System. While my mac’s been fine, and would most probably have kept on working just fine, I guess there’s still a bit of my windows mentality lurking around, as when I started noticing some, ‘huh? what’s that all about?’ errors over the past few weeks, I guess I naturally reverted to the be all, end all solution – reinstall the OS. Fine and dandy, I’m quite familiar with the process via windows, so how hard could redoing the Mac OS X really be?
It’s quite easy – provided your DVD optical drive still works.
I had the lucky happenstance to find out that mine is dead. I’m probably not going to have it fixed, as I’ve read estimates anywhere from $380 – $466, and to be honest, I rarely every use it. However, this does bring up an interesting quandary; how to reinstall the mac os x with a dead optical drive? Apple provides you with a copy of the OS on two DVDs. Ok, first thought – see if I can’t copy these DVD’s using my old PC, and then just use the .dmg’s directly from an external USB drive. Great. But hold up there bucko, as it turns out, Apple Macintosh computers, both laptops and desktops can only boot from firewire drives. Hmmm. Personally, I don’t own any firewire external harddrives, they’re all USB based. So there goes that solution out the window. So here I am thinking that I’m really screwed, and either going to have to pull the main harddrive and plunk it into a friends mac, and do the reinstall that way (a major pain in the ass as far as I see it), until I did a bit of further digging.
Target Disk Mode
Now while I don’t have a firewire drive handy, I did have a 6-pin firewire cable lying around that I use with an external soundcard. As it turns out, you can use a firewire cable to connect two macs, and it’s quite simple at that. Here’s how.
For the purpose of this example, and for simplicity, I’m going to call the MacBook (to be used as the target disk) Black, and the MacBook Pro (where we’ll be installing the new OS) Silver.
- Make sure that Black is turned off, attached to the power supply, and all external devices are unplugged.
- Connect the 6-pin Firewire cable to black. Silver does not need to be turned off.
- Boot Black, and immediately hold down the T key. After a few seconds, you should see a large Firewire icon floating around the screen.
- Black should now appear as an additional disk on Silver. If you’re like me and do NOT have harddrives displayed on the desktop, press cmd+shft+c to bring up you list of available disks.
Et voila! Black, just became the words most expensive external harddrive/cd/dvd burner/reader combo drive known to man. So far so good, however, we’ve not yet installed the OS. From here, things should be pretty straight forward, however I did have one minor, ‘will that work?’ moment which I’ll describe below.
Upon popping the OS X installation disk in, you’ll get an auto prompt asking what you want to do with it. Select install OSX. The computer (Silver) will then ask you to reboot to begin.
Leave the firewire cables connected, and upon reboot, Black should remain in target disk mode, while Silver will now pick up the install straight from Black. If all goes well, everything should proceed as if you’ve inserted the disk directly into Silver (and the drive works).
So we’re all set, right? Yes and No. If you take a look at that DVD package that came with your computer from Apple, you’ll notice that there are 2 disks. Everything is cooking along, the OS is pretty much installed, but now you’ve reached that crucial moment of ‘Please insert disk two’. Ok, no problem, I’ll just eject the disk from Black and carry on. Hold on there partner, as Black is now in target mode – how ya gonna eject that disk? Can’t do it from the OS, and the hardware button no longer functions. Remember, when in target disk mode, Black ceases to be a fully functional machine, but again, a rather expensive external HDD/DVD drive.
To solve this problem, I took a round about way of solving this, and since I couldn’t find this info anywhere else, I took my own guess at it. Throughout this entire process, DO NOT remove the 6 pin firewire cable.
- Press and hold down the power button on Black until it shuts down
- Press the power button again, and immediately press the eject button. This should pop the DVD out before target disk mode launches.
- Press and hold the power button down again, until Black shuts down again.
- Press the power button down again, and now quickly slip disk two into the dvd drive.
This will handle the problem of inserting disk two.
As much as I’d like to have a functioning DVD drive, from what I’ve read this isn’t an uncommon problem for MacBook’s, both standard and pro. I tend to leave my machine on 24/7, and reboot it generally once a week. It has occurred to me that the additional heat generated by this prolonged usage may have not been the best thing for an optical drive (some parts are made of plastic).
If you’ve fried, or in my case, melted your DVD optical drive, if you’ve got another mac handy, hopefully this guide has walked you through the steps of using it in target disk mode to regain the features/functions lost. Any questions? Leave ‘em in the comments below and I’ll respond ASAP.
Schmapple. It seems as though the PC guys have run out of things to pick on the Mac guys about, and so they can only target one thing: iSmug.
Schmapple, along with a few other outstanding spoofs are made available by writer David McCandless. McCandless has been published in both the US and the UK including some top titles as Wired, The Guardian, Tank, and The Independent.
He’s recently completed a book: ‘The Internet, now in handy book form‘, and the associated site, www.theinternetnowinhandybookform.com parodies everything from Apple (Schmapple), Amazon (Amasszone), to ebay (kakbay) and technorati (narcorati). McCandless’s creations are more of a ‘Just go there and check it out’ type deal, rather than having me tell you about them.
However, let me simplify some of the linking structures for you. Click on the logo to get to the site:
And don’t be afraid to dig a bit deeper into each of these sites. Not only are the index pages a ball of laughs, but go ahead and try to order something at Schmapple, or find a soul mate on poormatch.