MobileMe – 6 months later…

No company is perfect and that includes Apple, Inc. Apple has been hitting some good home runs lately. No one can argue the success of the iPod, MacBook, iTunes Store, iPhone and Mac OS X. However, Apple’s MobileMe is still, well, um, let’s just say not quite there yet!

MobileMe was launched in July of 2008 on the same day as the iPhone 3g. It was the revamped replacement to .Mac. The main focus of MobileMe was to allow iPhone, iPod touch, Mac and PC users to sync their data wirelessly with the cloud (MobileMe). Of course on launch day there were nothing but problems. Apple’s servers were overwhelmed by all the simultaneous activations of iPhones and MobileMe accounts. 

So let’s fast forward 6 months later and take another look at MobileMe. MobileMe provides its subscribers with email, online storage, data syncing and web hosting. I’ve been a MobileMe user (and before that .Mac and before that iTools) user since day one. So I’ve got first hand experience on what works and what doesn’t. I’ll start by saying that I have no issues with email and data storage (other than the slowness of using the iDisk in the Finder). These services work quite well for me. My issues are pretty much all with the data syncing. 

I love the concept of no matter where you make the changes to your contacts, calendar or email, it will be updated on all your other devices. As an iPhone user this is a really nice thing to have. I was very happy to turn on MobileMe syncing on my iPhone 3g the day I got it. It was like magic to see my phone load up with all my contacts wirelessly. Life was good! 


Trouble in paradise

It didn’t take long for the problems to surface. My contacts are probably the most important thing to me on my iPhone. I’m constantly making calls, looking up addresses and looking at contact notes. So if there is the least little problem here it’s going to be magnified for me 10 fold. A couple of days later I went to make a call and my Contacts list was EMPTY! That’s right all gone. Poof! Oddly enough they were still on my Mac in Address Book and still on the site. A few minutes later, they were all back on my iPhone. Now other than the obvious inconvenience of them not being there when I went to make a call, there was another issue. My custom ringtone settings were gone. I’m big on assigning ringtones to friends, family members and co-workers so that I have an idea of who’s calling before I even pickup the phone. Well when the Contacts came back, they came back without the ringtone assignments (Apple doesn’t sync your ringtone assignments with the cloud). I timed it and it takes me about 15-20 minutes to reassign them as it has to be done one-by-one. I figured OK, this is probably a one time thing. A hiccup with the cloud perhaps. So I did all my ringtone assignments over again and moved on. Unfortunately this was not a one time thing. It happened at least a dozen times from July to now. There are a few threads on Apple’s discussion boards of people having the same exact problem, so I’m not alone here. I finally gave up!!! That’s right, I just couldn’t take it anymore. One minute they’re there, the next minute they’re not. So I turned off MobileMe syncing of Contacts and went back to syncing them manually via iTunes and the USB cable. I haven’t had a problem since. Now my Contacts are always there and my ringtone assignments stay intact!



Apple still doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to  calendars. There are several issues that I don’t have the time to go into here so I’ll stick to the big ones.

The biggest problem is that MobileMe still doesn’t handle subscribed iCals. This means that if you use the automatic Birthdays calendar from Address Book, you won’t have this important calendar on your iPhone. No birthdays! At least not without some workarounds. Also if you subscribe to anyone else’s iCal, you won’t have those calendars on your iPhone either. So much for checking your spouse’s calendar before making plans. Another odd problem is that you can’t even select which of your non-subscribed calendars get sync’d. It’s either all or nothing if you sync using MobileMe. So if you have some misc. calendars that you don’t care about on your iPhone, they will be there whether you need them or not. Now if you turn off MobileMe calendar syncing and sync manually via iTunes you’ll be able to have just the calendars you want including subscribed ones. Go figure! Unfortunately I can’t turn off MobileMe calendar syncing like I did for Contact syncing because I also use Exchange syncing for my work calendar. If you sync with Exchange, you can’t sync manually with iCal. It’s either all manual syncing or all cloud syncing for any given category (contacts, calendars, etc.). You can’t mix the two.


The Bottom Line

MobileMe is $99/year (or less if you find it on sale). If I wasn’t using the other services if offers, it would be really hard for me to justify renewing this! I keep hoping for a silver lining in the cloud, but after 6 months it’s still a storm cloud. If one of my friends walked up to me and asked me if they should use MobileMe, I would be very hard pressed to say yes at this point. Let’s hope that Apple is hard at work fixing these issues and maybe we’ll see a MobileMe that works by its one year anniversary in July 2009. With all the emphasis on software as a service that most companies are moving towards, Apple needs to get this one right in order to be taken seriously in the future.

iPhone App of the Week – Lose It!



This app was recently featured in one of Apple iPhone commercials. I believe the line was "if you want to count calories, there’s an app for that." I was sitting there watching LOST and when I saw the ad, I picked up my iPhone and downloaded it. I was blown away by this app from the start. It’s so much more than just counting calories. This is a complete fitness, diet, nutrition tracking app. I was using Weight Tracker (another fine app) before this one, but Lose It! does everything Weight Tracker does and a lot more.


Getting Started

You start out by simply inputting your current weight and then your goal weight. Lose It! then prompts you with number pounds you would like to lose each week to meet your goal. In my case I could have either chosen 1 or 2 pounds a week. Then it tells you the date by which you should meet your goal. Next it figures out a per day Calorie Budget. Whatever this number is, if you stay under it, you should reach your goal. It even takes into account exercises that you do and adds those calories burned back in to your budget for that day. 


Figuring out how much you can eat



I was also blown away by the extensive database of foods that are already in its database. You simply tell it what you have/had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and it will subtract those calories from your budget. Of course it can’t possibly know the calories for everything. So you can easily add your own custom foods or foods that aren’t in its database. Many restaurants now have their nutrition information on their websites. This has been very helpful for me. I was surprised to see how many calories there were in some of my favorite foods at like P.F. Chang’s vs. some of the other foods I eat at the same restaurant! It was really eye opening. 


Tracking your progress


You enter in your weight each day (or as often as you like) and Lose It! will track your progress with a nice graph. It will also tell you how much you are under or over your calorie budget each day and for the week.




It even has one of my favorite activities/exercises…… er, um Scuba Diving! 😉 


The Bottom Line

We are all trying to live a little healthier these days and having this app has really made a difference for me! I much more conscious of calories than I ever would have been without. I’ve already lost 7+ pounds since I’ve been using it. The most amazing thing to me is that this app is FREE! That’s right, there’s no charge. I’m stunned by how well this app is designed and that it doesn’t cost a dime. It works on both the iPhone and iPod touch. Download it today from the App Store.



The Tripod Police Strike Again!

Professional photographers are increasingly being harassed for, you guessed it – taking pictures. It amazes me that in most of these situations, if you pulled out a point and shoot camera or a cellphone camera and took a picture, no one would give you a second look. However, pull out a DSLR or gasp, a tripod and you will be tackled in a matter of minutes. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally get that there are certain locations that are off limits for photography such as government installations, etc. I also get that tripods do pose a safety (tripping) hazard. However, there seems to be an increase in the amount of harassment that goes on especially if you appear to have professional gear.


Here’s a humorous look at the situation where an Amtrak photographer gets NAILED!

Garmin Nüvi GPS Vent Mount


If I rent a car while traveling, them I’m going to be using my Garmin Nüvi 765t GPS. I’ve never been a fan of suction cup mounts because they just simply don’t work well for me. I had moved to a bean bag style (friction) mount which works great. However, it’s not very small and when I’m traveling every bit of space counts as I hate checking my bags. When I bought my Nüvi 765t, I noticed a very small mount that actually clips right on to the AC vent of your car. I bought one of these on eBay and used it on a personal trip last month to Wisconsin. I don’t even remember what kind of car I had on that trip, but the mount worked PERFECTLY. 


It puts the GPS in the perfect spot


Although it’s nice to have the GPS at eye level on the window or dashboard, it does mean that technically part of your view is being blocked. However, having the GPS mounted just below the dash on the vent, is ideal. I’ve seen cup holder mounts and while they seem to be out of the way, I think I would find that position just to low depending on where the cup holder is in the car.


The size of this mount is also perfect. So small that it would easily fit in a jacket pocket. The price is also right at about $5. I don’t know what other GPS systems this will work with, but if you have a Garmin GPS, then you should really check out this mount.

Headphones/Earbuds in the “OMG!, they cost how much?” category

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating the various headphone/earbud choices out there. I started with the new Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic. Then I took it up a notch by going to the V-Moda Vibe Duos vs. the Bose In-Ear Headphones. Now it’s time to move up to the next level that I affectionately call the “OMG!, they cost how much?” category. I have 3 sets of headphones in this category.


Let’s start with the Bang & Olufsen A8s

These have been a long time favorite of mine because of the their design. They are clearly the most adjustable and adaptable headphones I’ve ever tried. The over the ear arm really makes for a secure fit when you’re going to be active like jogging or working out. So these were the ones that were always in my gym bag. Although they sound great, the one problem with these is that the actual piece that goes in your ear is “one size fits all” and I’m here to tell you that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. These are slightly to big to fit down in my ear canal properly. I can get them in, but after about an hour my ears begin to hurt and I end up having to take them out. If they were to redesign the actual ear piece with different sized gels found in most modern day headphones, I would be completely sold and would look no further.

Bang & Olufsen prides themselves on selling high-end gear, but at out of this world prices. The average consumer would walk in their store, look around, see the prices and walk right back out. Although they sell uniquely styled gear, I really question if their stuff is worth the price? To date I’ve only experienced their headphones. 

The Bang & Olufsen A8’s go for $160 on their site. The interesting thing was that I couldn’t really find them by just browsing their site, I had to actually refer to an old link. Perhaps they are either phasing these out or coming out with something new. What’s funny is I used to think $160 was outrageous until I started looking at the next few options below 🙂


Moving on up to the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Headphones


If you do any frequent air travel, I dare say you’ll see more Bose Headphones than any other brand. Bose Quiet Comfort Noise Cancelling Headphones are legendary amongst frequent travelers. It’s almost like a status symbol. I have tried all 3 models, the original QC’s, the QC2 and even the new smaller QC3’s. As a glasses wearer, the QC3‘s were the worst. These are “on-ear” headphones and I just couldn’t take the pressure against my ears pushing against my glasses. Also Bose went from a standard AAA battery that you could pick up in any airport, to a proprietary rechargeable battery. This decision was clearly made by someone who doesn’t actually travel on a regular basis. If the battery dies, you’re done. Not only does the battery power the noise cancelling feature, but it also is what allows sound to come through from your device. So dead battery means no sound whatsoever. I gave up on these and went back to the QC2’s. The Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Headphones offer the best blend in sound, comfort and noise cancelling that I’ve tried to date. There is one problem though and it’s their size. I find myself leaving these behind at home more and more these days because I just simply don’t have room for them in my bag anymore. When I have the room, hands down these are my favorites for the plane. 

Bose sells the Quiet Comfort 2 Headphones for $299 via their site. 


Next up are the Shure SE420 Earphones


I’ve always looked at the Shure earphones as “there’s no freakin’ way I’m paying that much for some earbuds!” Their earphones start at $120 and go up to $499! Yes $499, more than you spent for iPod or other device that you’re going to plug them into. Had I not gotten a pair of their SE420’s ($399) as a gift, I probably would have never tried these. I used them on my last flight home from San Francisco. Where Shure is different from all the other ones I’ve tried and reviewed to date is that they are “noise isolating” instead of noise cancelling. They pay special attention to the way they fit down in your ear to block out all other sound. I gotta admit that these are amazing. The sound was fantastic and I couldn’t hear the screaming baby 3 rows back (no I’m not against babies). What does $399 get you. First off you get a very well designed set of headphones with a very nice hard carrying case. You get a 3′ detachable audio cable, airline adapter for those international flight entertainment systems, and a ton of different sleeves for just about any ear/ear size. If you’re concerned about comfort, they have gone out of their way to provide a variety of different sleeves to fit every ear. I swapped a couple of different sets until I found the ones that fit me best. The SE420’s feature Dual TruAcoustic MicroSpeakers, they use a dedicated tweeter and woofer to provide a detailed sound stage. Lows, mids, and highs are distinct and defined – for accurate reproduction of all the details of your music. Clearly Shure has put a lot not only into making these comfortable, but more importantly sound! Also because of their very compact size, they are much more likely to be in my travel bag than the Bose QC2’s.

Now the big question: are they worth $400 to me? Wow, I’m gonna still have to say no. I say no not because Shure didn’t build a phenomenal product that sounds great and fits great. I say no because I just personally think that $400 is too much to spend on earphones. I’m just not an audiophile. If you are looking for the perfect blend of size, sound and fit, these are the ones. If $400 makes you gag, you might want to investigate their other, less expensive models. I’m absolutely jazzed about owning these and they were the perfect gift because I would have never bought them for myself.

The Shure SE420 Headphones go for $399 from their site. Amazon has them for a lot less!

iPhone App of the Week – Air Mouse Pro


I use a lot of different iPhone apps and some come and go from my phone. It’s not that often that I find an iPhone app that does EVERYTHING I’d want it to and works exactly the way I’d want it to. However, Air Mouse Pro is just such an app! I had a need for an app that would allow me to control my Mac mini. I would have been happy with a simple trackpad and keyboard. However, Air Mouse Pro does things I wouldn’t have even thought of. For one, you get access to more than one keyboard. There’s the basic keyboard that allows you type the alphabet.


They were also smart enough to include a keyboard with all the function and special keys that we take for granted.


The also included a media keyboard with play, rewind, forward, volume, etc. keys. This is great for control Front Row on the Mac or a Media Center PC.


Lastly they included a web browser friendly keyboard that has nice big browser navigation buttons. 


The trackpad is full featured too, completely configurable and tappable. Even when the keyboard is up you can still use the entire screen as the trackpad. There are onscreen left and right buttons for clicking and even a scroll wheel in the middle. These guys really thought of everything. 

The app works via Wi-Fi. So you have to install the desktop version of Air Mouse on your Mac or PC. You also use this app the set up the special media keys. For example, I set up a key to launch SlingPlayer, Front Row, iTunes and Safari.


Air Mouse Pro also takes advantage of the built-in accelerometer. so when you rotate the iPhone on the side the trackpad/keyboard goes wide. Also if you shake the iPhone up the keyboard goes away or down to bring it back. 

Air Mouse Pro is $5.99, works on the iPhone or iPod touch and available from the App Store here.


Check out this GREAT video on how the app works:

[flv: 470 320]

Continuing the theme of low cost entertainment – 99¢ iTunes Movie Rentals


Seems like you guys enjoy posts about ways of cutting costs on your entertainment bills and in this tough economy I can certainly understand why. Well there’s yet another way to save some $$ and that is to take advantage of the 99¢ iTunes movie rentals. Apple typically charges $2.99 and up for movie rentals via iTunes. However, each week they have 99¢ movie specials. If you weren’t paying close attention you would never know these bargains existed as they aren’t always prominently displayed on the iTunes store. However, there is a website ( complete with an RSS feed that will alert you each week as to which movies are being showcased. Granted, these movies are not new releases and in many cases they are probably movies you’ve already seen, but hey they’re only 99¢ and if they were classics that you liked or movies you hadn’t seen yet it’s a win win situation. 

You can also go to the top secret 99¢ movie rental page on iTunes here.

My streaming problem has been solved by YOU!


Last week I put my blog readers to the task of giving me a way to stream content from my DVR to another TV wirelessly. It didn’t take long for the responses to start streaming in. I’m happy to report that not only did you solve my problem, but you blew past my expectations with the stuff you guys came up with. It was actually the second response by “Ivan” that really turned the tables. Ivan suggested something that I hadn’t even considered. He suggested replacing my Apple TV with a Mac mini.

“I’d suggest replacing the AppleTV with a MacMini :).

Has WiFi and could technically stream whatever you want, at least I think. Add Boxee to the mix, and you’ve got ABC, Hulu, Joost, local movies, local tv shows and so on on your TV.” – Ivan

I was so stuck on adding another box to the mix to do the one thing that I was missing, that I never considered replacing the existing box I was using with one that was more capable! At first glance at Ivan’s comment, I dismissed it. I thought that Ivan was missing the point. He talked about streaming shows from the internet. Well that wasn’t the problem. The TV already has a CableCARD in it and I get live TV all day long. However, when I gave it a second thought the lightbulb came on! I already have a Slingbox Pro connected to one of my DVRs (the Comcast box in my office). I use the SlingPlayer on my MacBook Pro when I’m on the road to watch stuff recorded to my DVR. It was at that moment that I realized that if I used a Mac mini instead of an Apple TV, I’d be able to install the SlingPlayer app on it and stream content from my DVR to the other TV out in my pool/workout area. That was it! That was the missing piece of the puzzle. It was so simple and the beauty of it was that it wasn’t going to cost me a dime! That’s right, I already had a Mac mini just sitting in my home theater going to waste. 


Mac mini vs. Apple TV – Smackdown!

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Apple TV! I like the concept of a box that allows me to wireless stream my content (photos, movies, music, podcasts, etc.) from my Mac to my TV with a very slick interface and simple remote. Also now that it has movie rentals, it’s even more useful. However, the downside of Apple TV is that that’s all it does. If you want other content, you’re pretty much out of luck. Now I can take shows recorded on my TiVo HD, transfer them to my Mac (thanks to Toast) and convert them into an Apple TV/iPod format and watch them on my Apple TV. The problem is that the process takes 4-6 weeks to complete. OK, I’m exaggerating. However, it does take a long time depending on the length of the show and whether or not it’s in HD or not. This means that you really have to plan ahead. If I recorded 30 Rock on my TiVo HD and plan to watch it later/the next day out in the other room, I’d have to remember to start the transfer before I go to bed that night. Then when I wake up, I’d have to start the conversion process. For a 30 minute HD show, this could easily take a couple of hours in total. Once it’s converted, then I’d still have to transfer it to iTunes so that it would be available to watch on the Apple TV. It’s certainly doable, but that’s a lot of planning ahead. 

Since the Mac mini is a computer, that eliminates a lot of these steps. For one, I could just install the Toast/TiVo Transfer apps right on the Mac mini and after the show is transfered I could just watch it! No conversions necessary. However, that’s still going to take time as the TiVo transfers take longer than real-time to happen. So a 30 minute show could easily take an hour or longer to transfer. That’s where Slingbox and the SlingPlayer come in. With the Slingbox connected to my office DVR (the one that’s used the least), I can record all my favorite shows and then run the SlingPlayer app on the Mac mini to stream those recordings wirelessly and full screen.


My original Mac mini

I bought the first Mac mini, which came out in 2005 (wow time flies!). I originally bought it for much of what we’re talking about today. I bought it put in my home theater so that I could watch my iTunes content (there was no Apple TV back then). I also wanted the ability to run Delicious Library (my DVD cataloging app) on the big screen. This Mac mini is a 1.25 GHz G4 (a dinosaur by today’s standards). It was the base model and I upgraded it to 1GB of RAM. Once the Apple TV came out in 2007, the Mac mini just sat there for the most part. Most times I would forget it was even there until happened to look over and see. In my home theater, the Apple TV does everything I need. I already have all the other boxes I need in that room doing everything else. So the Apple TV was a perfect fit. 


So when Ivan proposed using a Mac mini, I thought – “well gee, I already have one of those. Let’s give it a shot!” My initial concern was that it was going to be too slow to stream. I was concerned that it only had 802.11g wireless AND after I hooked it up I realized that this model didn’t have support for the Apple Remote. This meant that Front Row (Apple’s original Apple TV like interface that is built-in to the Mac OS) was going to be a problem. I then remembered that Apple included Front Row in Leopard. The first thing I did once I hooked it up was install Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (with all the current updates). I remembered that even if you don’t have an Apple Remote you can still get into Front Row by hitting Command-ESC. It worked, but now that meant that I’d need a keyboard handy. I do have the newest Apple Wireless keyboard which is nice and small. I also still had my Bluetooth Trackball. While this was all fine, I really wanted ONE controller. A keyboard with an integrated pointing device.

airmouse1    airmouse3  

That’s when I remembered “Matt’s” comment about an iPhone/iPod touch app called Air Mouse Pro. PERFECT! This app was even better than I had hoped. It’s a trackpad and keyboard all in one and it even has a Front Row friendly mode with one button access to Front Row. This eliminates the need for the Apple Remote, separate keyboard and mouse. Air Mouse Pro totally rocks! It will definitely be my iPhone App of the Week! 🙂


What about TV resolution?

This is one advantage the Apple TV has over using a Mac mini. Out of the box the Apple TV already has all the right ports on the back. It has HDMI, Component, Optical and RCA audio jacks. Not only does it have the right connections, but it’s also geared to be connected to a TV at the various TV resolutions including 720p, 1080i and 1080p. Luckily I already had the right cables. I have a DVI to HDMI cable. I also had the necessary 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable for audio. When I connected the Mac mini to the TV and booted it, it detected the resolution and came right up. The problem was that the menu bar and dock were cut off. This is due to “overscan”! The Apple TV doesn’t suffer this problem because Apple was very careful to design the menus and interface so that they don’t go to the edge of the screen. On the Mac minis that came out later (like all the intel models), Apple added an Overscan option in the display preferences. This will slightly shrink the screen so that you can see the edges, but it will also potentially introduce black bars all the way around. No real way around this.


CSI Miami streaming from my DVR in the SlingPlayer running full screen at 720p


Since I don’t have the new Mac mini, I used a shareware app called SwitchResX. This app allows you to have custom resolutions and more importantly for me it also offers the overscan correction I needed. Once I turned that option on, I could see everything.


I shall call him Mini mount


The good folks over at H-squared wanted to help out so they sent me their Mini mount which allows you to mount your Mac mini on the wall. This was perfect for my set up as my TV is suspended from the ceiling and there is no where for the Mac mini to sit. In case you were wondering what became of my Apple TV? I moved it to my office and used H-squared’s tvTray to mount it on the wall as well. I love the LED glow (now standard on the tvTray and optional for the Mini mount).


I even used the very cool MultiLevel iPhone app to make sure the mounts were level on the wall 🙂 Not only was H-squared very very helpful to my cause, they even want to offer all of you a discount on their products. You have from now to the end of February to save 15% off their stuff. Just use the code, wait for it………… “TERRYROCKS” at checkout.


My Gear

One of the comments I got requested that I post the actual components of my final solution. So here they are:

  • Toshiba 27″ LCD HDTV with built-in DVD player and CableCARD slot – this TV was discontinued ages ago. I bought mine on eBay because it was only model I could find at the time that had both a CableCARD slot and built-in DVD player.
  • Mac mini – I have the original model which is 4  years old. The new ones are faster and have an Apple Remote.
  • Apple Wireless Keyboard – it’s small and bluetooth wireless.
  • Bluetooth Trackball – I’m not crazy about this as it takes several click to get it to reconnect after a reboot
  • Air Mouse Pro – Freakin’ AWESOME iPhone app to control it all!
  • Slingbox Pro – connected to the crappy Comcast DVR in my office (see my review here). Wait? Why is my Slingbox connected to your Comcast DVR (which sucks) instead of my TiVo HD? Good question! I connected it to least used DVR in the house because when you’re watching your DVR via the Slingbox, you’re actually controlling that DVR, changing channels, etc. I didn’t want to interrupt any other family member’s viewing. So the Comcast Motorola DVR is the one that gets the least use 🙂
  • SlingPlayer  for Mac – a free download
  • Mini mount – Mounts the Mac mini neatly on the wall (get 15% off with the code “TERRYROCKS”)
  • SwitchResX – because I have the original Mac mini I need this to correct for overscan issues on the TV’s resolution
  • DVI to HDMI Cable – The Mac mini has a built-in DVI port. Most newer TV’s have HDMI. So you’ll need a cable or adapter
  • Audio Cable – Although I used a Monster cable, any old Radio Shack cable will work just fine and will be much cheaper.


The Bottom Line


SlingPlayer running on the Mac mini with an onscreen remote that looks just like the physical Comcast remote for my DVR.


The Mac mini was a perfect fit for my needs in this situation! Granted it costs twice as much as an Apple TV, but it has more than twice the capabilities. If Apple were to ever build-in a Blu-ray player, it would be the ultimate set top box/computer. Now I’m only scratching the surface here because I really only needed it to do the one thing and that is allow me to stream my DVR content over to another TV. However, because the Mac mini is a computer, it can do so much more. At a minimum you could also surf the net as needed. You can also stream TV content from sites like and although I haven’t yet played with Boxee, it looks very promising. It doesn’t stop there! Remember Netflix streaming is now on the Mac. So you could stream anyone of up to 12,000 movies. You could also turn it into a DVR as well with products like EyeTV. Although it doesn’t have a built-in Blu-ray player, it does have a DVD drive in it. This means that it can playback all your standard DVDs and Netflix rentals too. So the Mac mini can just about do it all.

Once again, THANK YOU to all my blog readers and especially those that offered up the very cool solutions that made this a reality!

Don’t think you need to backup a Drobo? Think again!


I've lost enough important data in my life to be very backup conscious! So when I got my Drobo (what's a Drobo and how does it work? read my earlier review.) last year, I was still very concerned about regular backups. You might think that with a Drobo, there's no need right? After all, isn't the point of a RAID system like this to protect your data against drive failures? The answer is yes! Drobo is engineered to protect your data in the event of a drive going bad. As a matter of fact it goes out of its way to monitor the health and well being of the drives and report any potential problems. However, you can still lose data! 


This was not the blog post I intended on writing

I had originally sat down to continue to write about more stuff on streaming TV content and my transition for an Apple TV to a Mac mini in one of my rooms. I snapped some shots of my setup with my digital camera and began the import process on one of my computers over my network to my server. The only problem was that I was getting write errors that looked like something had gone haywire with the permissions of the folder I was trying to write to. When I checked folder in the OS it was EMPTY! I thought that was odd, and went over to the actual Mac OS X Server machine and all the data was there. So I did the normal troubleshooting stuff including rebooting and that's where my evening of fun began.



Nothing but green lights!

Not once did the Drobo report a problem. Why? Because technically there wasn't a problem with the hardware. The drives were operating normally. The next thing that happened was kind of heart stopping. After another reboot, the Drobo no longer appeared on the desktop. What was even worse was that there are 10 blue LED lights on the front of the Drobo unit to show you visually how much capacity has been used up. Normally for me there are 3 of those lights on. Not only was the drive not mounting on the desktop, but now there was only one light on. What had happened was something I hadn't thought about. My main volume's directory structure had become corrupt! Now this is not the first time that this has happened to me on my computers. As a matter of fact Alsoft's Disk Warrior has saved my bacon on many occasions. However, this was the first problem I ever encountered with the Drobo. So I ran Disk Warrior (not knowing what else to do) and sure enough Disk Warrior reported all kinds of problems. However, Disk Warrior is really good at correcting this stuff, so I let it do it's magic. Mid way through the process the drive appeared on the desktop and I was breathing a little easier. After the process was done, I verified some of the folders and everything looked good. However, there was still only one blue LED on. So I rebooted again and nothing. Upon closer examination, I noticed that many of my folders were now EMPTY! That's right, stuff was GONE! Here's the thing, I know the files were all technically still there, but the directory just didn't know about them anymore. I ran Disk Warrior again and it reported one more problem and fixed it, but still most of my data (to the tune of about one terabyte) was missing in action!


This is why backups are so important

This could have been a major catastrophe if I had relied on Drobo alone! Luckily I backup my Drobo automatically every night to another external drive for JUST SUCH AN EMERGENCY! Granted my backup drive isn't as large as the Drobo itself. My Drobo is 4TB's. However, I had only used around 1TB of space so far. So I was backing up to a 1.5TB external firewire drive each night using SuperDuper! In theory it will take me quite a while to fill up 4TB's of space. As my storage needs grow, I figure that drives will continue to grow as well. 2TB drives were just recently announced. I'll just keep getting bigger backup drives as needed. The Drobo is not my server's boot drive. It's just for data. So what about the internal boot drive that's running Mac OS X Server? Yep, I back that up too! That one is being backed up to another external 1TB drive via Time Machine. While there are no precious photos or other keepsakes on that boot drive, it does have my Server OS as well as all my settings. Who wants to start from scratch setting up a server all over again and all the various permissions? Not me! So I back it up! As I write this post, SuperDuper is cloning the backup data from LAST NIGHT back on to the Drobo (after I reformatted the Drobo of course). The process will take several hours. Although it will take hours for this clone to happen, I would have never been able to recreate all the data that would have been potentially LOST!


Offsite too!

I'm so paranoid about this stuff that I actually have TWO 1.5TB backup drives. One of them is always in the safe deposit box at the bank. I would like to think that I'm good about rotating the drives each week. Honestly, I'm lucky if I remember to do it monthly. However, I'd rather lose a month's worth of data than EVERYTHING! A backup does you no good if it's in the house that burns down, floods or is burglarized. Now I know what you're thinking, "that's not very likely to happen to ME!" OK, no worries. You go ahead and live on the edge. Clearly you have it under control and your data is protected, and you sleep well at night. Rock on! Have a nice day and best of luck to you. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Can you get by without Cable/Satellite TV?


Well of course the answer is YES! I grew up with a father who thought paying for TV was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard of. So needless to say, if it wasn’t on the major networks and on at a time I could watch it, I didn’t see it. Maybe that explains my addiction to cable now. Although it seems that I still (for the most part) only watch the shows that are on the major networks, I couldn’t dream of giving up my cable TV (ie “the pipe”). I don’t even think about it anymore. My TiVo HD is all set with Season Passes to my favorite shows and I watch them when I have time to without missing a beat. But what about the costs?


How much do you spend each month on Cable/Satellite TV?

My Comcast Cable bill is nothing to sneeze at! I have the digital/HD package with HBO and I would swear that I could probably have another small car for what I pay them each month. It’s worse! I also have DirecTV in my kid’s rooms. I can certainly consolidate and give up DirecTV, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. That’s another, albeit smaller bill.


What about the internet?

With almost everything being streamed over the internet these days, do we really need to “pay” for TV? If you live in a relatively large metro area, chances are you can pick up your HD signals through the air. So the only thing you’d be paying for are the premium channels. Isn’t a lot of that content being streamed these days anyway? For example, check out It also seems like the major networks are also broadcasting their shows for free via their websites. If all else fails, you might be better off just buying a season of your favorite show on iTunes. Two of my favorite shows are 24 and LOST. To buy both seasons in HD on iTunes would cost $118.00 (keep in mind that these shows are streamed for free on their respective websites with commercials). That’s cheaper than one month’s cable bill for me.

This ABC news report shows how a family completely cut their cable bill ($100/month) and went to just broadcast and internet only TV. There are also several computer gadgets out there that will let you record shows and watch them later just like your physical DVR. I’ve experimented with EyeTV and it works as advertised. I plugged in a basic cable line (it can work with an antenna too) and after it was setup, I had it record a show that came on later that day. Once the show was there, I was even able to do basic editing like removing the commercials and from there I was able to either watch it on my computer or move it over to my iPod or Apple TV to watch on the big screen. Sure there is extra work involved when you don’t want to watch it on your computer or when you don’t have a computer connected to your TV, but it’s a lot cheaper to do it this way.


Let’s not forget Netflix

I had never seen an episode of the Sopranos while it was on TV. However, I did watch the first 5 seasons on DVD. I loved the show, just never got into when it was airing. With Netflix I was able to watch all of them as quickly as I wanted with no commercials of course. Since Netflix charges a flat rate, all you can eat subscription price, you can watch as many TV shows on DVD as you have time for. The cost will be the same. Same goes for Farscape. I had never watched a single episode of this show when it was on the air. A friend loaned me the complete series on DVD. So even if you like a show that’s on TV, that doesn’t mean you have to watch it on broadcast TV. There are several advantages to renting your favorite shows on DVD once the season is over on TV. The biggest advantages are you don’t have to worry about commercials and you don’t have to wait week to week to see what happens next?


This is all good, but I need the big screen

While this cost cutting stuff is all good, let’s face it, we want it all on the big screen in HD! Sitting in front of my computer watching a TV show is not my idea of a good time. I do it when on the road, but that’s about it. I have a sizable investment in large screens around here and I want to see my favorite content in all of its HD glory. So what’s the answer? Apple has the right idea for the most part with Apple TV. However, it’s just not enough! I couldn’t get by with just Apple TV alone. There is no streaming from the websites and it’s a pay per view model (when will you go to a subscription option Apple? When?). So a better option is to have it all is to probably hook up a computer directly to your large screen TV. There are several caveats to this, not the least being the size of the computer, connections, etc. I’ll be covering my switch to the Mac mini soon.


The Bottom Line

I’m not quite ready to cut my cable line just yet, but if you’re constantly being frustrated by the ever increasing cable and satellite TV costs, this may be a way out. I could at a minimum give up HBO. There’s just nothing left on that network that I watch. Well there is “Big Love”, but I could live without that 🙂

Explore your options! There are plenty of them in this competitive world we live in.

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