iTunes Nirvana…

So, I recently added a NAS to the network. I also added a new Mac mini. My goal was to have all the media stored on the NAS and shared it out to all the computers on the network. Since iTunes allows you to share your library, and the ReadyNAS has an iTunes server built-in, I thought this would be a piece of cake.

However, there were a few hiccups that delayed my achieving iTunes Nirvana:

  • You can’t create playlists from iTunes shared libraries
  • FrontRow doesn’t show artwork for items on shared libraries
  • You can’t sync your iPod to a shared library

Clearly, these limitations make the shared library approach less than ideal.

“Ok”, I thought. “I’ll simply point iTunes to the shared volume where the music and the library file reside.”

This didn’t seem to work. No music appeared in the iTunes browser window. After trying several permutations of this arrangement, I gave up.

My last thought was to make a soft link, or “alias” in Mac parlance, to the shared folder and name the alias “iTunes”. I deleted the “iTunes” folder in my home directory, “~/Music/iTunes”, and created the alias there.

The alias points to a mounted shared volume from the NAS

To my surprise, this worked (I really didn’t think it would). The only painful part is that you may have to rebuild your library, losing ratings, etc. However, all the limitations of the shared library are now gone.

I did encounter some issues where iTunes reported a corrupt library file, but I think it was due to my stopping the “importing library” process when I first started iTunes after making the library change (it was late and the import was taking a really, really long time). I also had to “consolidate library” to get some of the content that was local to one of the computers. Another issue I encountered was that startup of iTunes was slow. No biggie. I think the benefit of the remote library outweighs the performance issue. Speaking of performance, the final issue I uncovered was that FrontRow seemed to experience weirdness if iTunes is open. It claimed that there was no content in the library. I quit iTunes, and FrontRow was happy. This may have been due to the delay incurred by the network communication, but it seemed to be related to iTunes being open.

UPDATE: I continued experiencing the weirdness where iTunes on the mini would report a corrupted Library file, and recreate the Library from the Library.XML file (very time-consuming). I suspected this was due to something that the iTunes Helper application was doing. To test this hypothesis, I disabled the helper by selecting (in iTunes) Preferences->Syncing->”Disable automatic syncing for all iPhones and iPods”.

Disable auto-syncing to prevent file sharing violations resulting in Library rebuilds

I think it should be OK to have this enabled on one machine, but I haven’t tested that out. For me, manually syncing my iPod isn’t a big deal.

Also note that you should select “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library”. Sine your Music folder is on the network now, you’ll want all your content going there.

Be sure to keep all your files in the same place


lightbulb moment about iPhone and Safari for Windows ®

So, I watched the WWDC keynote, and I was like, “Why is Safari for Windows such a big deal that it is the ‘one last thing’ in Steve’s keynote?”

Well, it just hit me as I was reading this. Safari on Windows isn’t there to draw users to the Mac experience, it’s there so that people developing web apps for the iPhone have something to test with. The iPhone uses a “full version” of the Safari engine. Of course this needs to be tested, since each browser has its own quirks. There was no other way to test for safari than to buy a Mac. Until now.

Okay, now I can relax.


apple, schmapple…

Well, I’ve been working in an all-Apple shop for 5 months now. Overall, things are great. The problems that arise are either really simple, or involve replacing hardware. Haven’t hit too many mysteries yet.

I’d have to say that my main source of frustration is “the Apple Way®”. For instance: We received a new Macbook 2 days ago. As part of our standard operating procedure, we netinstalled an image containing all the most common apps that we use with the latest (or so we thought) version of MacOS X (10.4.8). After a quick install, we were ready to set up the new user on the machine. For some reason, the Airport card wasn’t functioning properly. Odd. A call to AppleCare, and they recommended taking the machine to a service location. In our case, the 5th Ave. Apple Store 🙂

So, later that afternoon, I trot down to the Apple Store. Wow. At 3pm, it was crowded. Anyway, after a 30 minute wait at the “Genius Bar”, I get my turn. I tell the genius that the machine isn’t recognizing the Airport card and about our imaging procedure. He says it’s probably our image. “But I just imaged 3 other Macbooks with it and it was fine.”

“Well,” he says, “You really can only install these things from the discs that came with them.”

What?! Sure enough, when he booted the machine from his clean 10.4.8 installed on a Firewire drive, the Airport card worked like a charm.

This may sound all well and good. I mean, the genius solved the problem, right? No. This sucks. What this implies is that every time there’s even a slight change in the OS, every update, every driver, etc. , we’ll need to create a new install image. Ugh. The whole point of the install images was that we’d save a lot of time when there are weird things going on with a machine, and we just want to get it back to a sane state. We’ve just lost that ability. Thanks, Apple! We really appreciate your looking out for the admins out there.

This is merely the latest in a trend of design decisions seemingly targeted at making an admin’s life a living heck. For starters, the server admin tools are a hodge-podge of GUI and non-GUI activities. While I don’t mind this so much, most Mac admins these days aren’t UNIX folk.

It’s official. As of yesterday, I have begun the disenchantment phase of my relationship with the Mac. Or, maybe the infamous “Reality Distortion Field” is just wearing off. At any rate, my feelings boil down to this: Macs are great at home. In a networked environment, they’re not so hot.

ease of use

I really do like MacOS X. I do. Of course, nothing’s perfect, and here’s one of them. Why can’t I create a CD image that is readable on Windows (or Linux or NetBSD for that matter)? Is this some kind of joke? There’s no option to create an ISO9660 image that can then be burnt to a CD? Give me a break! I really don’t mind using hdiutil from the command line, or even using mkisofs from the fink archives, but if Apple went to the trouble to make a nice GUI, then why aren’t these options available there? In, there’s a checkbox for “windows-friendly atachments”. Couldn’t there be a similar option for Disk Utility?

So, what’s a nerd to do? Roll your own, of course! I decided to learn something new and write a little Applescript droplet that turns the dropped folder into an ISO image. Here it is in all its glory. It detects if you’ve gone over the rough size limit of a CD, but doesn’t check for DVD size limits. However, it doesn’t stop you from making an image any size you want.

Try it out (if you have a Mac) and let me know how I can improve it.


iPod mini annoyance: fixed

I love my iPod mini. The one annoyance I had with it was that when it wakes from a deep sleep (not used for 36 hrs), it loses some settings. Primarily, the one that annoyed me was the cliker settings. I generally set it to off, to save power, and so it doesn’t, well…, click. There were also issues about the main menu items and all that, but it didn’t bother me so much.

As of the newest firmware (1.4), they have fixed this issue. Thank goodness! Unfortunately, they broke the Smart Playlist feature. You see, the Smart Playlists on the iPod would update if you changed some attribute (typically the rating) of a song on the iPod. Now the feature only works while you’re in iTunes. This is supposed to be fixed.

John Gruber has some interesting views on the podcasting phenomenon, and why Apple had to release new firmware and iTunes.


New Projects, old projects

Well, it’s been about 6 weeks (tomorrow) since A2C and I got married. Since then, it’s been a lot of moving stuff, cleaning stuff, adjusting to stuff, and enjoying time together. As things simmer down a bit, my mind is turning back to my various projects. I’ve got a lot on my plate these days, but I’m hoping to squeeze in the following old projects that I just haven’t gotten around to yet.

  • Soekris OpenBSD router(security)
  • Kerberizing network services(security)
  • Cleaning out old hardware, and making new machines from the parts

On top of all that, I’ve got a new project to add to the list. This will come as quite a shock to those of you who know me. I bought a TV. Yes, a real live Tel-a-vision. We have yet to get cable, but it’s coming soon. Anyway, this new screen will be one piece in the new home theater setup. I’ve decided to go with a Mac mini as the foundation for the system. Windows Media Center is not even a consideration. The Linux-based alternatives are even worse. For less money, and much less hassle, I’ll get a compact, powerful enough, quiet box that will serve out audio, play DVDs, and allow me to play emulators like MAME and Stella(Atari 2600).

“What about PVR?”, you ask? Well, I’m not so much into recording TV, especially since we don’t even have cable, but I suppose at some point I might decide to do this. I can always add that capability, and I think the mini should be able to handle it. If not, TiVo is a great solution 🙂

I’ll post updates to my projects page as things progress.

Wish me luck!

sometimes it’s too easy

So I took the Quadra 700 home yesterday. I got NetBSD running pretty quickly. I even installed MacOS 8. Kudos to the NetBSD/mac68k port maintainers. The install was really, really easy. So easy, in fact, it’s not worthy of its own project page 🙁 Oh well. There are other platforms out there.

I also installed a bigger hard drive. I happened to have a 9GB SCSI disk lying around (actually, it was in the recycle pile). Anyway, I replaced the meager 90MB drive. The biggest downfall is that the 9GB drive is about 10X louder than the 90MB one.

Getting the drive in there was really simple, too. I removed the cover, the power supply and the drive cage with 2 screws. Mind you, this thing was made in 1991-1992, so if any of you remember PC cases back then(think 486), it often took 4-6 screws to get the cover off. The other nice thing about the 700 is the size of the case. It’s a tiny mini-tower design. The floppy mounts vertically.

So now what? Well, I’m thinking of getting an ethernet tranceiver for it. Small Dog Electronics has the Asante transceiver for $4 USD. Once this puppy’s on the ‘net, then it’ll be infinitely more useful. I’ve been looking for an old machine to use as a serial terminal for my other *nix boxes. However, I wanted a machine with no hard drive, boots up in a matter of seconds, and has a minimal GUI. Unfortunately, the Mac Plus that fit this role perfectly died. I’m still looking for a solution to that problem. The Q700 doesn’t fit the spec. For now, I just plug in my PowerBook to the serial switch via a USB->Serial adapter.

Another thing I was thinking was that the case for the Q700 screams to be turned into a mini-itx project. I’d just need to lengthen the floppy slot and mount a slot-loading DVD-ROM/CD-RW.

Anyway, just pipe dreaming for now. Lots of other things to tend to at the moment 🙂


it’s like deja vu all over again

So my co-worker says to me, “Hey, you like Apple, right? Got any use for some older ones? I have one or two.”

“Sure”, I say. He shows up at the office with a Quadra 900 and a Quadra 700. The 900 is a honkin’ beast, so I probably won’t take it, especially since the specs are the same as the more petite 700. This thing is really cool!

So, what am I going to do with it? Run NetBSD, of course! It’s supported by the mac68k port. I’ll be sure to post something on my projects page when I get around to it. This little guy has 20MB RAM, a 90MB SCSI HDD, an external SCSI CDROM drive, and is really quiet. I may use this for my terminal server. If that’s the case, I may just run an old version of MacOS on it and use zTerm.

forced to move?

According to several sources, the first one I saw being the drunken blog, Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) will no longer support “old world” Macs. Hmmm, while I understand that they need to have a viable business without stretching themselves too thin,this saddens me.

I have been running YDL on an old Power Computing Power Tower Pro 200. This is one of the Mac clones from the late 90’s. It’s a sweet little computer that I bought from a graphic designer for $200 a few years back. The thing has been running non-stop as my mail server. There were 2 times it was down. Once, after uptime of nearly 300 days, I was rooting around in my closet (server room) and kicked the plug. had to reboot. The second time was when I moved to my new place. Never had to touch it since. The thing just runs, and relatively quietly, too.

Anyway, the “new world” macs have different firmware, and thus makes the older macs obsolete. There is hope, however. I recently got NetBSD running on an old 5500. The 5500 is also an old world system. So, when YDL no longer supports my version (2.3) of linux, then I’ll wipe the box and run NetBSD.

It’s strange, but more and more of my computers are running *BSD. It’s as though these PCs are born with and grow up running Windows®, Linux is the Ferrari of their mid-life crises, and when they get long in the tooth and want to settle down, they run *BSD.