Mac Mini Media Centre – Boxee

Boxee is a media centre application again based on XMBC but more focussed on the social sharing of media. In this, our fifth part of an ongoing series of Mac Mini Media Server articles I’ll review Boxee Beta which is the latest version of the well known software. Boxee, unlike Plex, is available for Windows and Linux as well as Mac. There is also a version of Boxee that can be installed on a flashed Apple TV.

Creating a Boxee Account
One of the first differences with Boxee is to download the application you first need to create an account. The account you setup isn’t just for downloading the application – it’s the key to sharing your media likes amongst friends. On the website you can add friends who already use Boxee, see what your friends have been watching and recommending and also link your account to other services.

At first I dismissed the services as a gimmick but thats not the case, well not for all of them. Twitter and Facebook linking allows you to post your shares to those sites or indeed everything you are watching. One to watch is Twitter – you could easily annoy your friends with continuos tweets from Boxee. You could also embarrass yourself with some of your viewing habits. You have been warned. Of more use is Flickr and Digg which allow you to connect to your content and access them from within Boxee. One of the better services is Netflix which alas isn’t available in the UK. Yet. Enter your account details though and you can browse your queue, recommendations and start watching films from within Boxee. One day maybe. one day.

Boxee Install
Once the software has been downloaded, installed and launched your presented with the login screen. You only need to do this once as Boxee will remember your details. One nice feature to note – Boxee supports multiple users so for families who want to watch and share out to different friends Boxee is ideal. Once logged in your presented with the home screen which has been redesigned for the beta.

I found the design of Boxee Alpha was cluttered and quite weak. Boxee Beta has addressed this with a clean and simple user interface that makes navigation easy and content quickly accessible. The home screen gives quick access to the various content types, your app’s and also three socially driven streams – Feed, Featured and Queue. This is something that really makes Boxee stand out. Launch Plex and you need to add local content, scan folders or install app’s to play media. With Boxee the Feed is showing content watched or recommended by friends or intially the Boxee staff. Featured is content that is promoted by Boxee. Queue is populated from two sources – you can add content from within Boxee to the Queue or via a bookmarklet installed on your browser. If you find a video online, add it to the queue via the bookmarklet and you can watch it back via Boxee at a later date. Simple but effective. So from first install you have media to play. On first launch of Boxee the queue features a how to video to get you started.

The Global Menu seen above has been added to the Beta which allows for quick access to content and settings. The bottom of the menu also includes a customisable shortcuts menu which means app’s or a favourite TV series can be accessed with ease.

Adding Content
Lots of internet video is all well and good but my main interest is in my locally stored content. Boxee makes it easy to add content compared to Plex. Visit the Settings screen, Media and then you can browse to a local drive or a network share or enter the source manually. Like Plex when entering a source you select a content type – video, music or picture. You can then alter how often the folder is scanned for new content – private, once, daily or monitored which means newly acquired content should be available quickly from within Boxee.

Boxee uses IMDB for it’s scraping and I found it to be good as long as my content was named properly. I keep my naming simple and follow this format for movies:

IMDB Movie Title (Year of film).video extension

For example:

Batman Begins (2005).avi
District 9 (2009).mkv
Slumdog Millionaire (2008).mpg

and this format for TV:

TV Series Name
– Season 1
– TV Series Name – S01E01.video extension

were S01 is Season 1, E01 is episode 1. You can also add episode title in there but I find less is more. Keep the naming simple with the season and episode number and the scraper is far more reliable.

For example:

Battlestar Galactica
– Season 1
– Battlestar Galactica S01E01.mkv
– …
– Season 2
– Battlestar Galactica S02E01.mkv
– …

One issue I did have with Boxee is that there is no obvious way to tell if it’s finished adding content. Visiting the Movie or TV folders showed only some of my media. Going back to Setings and Media and selecting a local folder showed it was still scanning. It would be better if there was a indicator that scanning was taking place – a status window or icon in the top right corner for example.

Another shortfall is that Boxee doesn’t integrate with iTunes unlike Plex. With Plex you can access all your playlists from within the tool itself. With Boxee you need to scan your music folder and there is no playlist support. The dev’s have acknowledged the problem and say it is being worked on for a future version.

Playback
The home screen allows you to access Pictures, Music, Movies and TV as well as app’s. Leaving pictures to one side Music allows you to browse your collection by artist or album. You can also filter by genre and sort to see your latest music. The screens are clean and functional but the lack of playlists really hurts especially with a large music collection.

Movies make the most of the IMDB scraping and present either a poster list of your movies or a list. Again the cleaned up UI is noticeable here with scrolling quick and movie selection easy. However compared to Plex it lacks a certain impact. The lack of fan art and other information is disappointing. You also don’t get the variety of views seen in Plex that allow you to browse a wall of images, cover flow type views etc. While not entirely necessary it’s these touches that impact the most in Boxee.

One feature that is good to see is resume from last playback position across all movies and TV shows. The playback screen also allows you to share the video with your friends including adding a comment, see further information on the movie and also change audio and video playback settings for the individual movie or across all of Boxee. One other playback feauture of note – Boxee played back all my content, even those movies that I had issues with in Plex and VLC. Very impressive and makes for a great first impression.

TV Shows are similar to Movies. Boxee groups your TV Shows by programme, then lists then in season order. Again the presentation ‘wow’ is missing in Boxee. No fan art, no theme tunes and very little info on each series and episode. It’s not a deal breaker but if your used to Plex it feels a little empty.

One big difference in TV Shows is the availability of online content…for some of us! In the left hand side panel instead of My TV Shows which displays local TV content only select TV Show Library. This will refresh and display TV series that are available for free in your region.

As you can see in the screenshot above there is a lot of content available…if you live in the US. In the Boxee settings there is an option to show or hide network content depending on your geo-location. With this enabled you get a slightly different set of series in the UK.

Yes, South Park. Thats it. The sooner we lose geo-locked content the better although it’s always been this way if you think back to the region locks on DVD’s. Of course there are series available in the UK via iPlayer and 4OD for example but they aren’t hardcoded in to Boxee. Something to raise with the developers.

Applications
Despite the lack of online content in the TV section there is a vast array of applications that can be installed to help. Similar to Plex you can access iPlayer, Revision 3, Wired and a whole host of other internet based TV and video. There’s also some great photoblogs like The Big Picture which looks great on a large screen.

You can install from over 150 app’s with more being added all the time. I’ve found them to be generally stable and like Plex a great addition to my locally stored content.

Niggles
Boxee, considering it’s free, is a great piece of software. However note that it’s called Beta for a reason. I’ve had it crash three or four times in the last couple of weeks. Twice during the cataloging of content and twice during playback although one of those was a plugin which I’m sure will suffer from a higher level on instability than the main Boxee program.

Although the UI is clean and simple I prefer Plex simply due to the additional data that Plex will scrape. Boxee can feel too clean at times although I’m sure the tool of choice will come down to individual preference. Boxee does come with some customisation options which can be used to spruce it up. You can set backgrounds and if you use some of the images from this Flickr set or the XBMC website you can create a very individual player. It doesn’t support skinning like Plex but it’s at least something.

Final issue is the iTunes integration, or lack off. Browsing music in Boxee is painful with large collections. Fixing this would be a great step forward.

Future for Boxee?
Boxee like Plex is based on XBMC but Boxee has big plans and a lot of funding behind it. Not only is it available on a variety of platforms but this year will see the launch of the Boxee Box.

This will be a relatively cheap under the TV device whose sole purpose is to run Boxee. I think the hardware looks great and it should mean great things for the Boxee platform going forward. They have also announced Boxee Payments coming soon. While this is controversial it’s probably the only natural step to grow Boxee. Content providers want people to pay for their content. Boxee want to be a viewer for the content so payments is a natural step forward.

Overall
Boxee is a great media centre application that will only get better with time with a large and ever growing community supporting it. At the moment I still prefer Plex but both have their idiosyncrasies so it’s really personal choice that will decide which app is for you. Boxee is easier to setup than Plex but gives you less overall control. Plex isn’t as obvious to setup but I think usage is easier once the effort has been made and it’s certainly a richer environment. I’ll shortly be looking at XMBC but the next post will look at a variety of remote control options for your Mini as there’s some great options out there for your Mac.

Readability

I read much of my web content in Google reader. However for an interesting or longer article I still prefer to click through to the articles website and read it in situ, mostly to read through any associated comments or make my own. More and more sites though are cluttered with links to other articles, tag clouds and adverts. Especially adverts that flash, move and distract from the actual article content. Step forward Readability. A summarised on their website:

Readability is a simple tool that makes reading on the Web more enjoyable by removing the clutter around what you are reading.

To setup Readability, visit the website and select a Style, Size and Margin. Then drag the bookmarklet to your browser bar. When your on a website and the clutter is distracting click on Readability. Take this TUAW article for example.

Small text, distractions in the right hand column. One click with Readability and it’s clutter be gone.

I now have a clear distraction free article with images preserved. Much easier to read. The buttons to the left hand side allow me to swap back to the true website view of the article, and taking advantage of the cleaner page, I can print the article or e-mail the article on to friends and colleagues without the normal distracting content being e-mailed at the same time.

Another use of Readability is when it comes to note taking. I capture a lot of web content in Evernote for future reference. By default the snippet tool can capture a whole page or selected text. I prefer to use a bookmarklet that first sets up a Readability view of a web page and then invokes the Evernote web clipper to capture the article and sync it to my Evernote account. The result is a far cleaner set of notes.

If you want a bookmarklet to do both then take a look at this Evernote forum post. I hope you find Readability as useful as I do – certainly makes for a more readable web.

Mac Mini Media Centre – Plex

Welcome to the fourth in a series of posts on creating a Mac Mini Media Centre. In this article we’ll look at a great media server application called Plex. By default you can use Front Row as a 10 foot interface to access media stored on your Mac and managed via iTunes. Front Row isn’t a bad application but compares poorly to Plex.

Plex is a fork of the legendary XBMC and is currently Mac only. Once installed your presented with a beautiful front end and…not much else. Using a keyboard or Apple remote you move through an animated menu to select Movies, TV, Music and App’s but by default the only media Plex will pick up is that managed locally by iTunes and some default app’s, so the first step is to add your local media content.

Straight away though you hit the first quirk of Plex. How do you add your media? If you visit Preferences there are no options to add media. Visit Movies or TV and there is nothing there either. However, goto View Your Video’s and there you will find options to add your different media sources. Not obvious and hopefully something they address in future versions to help the beginner. The first key step is to separate your Movies and TV video’s into separate content. To add your media browse to it’s location and set a local name for it in Plex.

The important step is to Set Content i.e. TV or Movies. By selecting the content you also select the scraper which will be used to download extra information about your media. By extra information I mean movie ratings, fan art, music, trailers, actor information etc. You’ll see why this is important later in the review when we look at media playback. With content selected, Plex will scan your media folder and download information on your media via the selected scraper. Depending on the amount of media this can take some time.

The first time I scanned my movies folder only 5 out of 50 or so movies were added. This is where I probably had the biggest pain with Plex. The key to getting content added successfully is to name your files properly. Again, the size of the job depends on the size of your library. For movies, the following convention should see your content added correctly with information downloaded from IMDB.

IMDB Movie Title (Year of film).video extension

For example:

Batman Begins (2005).avi
District 9 (2009).mkv
Slumdog Millionaire (2008).mpg

The excellent Plex wiki contains a lot more detail on naming your video files and support for folders including VIDEO_TS folders. I’ve chosen a flat structure with all movie files in the same folder and named as above. Once I’d fixed the file names I rescanned the source folder and all my content was added successfully. Well, almost all. Kill Bill 2 was added as The Killbillies. Close, but not quite right. Plex allows you to select individual files, rename then and also then rescan the file ensuring the correct library information is added. Took less than a minute and my full library was now available. TV is added in much the same fashion. Again, pay attention to file naming to ensure content is added successfully. If you have multiple TV episodes in one VIDEO_TS file then Plex won’t be able to split into episodes. I split up my TV files/rips as follows:

TV Series Name
– Season 1
– TV Series Name – S01E01.video extension

were S01 is Season 1, E01 is episode 1. You can also add episode title in there but I find less is more. Keep the naming simple with the season and episode number and the scraper is far more reliable.

For example:

Battlestar Galactica
– Season 1
– Battlestar Galactica S01E01.mkv
– …
– Season 2
– Battlestar Galactica S02E01.mkv
– …

Despite my careful naming Plex failed to add all my TV series. In fact, out of 10 series only 2 were added. No matter what I did to the name it wouldn’t index my files. I deleted the source and added it again and this time all content was added successfully. Did I mention that Plex could be quirky? If the renaming looks daunting or you want to rename content you download automatically then visit this forum post on Episode Linker – a great tool for renaming files. It takes badly named files and renames and moves them into a structure that Ples understands i.e:

Terminator.The.Sarah.Connor.Chronicles.S02E13.HDTV.XviD-XOR.avi
The Colbert Report 12-01-2008.avi
The Colbert Report 2008-12-02.avi
The.Big.Bang.Theory.2×01.The.Bad.Fish.Paradigm.HDTV.XviD-FoV.avi
The.Big.Bang.Theory.S02E02.HDTV.XViD-DOT.avi

becomes

Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles/Season 2/Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles – S02E13.avi
The Colbert Report/Season 2008/The Colbert Report – S2008E1201.avi
The Colbert Report/Season 2008/The Colbert Report – S2008E1202.avi
The Big Bang Theory/Season 2/The Big Bang Theory – S02E01.avi
The Big Bang Theory/Season 2/The Big Bang Theory – S02E02.avi

You can also follow these steps for music video’s but I’ve left that for now. With the sources added it was time to actually watch some movies. Moving to ‘Watch Your Movies’ took me to a page with all my movies, and here’s where the scraped content comes in. As you select a movie, fan art backgrounds are viewed and the movie poster is displayed. Not essential but a beautiful way of displaying your content. Using a keyboard or Apple Remote you can easily move through the content and when you want to watch a movie, press play and the movie will launch.

Easy to pause and resume movies, go back and select another movie or bring up more info while movie is playing back. You can change the default movie view so from coverflow to a tiled effect – some really slick options. You can also search and sort which helps when your library starts to get large. Another nice feature is that you can resume any movie from where you left off or start again at the beginning. I’ve found that Plex is far more successful than Quicktime and Perian in playing back HD movies. Almost all my files have played back without issue. I say almost as I’ve had issue with DTS sound. Looking at the Plex forums, some people have converted their DTS audio to wav to get around the issue, some have had joy by tweaking their audio playback settings and there are also posts saying it’s a bug/issue with Plex that will need to be fixed.

TV works in a similar way to Movies with one nice addition. Select a program and the theme music plays, the background changes to fan art of your choosing and seasons and episodes are displayed. Fluff but really nice fluff. Music is picked up via iTunes and you can select by artist, genre, playlist or by searching to find and play music of your choice. iTunes is easier to use than Plex but once you get the hang of it it’s not too bad. You can also access photo’s via your iPhoto library.

One of the more recent addition to Plex is the App Store – everyone’s got an app store these days. The App Store has a wide range of plugins that allow you to access the ever growing library of video and music content online. You add App’s by visiting the app Store and selecting/installing as many app’s as you like. App’s are then accessed by visiting Watch Your Video’s. Again, this could do with some clean up as it get’s confused alongside media folders and adding new sources.

Some obvious plugins that I’ve enjoyed are iPlayer, iTunes trailers, Revision 3, TED Talks, MTV Uk videos and Youtube. A few surprises – 4OD, Channel 4’s On Demand service is pretty good. Access to all episodes of Peep Show? Guardian TV is also an excellent plugin with a wide variety of content from panels discussions to interviews and trailers. Unfortunately there’s also a glimpse at some of the content that we can’t access in the UK – Hulu and Netflix. Maybe this year? The nice thing about the app’s is that by visiting the App Store they auto update which is great. I was worried that I’d be constantly having to manage the app’s to make sure they are working.

One final bit of setup – you can add up to three locations for the weather page. Is there any media server app that doesn’t check for weather? While in preferences you can also change the appearance of Plex. You can enable RSS feeds and alter the feeds that stream on the home page. You can change font sizes as well and also the default start page for the app. Plex also supports skins and there are a couple of great options to the default skin. PlexAeon is a Plex port of Aeon, which is a skin designed for XBMC. The skin looks amazing and is fully customisable.

Showing the flexibility available, here’s a shot from Plex Alaska. Not as user friendly as some of the other skins but a clean fresh look.

You can even customise the fan art, backgrounds and theme tunes played in Plex. There are more details in the forums and wiki but it’s as simple as creating a graphic or sound file and naming it to match the move or TV show. Plex will then pick up your own graphics instead of the scraped ones. Take a look at the Aeon Project website for backdrops that you can download and use instead of the defaults. Installing skins and keeping them up to date is also now trivial thanks to a script that once installed will download the latest skin files from git repositories. Even better, the script comes with an actionscript so that updating can be done from within Plex.

Delve into settings and you can set visualisations for audio, screen savers, energy savings options, cache sizes, calibrate video and set up scrobbling to Last.fm. There’s a lot more in options that I can cover here but for a free open source package it sure delivers a hefty punch. There’s an active community pushing forward Plex development and the community at the forums are helpful and friendly which is always a good sign for an open source package. What’s also nice is that the Apple Remote is all you need to control Plex as there’s a great deal of thought applied to the UI. You can use a keyboard if you like but I find that overkill. There are other control methods available but that’s for a separate post.

For anyone with a Mac and a reasonable media library it’s hard not to recommend Plex as a wonderful tool for managing and viewing your library. App’s have taken Plex to a new level and made it even easier to find and watch streaming content thats now freely available on the internet. Hopefully the review and the screenshots have given you a taste of what a great looking application Plex is. Next in the series is another XMBC fork, Boxee which promises to do the same as Plex but tap into the social aspect of media playback.

DigitalOutbox Episode 34

DigitalOutbox Episode 34
In this episode the team discuss Apple Tablet predictions, Google, Youtube and Open Data.

Playback
Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

Shownotes
1:16 – Apple Tablet and Event
– Apple Event Confirmed for 27th
– What could it mean?
– Creation? Canvas? Slate? iPad (Apple files request to take iPad trademark from Fujitsu)? iTablet? I guess it will be in colour
– iLife 10?
– iPhone OS 4 – multitasking, revamped interface
– Some gaming sites get invites – IGN, Kotaku
– Media will be major focus – harper collins, new york times, e-book/reader
– (There’s a sizable part of me that would absolutely love this to be a launch of some new iPhone colours – Chris)
– (Or indeed for this to be a new iPhone rather than be what everyone expects. Something radically different perhaps. Knock everyone sideways.)
– WSJ – Virtual keyboard, NYT, Conde Nast, Harper Collins, EA, best of TV service, also mentions Bing in iPhone, + Bing maps, itunes.com in June,
27:39 – Amazon Running Scared
– Gives away kindle for free – http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/20/amazon-kindle-free/
– Specific accounts, heavy readers. Buy a kindle, if you don’t like it ask for refund
– They’ll refund the money but let you keep the kindle
– Developers, developers, developers – http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/amazon-cracks-open-the-kindle/
– Kindle Development Kit – http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/?ie=UTF8&docId=1000476231
– Already made available to select partners – EA for example
– Limited beta starts next month
– Same revenue share as iphone and they must pay for wireless costs – 15cents per mb
– How actively will Amazon police what makes it into the Kindle store? “The guidelines are what you might expect,” said Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman. On the forbidden list: Internet voice-calling software, advertising, offensive materials, the collecting of customer information without consent, and the use of the Amazon and Kindle brands.
– You don’t think Apple’s announcement next week is making them sweat?
29:54 – NY Times Paid Model
– From 2011, pay to access NYT
– Free access to set number of articles per month
– After that, time to pay
– Is that it? Is that what all the fuss was about?
30:48 – Google vs China Fallout
– The German government has warned web users to find an alternative browser to Internet Explorer to protect security.
– Wow.
– Microsoft rejected the warning, saying that the risk to users was low and that the browsers increased security setting would prevent any serious risk.
– However, German authorities say that even this would not make IE fully safe.
– However, Graham Cluley of anti-virus firm Sophos, told BBC News that not only did the warning apply to 6, 7 and 8 of the browser, but the instructions on how to exploit the flaw had been posted on the internet.
– France warns too
– http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8465038.stm
– Last week was Google vs China, this week Microsoft vs EU, next week Apple takes on…..
– Certa, a government agency that oversees cyber threats, warned against using all versions of the web browser.
– UK Govt Response
– http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/20/uk-government-internet-explorer
– Government departments have been issued an alert on how to deal with this particular incident and to mitigate against vulnerabilities in relation to particular versions of IE.
– A government user, operating on government systems, such as the GSi (Government Secure Intranet), will benefit from additional security measures, unlikely to be available to the average home computer user. These include tools which actively monitor for evidence of any malicious attacks
– Even though MS declared their browser secure (enough), they patch it anyway…
– http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8469632.stm
– “Out-of-band” update (update issued outside of normal schedule) issued to patch IE.
– MS say only exploits were made on IE6 and urge users to upgrade.
– In the mean time, web analytics company StatCounter say the Germany/France warnings and the news around this story has seen Firefox grab 40% market share to IE’s 45% and even overtake in certain regions (e.g. Germany and Austria)
– Google postpone phone launches in China
– http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8467491.stm
– 2 Android phones, due to launch with China Unicom, have been postponed following the hacking of human rights activists GMail accounts.
– Strained Relations between US and China
– http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8472683.stm
– Hillary Clinton’s speech calling for China to investigate the attacks and make the results open has not been received well in China…
– China sayng it could harm ties between the two countries
35:24 – Youtube Moves to Pay per view and Movie Rentals
– Only US to start with towards end of Jan.
– Users will be able to pay (around £2.50) to give themselves a 48hr period in which to watch the movie stream
– This is likely to expand to include pay-per-view events etc going forward.
– Trialling HTML5 too
– http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/20/youtube-html5/
– Today, YouTube is taking steps to let users work it into their everyday browsing experience: you’ll now be able to watch some of the site’s videos without a plugin, using the video and audio playback support included with HTML5
– Activate in Youtubes testtube – http://www.youtube.com/testtube
– Unfortunately, this isn’t being rolled out to all videos. You can only watch videos that aren’t being monetized and that haven’t been annotated (obviously YouTube hasn’t implemented overlays in its HTML5 player)
– Also cleaner new look – nice
– Vimeo also rolls out HTML5 support – death to flash!
– Indian Cricket to be streamed live, worldwide (except USA) on YouTube
– http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jan/20/youtube-live-indian-premier-league
– YouTube has bought the rights to the IPL and will stream live games to a world-wide audience (Apart from USA).
– Advertising and sponsorship revenue generated will be split between YouTube (Google) and IPL
40:12 – UK Govt launches Open Data
– Just under 3000 datasets available
– http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/20/tim-berners-lee-free-data
– People who have seen early versions of data.gov.uk say that it contains tools that make it “much easier for [government] departments to produce structured, linked data”. Harry Metcalfe, an independent developer who has developed and worked on a number of sites that use government data to produce public information, commented that “this is such an encouraging thing to see. No expensive procurement exercises for clunky, bespoke sites: instead we have the right tools for the job, joined together … this is how government IT should work
– Shadbolt said the underpinning principle was simple. “We believe that the government should establish the principle that all the public services should publish in reusable form all the objective factual non-personal data on which the public services run and are assessed and on which public decisions are based, or which is collected or generated in the course of public service delivery.”
– The UK has become a world showcase for open government data, with the launch today of a government website hosting 2,500 public data sets – more than the best-known rival, data.gov in the US.
– However…..
– http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/22/number_10_paf_database_petition/
– PAF will remain with Royal Mail and be charged for
– 24 hours after the much heralded launch of data.gov.uk, it slams the door in the hopes of many that the PAF would be available for all, or at least non profit and charatable organisations
42:38 – Dont Joke on Twitter
– Robin Hood airport is closed, You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!
– A week after posting the message on the social networking site, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and questioned for almost seven hours by detectives who interpreted his post as a security threat.
– After he was released on bail, he was suspended from work pending an internal investigation
– He has been banned from the Doncaster airport for life.
– The civil libertarian Tessa Mayes, an expert on privacy law and free speech issues, said: “Making jokes about terrorism is considered a thought crime, mistakenly seen as a real act of harm or intention to commit harm.
– “The police’s actions seem laughable and suggest desperation in their efforts to combat terrorism, yet they have serious repercussions for all of us. In a democracy, our right to say what we please to each other should be non-negotiable, even on Twitter.”
45:28 – BT Fibre to Cabinet Pricing
– There will be a £50 connection charge for the basic package, which will upload at up to 2Mbit/s and a 20GB per month usage allowance.
– The other package, costing £24.99 per month, will be connected for free, upload at up to 10Mbit/s and have no data cap.
– Both require an 18-month contract and come with a free Home Hub.
– In reality, because it uses existing copper and aluminium wires into premises, BT’s service is typically likely to offer 20 to 30Mbit/s downstream. For most its performance is likely to rank between to Virgin Media’s 20Mbit/s “XL” package, which costs £20 per month, and the 50Mbit/s “XXL” at £28 per month.
– Rollout – http://www.buckconsult.co.uk/fttx/
– I’m live!!!!!!!!!!!
– http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/22/bt_infinity_p2p/
– P2P will still be throttled – BT has now also conceded that its traffic management equipment will restrict the bandwidth available to peer-to-peer protocols on both Infinity packages, as on its existing ADSL services.
– 4pm to 00:00 weekdays, 9am to 00:00 weekends
50:03 – Nokia launches Ovi Maps
– Free turn-by-turn navigation is now available for roughly 20 million Nokia handsets around the world.
– Maps are stored locally, and no continuous data connection is needed
– Traffic Information in 10 countries
– Lane assistance, speed trap warnings
– Pedestrian mode, including shortcuts only possible on foot
– Free Lonely Planet/Michelin travel guides
– Smart. Nokia in catchup mode.
52:49 – Chinatown Wars hits the iPhone
– Plays well
– Touchscreen controls a bit fiddly
– $9.99
54:27 – PS3 Motion Controllers Delayed
– The wand is now looking for an “Autumn” release date.
– Jump lost on Netal? Certainly looks interesting for Christmas 2010
– Even now, the PS3 appears to suffer it’s own design. The PS4 HAS to address development issues?
55:50 – Spotify Viral Marketing
– 5 best ads get free premium subscription for 3 months
– Comments suggest some users think the prize isn’t very generous.
– (but all the blurb is in French so I could just be making this up!)

Picks
Ian
HuffDuffer
– podcast aggregator
– bookmarklet
– popular
– tag driven
– search
– add rss of stuff you’ve huffduffed to itunes
– find new content that previously you’d miss or wouldn’t know was out there

Henry
Smack Talk
– iPhone app
– hours of fun talking like a hamster

Chris
Acer Aspire Timeline 1810TZ
– Netbook form factor but with good power under bonnet
– 11.3″ Screen
– Windows 7 Home Premium
– HDMI out
– Good keyboard.
– Ultra Low Voltage Dual Core processor
– 8 Hours battery life (6 full on media – 10 wi-fi/internet)
– Webcam
– Olympic edition due to have 4Gig RAM, 500Gig HD, Blue Tooth (64Bit) £550
– Standard edition 3Gig RAM, 250Gig HD £450

Mac Mini Media Centre – Energy Settings and iTunes Library

With the hardware plugged in and my essential software and codecs installed I was going to crack on with Plex but I needed to sort out my iTunes library and also make a decision – to sleep or not to sleep.

iTunes Library
A quick recap on my hardware setup. I have purchased a Mac Mini and will be using it as a Media Centre device for under the TV. Connected to the Mini is a Drobo. The Drobo holds all my media keeping the Mac Mini virtually free of content. I also currently have an iMac and Macbook pro. My iTunes library was sitting on the iMac but I wanted to move it to the Drobo and access the content from the iMac or the Mac Mini.

Moving the iTunes library was fairly straightforward as I let iTunes manage my music. This is a setting in iTunes preferences which means iTunes looks after the naming and location of all my iTunes managed media. To move the content I followed an excellent guide at iLounge on Transferring your iTunes Library. As I had moved to the iTunes 9 Media layout all I had to do was change the media folder location in iTunes Advanced preferences, then goto File, Library, Organise Library and select Consolidate Library. This copied all the media from the iMac to the Drobo via the network share I had created. Once this was complete I checked that all files including podcasts, movies and mobile applications had been copied and that all my music was now referencing the Drobo – do this by right clicking on a track and selecting Get Info. At the bottom of the Summary tab a Where field details the location of the file.

Once confirmed I then removed all the media content from the iMac. Happy days, or so I thought.

Energy Settings
One of the choices to make with your Mini is whether to have it always on or to sleep when not in use. This will very much depend on what you want to do with the Mini. For me, even though I will be using it for remote access and for downloading media, I still want it to sleep when not in use. I waste enough electricity as it is without having a Mini and Drobo switched on 24/7. So the Mini will sleep when not in use. However, unless you have an Apple Airport Extreme or Time Capsule you won’t be able to Wake on Demand which is a feature that both these devices support for any Apple attached hardware. This means when I start my iMac and the Mini is asleep, my iTunes library isn’t available. When this happens, music won’t play and any downloads will also reside locally in a newly created iTunes library. Not good at all.

To get around this I’m making use of a little known free Mac tool called SleepWatcher. This is a command line tool that watches two scripts – .wakeup and .sleep and will run the .wakeup script when your machine wakes up and .sleep when your machine sleeps. My solution to the sleeping Mini was to have the commands in my .wakeup script to wake my Mini, create a mount point and then mount my music network share. iTunes would then work properly and my music would be available with downloads being placed on the Drobo.

So lets go through each of the steps and explain the scripts I now use. Firstly I downloaded and installed the SleepWatcher utility which comes in two parts. SleepWatcher.pkg installs the actual SleepWatcher command. SleepWatcher StartUpItem.pkg installs the daemon and also the sleep and wakeup scripts that are executed by the daemon. With both installed I was ready to create my wakeup script.

In TextMate I created a new file called .wakeup in my user directory i.e.

/users//.wakeup

so for me

/users/ian/.wakeup

Remember to make the script executable:

chmod 755 .wakeup

I wanted the file to wake the Mac Mini. To do this I installed the WakeOnLan command line utility in a scripts directory in my user folder. Using WOL command line allowed me to wake the Mini using the following command:

wol ip_address mac_address

where ip_address is the fixed IP address for the Mac Mini and the mac_address is the unique MAC address for the network adaptor in the Mini. To find the MAC address for a machine launch System Profiler (Apple Menu, About This Mac, More Info or Applications, Utilities and the System Profiler), select Network and then select the Ethernet Active Service. Scroll through the information displayed and under the Ethernet heading you will find your MAC Address. You could also download WakeOnLan which is a tool which will scan your network displaying connected machines and their MAC addresses. From the command line the wol command worked well but adding it to the .wakeup script did nothing. The Mini would resolutely stay asleep no matter what I did. Odd. I then created a shell script containing the wol command and ran the shell script which woke up the Mini. Odder. I then called the shell script from the .wakeup script…success!

So my .wakeup script as it stands is as follows:

#!/bin/sh
# ------------------------------
# Wakeup Script for SleepWatcher
# ------------------------------

# Wait for network connect
sleep 5 

# Wake Mini and Mount drive
/users/ian/scripts/mnt_mus.sh

The script sleeps for 5 seconds waiting for the network to be up and running and then launches the mnt_mus.sh script which wakes the Mini and then mounts the drive. The mnt_mus.sh looks like this:

#!/bin/sh
# ———————————————
# Wake Mini and Mount Script
# ———————————————

#Wake Mini
/users/ian/scripts/wol/wol ip_address mac_address
# Create Mount Point
mkdir /Volumes/music
# Wait for mini start
sleep 10
# Mount drive
/sbin/mount -t afp afp://username:password@mini.local/music /Volumes/music

So with SleepWatcher, WOL and the scripts above my Mini can sleep and when my iMac wakes, it will wake the Mini and mount the music network share. Happy days. A final step is to call the .wakeup script at logon/startup so that no matter what the event, the network share is mounted. This is easy to do. I copied the .wakeup script to a new file called login.command (creating a command file), made it executable, then added it to my Login Items in System Preferences -> Accounts pane. By making the shell script a command file it makes it accessible to the Login Items GUI. So when I start or wake my iMac the drive will be mounted and I can access my music.

Moving the iTunes Library Database
While the iTunes media has been moved the Library database was still on the iMac. Although it takes up only a few hundred MB I wanted to move it so I could share the library file with iTunes on the Mini. The database file comprises of an XML file which contains all the metadata for your library, a Genius file and the Album Art folder. To move the database I closed down iTunes, moved the iTunes folder to a folder on the Drobo and restarted iTunes with the OPT key held down. This prompts you to create a new library or choose an existing library. I chose the library via the network mount and after a few seconds iTunes was up and running.

Sharing the iTunes Library Database
The final step in the process was to share the iTunes library between the iMac and Mini. I thought this would be simple but it’s not so straight forward. iTunes was built on the assumption that one iTunes would access one library and that’s it. You could share a library between two different iTunes but you must make sure that only one iTunes is accessing the file at any one time or you risk corruption. I don’t like those odds!

I could solve it by putting checks and locks in place like don’t launch itunes on Mini if iMac iTunes is running and vice versa but I’m sure there would be some scenario that would undo me. Therefore I’ve taken the safer route of having the Mini point to a copy of the iTunes database which is synced to keep it up to date. To automate this I’ve relied on SleepWatcher again.

On the Mini I’ve installed SleepWatcher and the .wakeup script calls the following script:

#!/bin/sh
# ------------------------------
# iTunes database Sync
# ------------------------------

# Sync Folders
rsync -a /Volumes/Drobo/music/"iTunes Library Files" /Volumes/Drobo/music/"mini iTunes Library Files"

Using rsync I copy the iTunes database from the folder iTunes Library Files to a separate folder called mini iTunes Library Files. The advantage of rsync is that after the initial copy which mirrors the file and folder structure, only differences in files are copied making the sync quick and painless. Therefore every time the Mini wakes the folder is synced. I created a symbolic link on the Mini to match the networked folder seen elsewhere and bingo – my library was being shared and up to date. I changed the settings on the Mini so it doesn’t download podcasts and I’ll still manage my library on the iMac but read below to see why this may change. I thought that was it but I still had one more issue. iTunes only updates the library files on exit.

To make sure I sync the most up to date library I have created a .sleep file on the iMac and Mini that will close iTunes on the machine sleeping. That script can be seen below.

#!/bin/sh
# ---------------------
# Close iTunes on Sleep
# ---------------------

#Close iTunes
osascript <<< "tell application \"iTunes\" to quit"

It's not perfect but again it's working well for me at the moment and means both computers are sharing the same media files with two different databases. If all the above is a bit too much then there is software like SuperSync or myTuneSync which will keep separate libraries in sync

Future Options
The scripts above are very much a 'now' solution. In the future I plan to consolidate down to the Mini plus one other machine. If that machine turns out to be a laptop then the Mini will act as the master for iTunes and I'll rsync all my music between the Drobo and the laptop so that my music is with me at all times. Extreme perhaps but I do want to access my music wherever I am.

Closing
Hopefully this third post in the Mac Mini series here at DigitalOutbox, although optional, will give you some hints and tips in how to manage your iTunes library and how to best manage your Mini if you want to be a bit more energy efficient. If there is something glaringly wrong or a better way of achieving the above then please leave a comment or drop a mail as I'm sure there are better methods and this is a learning experience for me.

With the first three posts out of the way it's now time to install Plex, but thats for the next post. What a tease!