On The Cusp


It’s been a somewhat data-centric couple of weeks, in that I’ve spent hours dragging and dropping folders and stuff to and fro, motivated at home by the terrifying discovery that one can easily shoot over 2GB of (admittedly crappy VGA) video of the kid in a few minutes, and at work by the need to dig up some e-mails that are lingering in Outlook .pst files, as a sort of follow-up to my earlier bout of mass organizing.

Plus I ended up upgrading, somewhat out of the blue. So yeah, this is going to be one of those long posts I used to churn out in the pre-parenting era. Please fasten your seat-belts.

The Mini, Cubed

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: despite their, er… “low-brow” consumer focus, I have no idea why Apple doesn’t market the mini as a home server. The G4 mini I have has been serving up our music collection and photos via DAAP, SMB and, now, UPNP for years now, and it has long stopped being brain surgery to get it to stream all sorts of media to our laptops, the AirPort Express and the PS3.

The thing is, it’s also a backup server. Regardless of how stellar Time Machine has proven to be1, I don’t keep any eggs in the same basket, and as such all sorts of stuff gets rsynced periodically to it, especially from any machines I happen to be running Windows or Linux on. And to that one must add an integral copy of this site, a bunch of Mercurial repositories, etc.

Although the backups themselves are relatively small individually, over the years they now add up to nearly a hundred GB of miscellaneous stuff, which poses a problem. Most of it could probably be thrown away by now, but the time and effort involved in figuring out the details eludes me at present, and there is also my media collection to consider.

Mass Media

The most frequently accessed bits of it are roughly 200 CDs of eclectic contemporary music (some of which have never been played on an actual CD player, and all of them currently resting in a plastic crate in the storeroom), to which I’ve been adding 80 CDs of classical music (Bach and Handel) that I’ve been painstakingly ripping and tagging (a CD or two at a time) for weeks now2.

Finally, besides backups and music there are a few thousands of photos filed away in there as well, which I manage via Leopard’s remote desktop and share (to the PS3 and to other Macs) via MediaLink and iPhoto. Or rather, there were a few thousands of photos – with the kid, the number of photos I take a month has nearly trebled, and given the limited time I have for dealing with them, I suppose I will re-visit my photo workflow again one of these days.

But, worse still, I’ve started dabbling in video, and that way storage madness lies.

The Video Menace

It all started because I got a Nokia N96 to test some stuff with, and one of the things that it lets you do is record hilariously bad MPEG-4 VGA-quality video (yes, I’m using the high quality setting – the CCD is crap) and, via the free bundled composite video cable (are you listening, Apple?), play it back on any TV, which makes it a pretty good way to entertain grandparents with your kid’s antics3.

Actually, the FX33 does a much better job (the MJPEG video it captures is an order of magnitude better, if bulkier in storage, and it too can hook up to the TV), but I have to carry the N96 around for a few weeks, so I used it over one weekend and shot two gigabytes of (admittedly crummy) video of the kid scampering about on all fours and trying to climb chairs (he’s starting to walk, to considerable terror of all concerned)4.

So I quickly estimated that if I shot 2GB of usable video times 50 weeks or so, I’d need another 100GB of storage for those alone, gave up and invested in another hard disk:

One things settle, I’ll also be able to set up an rsync job to run periodically and mirror my iPhoto library between the two volumes – it is, after all, the only truly important content.

Still, I cannot help but wonder – since the N96 has 16GB of internal storage, the mind boggles at what kind of things a truly video-addicted parent could do with it (or with the 4GB card I use on the camera). I still prefer photography due to my belief that it is more expressive when used properly (plus a lot easier to create, work with and appreciate when you have limited time), but I cannot help but envision a lot more video in my future, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Consolidating Stuff In Entourage

Although I am still using Citrix for most of my work (and have therefore ready access to Outlook and nearly ten years of mail archives stored on a server), I’ve felt the need to slice and dice my last year’s worth of e-mail in a more immediate (and offline) fashion, and as such took a couple of hours been fooling around with libpst (listed on my Outlook page).

Overall, the experience was pretty straightforward – it compiles and runs with no serious issues (now – I had a few tussles until I re-read the README and figured out a missing step), and converted 6GB of .pst files in (all told) a couple of hours.

Importing the results into Entourage (by dint of dragging the mbox files in) yielded nearly perfect results, with two (rather annoying) caveats:

  • Accented (and Unicode) characters in mail headers were mostly shot (may have something to do with a number of iconv warnings produced when the conversion was run, but I cannot find any solid notes on Leopard’s built-in iconv).
  • Some e-mails, for whatever reason, were rendered in plaintext (although all the attachments were there, and especially odd considering that I knew some of those were HTML originally). Could be an Entourage glitch in the way it handles MIME multi-part.

The great side benefit was that those gigabytes of e-mail were immediately available to Spotlight for indexing, and even though Entourage is generally a pain where it concerns searching for stuff, I had no need to undergo the suffering.

Becoming One With The Unibody

Last week, I broke one of my own rules (or two) and got myself a first-generation Apple product – a 13” unibody5 MacBook. I had originally planned (and budgeted) for swapping my lovely black MacBook nearer the end of the year, but as it turns out Bruno was willing to make the switch and, economically, it made sense to make the sale now and pick the new one at FNAC with my membership discount.

And, for good measure, I’ve also (just) sold my Eee 901 to João. Regardless of what people may think about my writing this tonight, I don’t think netbooks are my thing – or at least not the current notion of a netbook.

As part of my grand cleansing of hardware, I will eventually also sell (or give to family) my iMac “G5“Tiger in a few months, with an eye towards getting one of those amazing new Apple 24” displays for those times when I really need to sit at a desk at home.

This has the dual advantage of being usable by a future refresh of the mini, and as such seems a decent enough approach at decreasing the number of machines even further.

Anyway, the unibody is… pretty much like the older MacBook, really, especially since Migration Assistant cloned everything of consequence and I was up and running the next morning.

Having mostly gotten used to the new trackpad, the big (and sometimes annoying) difference is the new keyboard, which is (at long last) backlit6 but sports re-arranged function keys, meaning that I have to re-think how I use Exposé and Spaces – I’d rather adjust to the new layout than stubbornly stick to the old one.

I suppose I will find more novelties as time progresses, but so far the transition is very… taoist.

Still, my opinion regarding the glossy screen hasn’t changed – it’s still an annoying nuisance that, fortunately for me, is not that obvious in the night time.

Serenity

Finally, a short note to whomever picked out the Serenity OST from my Wishlist. Regrettably, my cleaning lady appears to have done away with the envelope and the note you sent me in the Amazon manifest, otherwise I would have e-mailed you directly (I had meant to fire off a short e-mail from my phone when I unpacked the CD, but real life intervened at that point).

It’s much appreciated indeed.

1 Not that much, honestly, since I use File Vault, but it’s the thought that counts

2 In case you’re curious, I’ve gotten these and these. Not the very best performers or the most complete collections, but plenty good enough for casual listening.

3 Yeah, I know. I’ve become Geek Family Dad. It’s sad, but I’ll get over it eventually.

4 Which, of course, I cannot really throw away, even if it has entirely too many shots of his behind shuffling away or close-ups of him reaching for the camera (which is usually how the videos end). Precious moments and all that.

5 Technically it was built this year rather than last October, but still, there have been no major revisions to the MacBook range.

6 Having an “old-style” MacBook Pro at the office spoiled me, and, after all, my computing time window coincides with the kid’s sleep.