Apple developing home media server

Last week, just when I thought I had looked into every option available for a home media server the rumor is posted that Apple might be creating one. Better just wait for the keynote which will be held Tuesday at 9 am PST or 18 CET.

Image from MacRumors forums.

Virtualisation with VirtualBox

Whenever you look around for virtualisation solutions on the Mac platform you get two answers: VMware Fusion and Parallels. One you don’t hear so much about however is VirtualBox from Sun. I haven’t used the first two since VirtualBox is open source and free of charge. I first installed it two months ago and although it worked it was extremely slow. This was not so much due to the software rather my machine only had 1 GB of RAM available and running two operating systems is rather intensive. A few weeks ago I upgraded to 4 GB and tried out VirtualBox again, I’ve been using it almost daily since then. It works great!

Most of the time I’m a .Net developer so I need Visual Studio and Windows to get my work done and apart from the fact that some keys don’t work, or I haven’t figured out how to get them working, like the function keys, I don’t feel any difference compared to working on a native Windows box. You don’t loose any responsiveness.

Copy Pasting text is supported, so I can copy text from i.e. Safari into Notepad. While skimming through the manual there was a mention on how to share files between the two operating systems but I haven’t really looked into that. It works with shared folders to achieve this functionality, the two other virtualisation options support drag and drop I think.

You can run VirtualBox as any other window but most of the time I run it in seamless mode. This means that the applications you start in Windows can be placed next to your running OS X applications, seamlessly. This is illustrated by the attached screenshots, the first one shows the Windows applications locked on the Windows desktop and the second one shows the same applications but now running in seamless mode.

I first used spaces to keep my OS X and Windows applications separated but found that not comfortably to work in. I would look something up in Safari then switch to Visual Studio and saw all the applications fly from left to right, a few minutes later I’d receive a mail and everything flew back again. If there would be one school example on why to use spaces I thought it would be virtualisation but now I’m not convinced of the entire idea any more. Why on earth would you use it except for adding more icons on your desktop.

So, to sum it up, if you need to run Windows on OS X and don’t want to reboot everytime for BootCamp, go download VirtualBox!

Since a video says so much more on how everything works, here is a movie I found on YouTube:

In search of a mediaserver

I’ve been looking into ways to move my media library to a safer and more accessible medium than the external hard disk I use at the moment. I also plan to rip all my CDs since more and more of them are starting to have scratches, even though I’m careful with those silver discs. My home network consists of Windows PC’s (desktop, media center) and Apple products (MacBook, iPhone) so I need something that works for both environments and can be expanded to other audio devices.

The first mediaserver I looked into was SqueezeCenter. The server is opensource and has the backing of an established company, in this case Logitech. They have several commercial products which can listen to your server and play the music or send the stream to your hifi installation. The stream can be opened in iTunes or WMP, just like you’d do with any internet radio. The downside of this is that you can’t browse your collection through these players though I’m sure that you can find a plugin for WMP to do this since there are iPhone applications (iPeng, Squidgy) available to control a SqueezeCenter.

I first tried their recent 7.3 release but that didn’t want to run, the previous version 7.2 ran like a breeze. The only out of the box way to control what songs are played is through the web interface.

The second one I installed was Firefly Media Server, since this one is based on a proprietary Apple protocol it works great in iTunes. Your collection is recognized as a shared iTunes library so you can choose what you want to hear in the same way you do when the mp3’s would be stored locally. The downside of this is that I can’t run this in my media center and that I need iTunes on my other windows machines. Also if I’d want to play music on a stereo I’d need to keep a PC running since the server can’t stream directly to AirTunes.

The third one I tried was TwonkyMedia, installation was no problem but I couldn’t connect with any player and the posts on their forum didn’t seem that promissing, customers who don’t get support is no good advertisement. The server however is based on the UPnP protocol, which is kind of the standard in the industry. WMP 11 can connect to such a server, as can the Playstation 3 and a lot of other players.

Searching for UPnP servers led me to TVersity, which blew me away. I can connect with my iPhone, my Vista Media Center, WMP, any browser,… It’s much more than just an audio server I suggest you look at their website and try it out. The only downside, iTunes doesn’t support UPnP.

So far my search for a media server, I haven’t decided which way to go.

Replace MacBook memory

Today I upgraded my MacBook (early 2008) from 2×512 MB RAM to 2×2 GB RAM. The entire process took me 5 minutes, including the time to search for a fitting screw driver. It was far easier than expected.

  • First turn over your MacBook, so the top is facing the table. Make sure you have a clean and soft surface to avoid any scratches.
  • Use a 10 cent piece to turn the lock next to the battery to the unlocked position. The battery will pop out.
  • Remove the battery.
  • Use a cross screwdriver to remove the three screws of the plate protecting the memory and the hard disk. They are very small so use your smallest screwdriver you can find. Next pull the plate away, you now have access to the memory.
  • By using the lever per memory slot the ram sticks will pop out making place for the new ones. Gently push them in until you hear a click.

Done ;).

Installing a Scythe Mini Ninja

After using my htpc for 4 months I sometimes became annoyed of the noise being produced by the system. It varied from day to day, so I decided to do something about it.

There were only 4 fans in the system, one on the cpu, two on the side of the case to get airflow going and one to cool down the psu. The loudest one was the stock cpu cooler, closely followed by the psu fan. The two 120mm fans are already quite good. After searching on the internet for a passive cpu cooler it seemed that the Scythe Mini Ninja was quite popular and ideal for the system that I have assembled. No computer parts shop in Belgium had it, or they were quite expensive, so I purchased one on eBay.

In the package you find: thermal paste, 3 mounting systems (meaning universal socket support), screws, one fan, clips to attach the fan and one big heatsink.

When removing the stock cpu cooler I noticed that there was not much of thermal paste on the standard heatsink, so removing any residue was quite easy. I also ignored all the advice of installing the Ninja outside the case, which would mean dismantling the htpc. In the end it didn’t save me that much time, since I had to remove the ram and some of the power cables to install the heatsink, also if you’ve got thicker fingers than me you probably won’t be able to reach all of the pins used to attach the Ninja to the motherboard. Make sure to apply an even layer of thermal paste on the cpu, you won’t need to use all of it since too much is as bad as too little.

I powered the system back on again, changed the bios to allow the absence of a cpu fan, and off it went. With the top of the case screwed back into place I first thought the upgrade didn’t change a lot, but I was sitting at 20cm from it. When I had placed the htpc back into it’s normal habitat and sat on a normal distance (2 meters) the psu fan was still audible but any ambient sound can overcome it. When I start a movie the system can’t be heard now.

To test the heatsink I started two instances of cpuburn and watched the result with speedfan. After 5-10 minutes the temperature reached around 50 degrees which is quite good, especially if you keep in mind that the two cores will never be under that amount of load under normal use.

So overall a great product.

Updated to BlogEngine 1.4.5

A new BE version, means sql scripting time for MS SQL 2000 users. For a full upgrade guide you should go to Al Nyveldt’s blog.

If you are creating a new blog or are upgrading from 1.3.x, just use the correct script for you.

MSSQL2000_Setup1.4.5.0.sql (24.91 kb)

MSSQL2000_UpgradeTo1.4.5.0From1.3.x.sql (10.07 kb)

If you are currently using 1.4.0 there’s some more work you’ll need to do. In this new version the column ‘Settings’ in the table ‘DataStoreSettings’ has changed from binary datatype to varchar, the corresponding change on MS SQL 2000 means moving from the image datatype to ntext. This is not possible / allowed by the server. The easiest thing you can do is to take note of your settings under the extensions tab in the administration control panel and delete all rows from the table ‘DataStoreSettings’. Every extension will populate the table again with data the first time they get loaded with the new BE version, you can then configure the extensions again with the settings you want. It’s quite possible that you are still using the default settings of your extensions, like me, then you don’t need to worry about the old settings, just clear the table of its entries.

If you’ve used the script from my earlier post, when I upgraded from 1.3 to 1.4, there was one insert statement missing from the script. The insert statement added the widget bar with its default configuration. Since it was missing then and we are deleting all entries from the ‘DataStoreSettings’ I’ve included the insert statement, the default script that ships with BE 1.4.5 has an update statement in place for that entry in the DB.

MSSQL2000_UpgradeTo1.4.5.0From1.4.0.0.sql (3.20 kb)

Finally, if you are running SQL Membership and Role provider and are upgrading from an earlier version don’t forget to check the applicationName of the providers, in 1.4 this changed from BlogEngine.Net to BlogEngine. What you need to change is described in my earlier post.

Blogging tools

Since there’s no code highlighter that works for me in Blogengine.Net I use this site. It pretty much supports any language, paste your code, select some options and you get your html to use.

To check my spelling I use this site, I’ve been using it for years now. Though I don’t need it when I’m using my Mac since it checks everything you write, regardless the application you are using.

Adium behind firewall

At work the company firewall blocked the ports used by Adium to connect to the different IM services. One google later I was one happy user, information on where to find the screens to edit the preferences and which checkboxes to use can be found here.

Windows update yet again

So this was going a bit too easy. After installing a fresh copy of Windows XP, including SP2. I went to the update site which prompted me to install SP3, which I did. No problems so far, yet after the new service pack being deployed to the system windows update refused to install any further updates. It found, listed and downloaded them fine but every installation failed. Long story short, if you’re in this situation open up a command prompt. Click start, run, type in cmd and then click ok. In the command prompt type in regsvr32 %windir%system32wups2.dll and hit enter, this registers that dll. Go to the windows update site now, and you’ll have no problems.

If you have xp 64 the dll is located here: %windir%syswow64wups2.dll.

This was after I tried my earlier solution which you can find here.

Where does Outlook Express store email and contacts

At least three months have past since I had to rescue a PC in the family, a new record. One thing I keep forgetting is where, under Windows XP, Outlook Express stores its data. So I’m writing it down here for further reference.

Email messages can be found here: C:Documents and Settings(user name)Local SettingsApplication DataIdentities (under a sub folder there called Outlook Express). The files have a *.dbx extension.

The contact list can be found here: C:Documents and Settings(user name)Application DataMicrosoftAddress Book. The file has a *.wab extension, and it appears it’s prefixed with the user name.