Mac Mini Media Center?

April 25, 2009

I am a big fan of my home entertainment setup. I’m not sure how much of this I’ve shared on thegeekydad before, so I’ll just do a brief rundown of my current setup. When we moved in to our new home, my wife really wanted to keep the television out of the family room. With our first baby on the way at that time, I was cool with it. The upside is that we were then able to turn our in-construction home’s formal living room into a dedicated media room. That rocks.

The media room currently boasts a 47″ Vizio LCD HDTV, Tivo Series 3, upscaling Sony DVD player, Wii, and my AppleTV. I love it all, but I’m most-often asked about the AppleTV. After explaining that it’s basically an HD-video iPod for my TV, people just ask, “Well, why don’t you just connect a Mac Mini to the TV so you can have a lot more features?” That’s a fine question.

The AppleTV does exactly what I want it to do: it enables me to enjoy my home network’s media from my den, including all of my DVD movies that I’ve ripped and stored on my home server. It doesn’t replace my Tivo by any stretch of the imagination, and although I do have Elgato’s EyeTV Hybrid TV tuner stick on my iMac upstairs, I love my Tivo too much to do away with it. It does its job perfectly for me, so why switch?

So, the Mac Mini media center has really been more of a curiousity for me. Sure, I’d love to build one just as a weekend project, but I don’t see it replacing my setup. Besides, my wife (not a uber geek), is perfectly comfortable with the Tivo remote and interface. That’s something a lot of geeky husbands overlook. If the non-geeks are already comfortable with and able to use the existing setup, adding tech complexity is probably a bad idea.

Other people have other needs, however. And, I have at least one friend who is about to start building his home entertainment setup from scratch. What should he do?

MacWorld editor Chris Breen has been chronicalling his adventures in creating a Mac Mini media center this week. I’ll just point you to his info and video rather than repeating. If you’re looking for a fun project or starting from scratch, this could certainly be a winner. For me, though, a separate Tivo and AppleTV setup is not only cheaper, it’s more wife-friendly. And that pretty much makes it a winner.


Cool Enough for a Mac

April 20, 2009

Even though I blogged about my bewilderment over Microsoft’s weird Seinfeld ads a few months ago, I’ve so far kept silent on Redmond’s latest ad campain, featuring “regular people” like Lauren and Giampolo who are sent out to find a good computer for $1000 or $1500. I saw the new commercials as soon as they came out, and honestly, they didn’t impact me one way or the other, despite my rabid Apple fanboyism.

As I thought about them, though, I really started to think that they were, well, dumb. Now, I think I can articulate a few reasons why. As a review, here’s Lauren:

First, this is an ad for Windows, right? Why, then, does Microsoft not once mention the word “Windows.” In fact, they don’t mention anything about the software at all. It’s a hardware contest based solely on price. In two of the three ad spots, it’s more of a commercial for HP than it is for Microsoft.

Second, it’s pretty stupid of them to make a point to say in all three ads that Macs are cooler than PCs. Seriously? They actually made ads that say (effectively), “Look, even we know you’d prefer a Mac, but money is tight right now, so here’s what you can realistically do with a thousand bucks.” That’s some strange marketing.

As Jim Dalrymple points out in a MacWorld article,

Apple executives must have been giggling like school girls when the ad featuring Lauren De Long debuted. “I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person,” says Lauren after entering an Apple retail store.

“The one thing that both Apple and Microsoft can agree on is that everyone thinks the Mac is cool; with it’s great designs and advanced software, nothing matches it at any price,” said Evans.

Microsoft starts off by saying that Macs are cooler than PCs—regardless of how sarcastic it’s meant to be—and no matter what Lauren finds, that point stays with you. If you’ve seen the commercial, you know that Lauren’s goal is to find a 17-inch laptop for under $1,000—and she does. She settles on an HP. Congratulations HP, you aren’t cool enough either.

Third, as Dalrymple continues, “There is a big difference between the price of purchasing a computer and the cost of owning one.” That is, Macs come with all the software you need to do pretty much anything right out of the box. Plug it in, turn it on, and you’re off to the races. Have you set up a new Windows machine lately? Good grief, what a nightmare. It recently took me over 14 hours over a weekend to reinstall Windows on my mother-in-law’s computer. Halfway through the process, I was scanning Craigslist for used Macs I could just go buy her to save myself the trouble!

Fourth, and let’s just say it: Vista. Microsoft has pumped millions and millions of dollars into at least three different ad campains over the past six months, including the Seinfeld debacle, the “I’m a PC” spots, and these new “You find it, you keep it” ads. I defy you to find the word “Vista” in any one of these three different campaigns. Why should I have confidence in their flagship operating system if even they don’t?

In constrast, Apple talks about their OS X operating system non-stop. Why? Because they’re proud of it!

With their billions and billions of dollars, I know Microsoft is capable of making a decent commercial. I even think their spots featuring children using the Windows Live programs are brilliant. Who doesn’t love watching a four-year-old girl teach you how to edit a photo? That’s a great image.

However, Microsoft would apparently rather spend their money these days solidifying the notion that they are a cheaper, second-rate alternative to Apple. If I were a Windows fan, that’d irritate me—a lot.

Abby Month 2 Pictures

April 18, 2009

We just uploaded Abby’s Month 2 pictures. Two months! Holy cow!

It has been an amazing nine weeks. She’s recently started smiling and talking up a storm. Her favorite phrases thus far are “ooo” and “ugah.” Watching that little face light up as she grins and tries to talk to us is like nothing I’ve ever known. And walking into her room and having her turn to me, recognize me, and give me a huge open mouth smile? Man, that’s good stuff.

Check out the new Month 2 gallery by clicking the pic below!


Costco Loves Geeks

April 15, 2009

Monday, my wife called me at work and asked if I knew what was wrong with the TV. “What? My gorgeous 42″ HDTV? A problem? What’s that you say?”

Apparently, my friend, the Vizio 42″, had undergone a horrible acid trip. The picture was there, but it looked like an infrared image of only pink, yellow, and turquoise. I’d never seen anything like it. I got home that night and tried a few tricks, but nothing worked. My LCD seemed to be filled with LSD, and it was a goner at 2.5 years old. Curses!


But wait! I bought the set at Costco in 2006, before the infamous TV-return-policy overhaul of ’07. I called them, told them my TV died, and they said, “No problem. Just bring it back and we’ll refund your money or set you up with a new one.”

Seriously. Costco gave me full price back on a 2.5-year-old purchase. I couldn’t believe it. I was able to slide directly into a brand new 47″ LCD TV for a grand total of $0. The bigger, better set was the exact price of the smaller one a few years ago. Score!

Abby’s First Easter

April 12, 2009

We’ve had a wonderful holiday weekend with Maryalice’s parents. Grandma and Grandpa took care of Abby for the past few nights, so Maryalice and I got some sleep! We also got some great family pictures (finally!), so be sure to check out the new “Easter 2009” photo gallery! Click the Easter baby below to enter the gallery now!


Two New Sites Coming Soon!

April 9, 2009

In an attempt to keep thegeekydad more focused on all things “geeky” and “dad,” I’m gearing up to launch two new sites. One will be directed to my Beachbody and P90X coaching, and the other will be a daily blog/podcast for people going through P90X. At that point, I’ll try to keep this site more focused on its original intent: total geek fatherhood. I’ll announce the launch of these sites here soon.

Fair warning, though… “Geek” will still include movies, superheroes, cartoons, and shameful childhood memories of my 1980’s upbringing! And, of course, tons of pictures of my cute kiddo.

Safari Beta 4 vs. Firefox

April 8, 2009

I’ve been a Firefox user for years, ever since it first came out. I’m pretty sure I was an active user of the initial beta versions, even before version 1.0 was released. That was back in my Windows days, when my irritations with Internet Explorer had me trying several different browsers in an attempt to find a winner.

From the beginning, I loved Firefox. It was quick, intuitive, and best of all, extensible. As time went on, I could find extensions to do just about anything I wanted to. It was great! Even after my switch to the Mac three years ago, Firefox was the browser of choice for me. Times, however, have changed.

Lately, Firefox 3 has been a pain. I’ve been getting horrendous slowdowns, memory drains, application crashes, and other problems. I was surprised to find myself searching for an alternative to my alternative browser. I was even more surprised to discover that Safari was my answer.

Apple’s release of Safari beta 4 made a lot of headlines recently, and I was listening.

"Top Sites" View

"Top Sites" View

I kept hearing about how it was the fastest browser in history, and about its cool new features like “Top Sites.” I had tried Safari off and on for a while, but never liked it. Would  beta 4 be any different?

The answer, I’m happy to say, is yes. I installed it a week ago and have been using it exclusively at home and work on my three Macs since then. I have been blown away with its performance. It opens almost instantly and pulls up web pages noticeably faster than any other browser I’ve ever used. And, I realized that I really didn’t miss any of my Firefox extensions at all. What I was using was probably just slowing the browser down, anyway.

I haven’t run any benchmarks or side-by-side comparisons between Firefox and Safari 4. I’m honestly not that interested. All I can say is that I’ve used both, and despite my longtime love of Firefox, Safari is my new browser of choice. In fact, I’ve been so impressed with Apple’s Safari that I’ve started giving Apple’s other core apps, like iChat, a second look. Will iChat now replace Adium as my go-to chat client? It’s looking pretty likely.