Two weeks of facts about the Intel Mac Mini

The 10 feet interface

Okay, well, one of the reasons I've been quiet for the last two weeks is because I got myself one of those intel Mac Minis...

The bottom line is: I love that thing!

But here's a little more details... including answers I coouldn't find anywhere on the net before (so I just had to buy it to check it out by myself). (My configuration is a Duo Core with 512 MB of RAM and 100 GB of hard disk. Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. DVI to PAL adapter for TV.)

  • The mac mini is insanely easy to install...
  • ...but it would have been even easier if Apple didn't state in the manual that "if you have bluetooth devices refer to the device doc" which in turn says "install the OS update disc" except you can't because you haven't booted the mac yet. All crap. All you need to do is put the batteries into the keyboard and the mouse, plug the power into the Mini and boot up. Everything gets detected nicely.
  • The Mini IS quiet! Even with a double core! Even when moving videos all around while watching one. I was really surprised by how quiet it is. It is the most quiet fan equipped appliance I have ever seen (I cannot even say "I heard").
  • The Mac Mini Core Duo boots up in 22 seconds. It goes to sleep in 2 seconds. It wakes up in 1 second! Niiiice!
  • The Rosetta Power PC emulation stuff is... errr... working as long as you don't intend to use it seriously. Firefox is a nightmare to emulate with Rosetta. Make sure your apps are released in "Universal" (Intel compiled) format or you're screwed. (Note: FireFox 1.5.0.2 should be released shortly in Universal format.
  • Even if you can't fill a 60 GB iPod, you'll fill up a 100 GB Mac Mini in no time. Get a bigger drive!
  • The iLife'06 suite of applications is a treat! You'll never want to manage you music, photos or videos on a PC again!
  • The Front Row 10 feet interface with the remote is fun too... but mostly for showing it off! It doesn't cut it on day to day use. You can't sort your podcasts. You can't organize your content as you wish. You have to listen to playslists in random order. Fast forwarding or rewinding is a nightmare! The only way you'll be able to bear the clogged remote operation is if you've hurt yourself trying to remote control an iPod before. In that respect, it's good. Otherwise, I can only hope Apple will improve the system in the future.
  • For day to day use, the bluetooth keyboard (which can emulate the remote) and the bluettoth mouse will work better.
  • The mouse however sucks big time! It will move erratically. I haven't figured out yet if it's because of bluettoth interference with the keyboard, because of a bad optical sensor, because of a lousy driver or something else. Btw, you should know that the bluetooth mouse from Apple has only one button with no hidden right click like the Mighty Mouse and worse: the mouse driver had absolutely NO PROVISION for adjusting acceleration. This is to me the biggest concern for a Windows user like me. The mouse doesn't move as I expect it to (even with my PC USB mouse) and I constantly over or under shoot the target. It makes me want to tear my eyes off... and there's just nothing you can do! ... So, well, mouse operation sucks, but since remote control operation sucks too, I maintain that the bluettoth solution is better for everyday use, even from the couch! :P
  • Video output: The driver has an "optimize for video" setting which seems to do just nothing. Otherwise than that, when using the DVI/PAL adapter the image was not centered on my screen. There is an "overscan" checkbox which when used will: a) fill the TV screen nicely, b) hide the menu bar and the dock and make the mac mini useless if not used with the remote (good luck for setting it back) and c) make any DVD play in a corner of the screen instead of full screen. Totally ridiculous. Make sure you can adjust screen size and position on your TV like you can on a monitor... or you're screwed. Well, of course if you connect to a flat panel via DVI (or HDMI) you have no problem. For the rest of us... hunt the "Service Menu" on your TV!
  • Digital audio output: The mini can connect to a Digital Amplifier in order to render full 5.1 surround sound. I connected it to my Denon AVR, then tried a couple of DVDs and all I could get was stereo sound. The AVR was only receiving a stereo digital stream. I called up Apple Care and they made me go through half a dozen setup screen (nice tour of the Mac Utilities folder) and finally came to the conclusion that my Mac was not able to output 5.1 sound. Excuse me? Was Steve jobs lying during the keynote? ... Well I later found how to enable it: remove any DVD from the drive, then launch the DVD player app (not Front Row), then go to Settings, then tell it to output the DVD sound directly to the digital output instead of using the Mac Mini sound processing system... which actually turns out to be only stereo. So you can watch DVDs in 5.1, but if you try to rip a DVD to a 5.1 DivX, I fear you're screwed. Bleh!
  • Finally, when using the digital out the Mac doesn't control the volume any more. You have to use the AVR remote. Those nice volume keys on the keybord, as well as 2 of the 6 remote buttons are useless...

Conclusion: there are a lot of details that certainly itch the geek inside of me, but at the end of the day I always enjoy to wake up the mini and watch a couple of video podcasts it will download automagically. I admit I even use the remote for that :) (Well, I programmed my AVR remote to mimic the Apple remote ;))

Also, the whole user experience (except that thing with the mouse) is so much smoother than on Windows. The apps are pre-installed and nicely integrated with one another. And most of all: most of it "just works as expected". (Except the mouse, did I mention that before?)

Finally, on week-ends it takes no longer than 2 minutes to move the Mini to the desk and connect it to a real monitor for a little iLife experience. I gotta come back on this later.

More reviews:

AC3 codec for Intel Mac (Universal Binary)

Update: I originally found this codec.

However, I've later found a much better one!

2009 Update: The a52 codec now supports 5.1 surround passthrough, even on Mac Mini.

DivX codec for Intel Mac (Universal Binary)

Check it out here.

The Java Generation and the lost art of programming...

"A sure sign of my descent into senility is bitchin' and moanin' about "kids these days," and how they won't or can't do anything hard any more."

So goes the intro to Joel's "The Perils of JavaSchools".

Higly relevant and highly recommended, as usual! ;)

"Pointers and recursion require a certain ability to reason, to think in abstractions, and, most importantly, to view a problem at several levels of abstraction simultaneously. And thus, the ability to understand pointers and recursion is directly correlated with the ability to be a great programmer.

[...]

You need training to think of things at multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously, and that kind of thinking is exactly what you need to design great software architecture."

Among other things, Joel talks about how Universities made the mistake of replacing courses on C pointers and recursion with courses on simple Java... and those universities include UPenn... my second most enjoyable experience in the 90ies (the most enjoyable one being the bubble of course! ;D)

Also, Joel talks about how it gets difficult to distinguish the top programmers from the average because you can't ask them about pointers & recursion right out of school any longer... I've got the same issue with database programmers. You can't ask them about concurrent transactions and normalizing databases any longer... Ironically, I learnt most of that at UPenn... back then in the 90ies... :>>

jBouncer: A Java IRC Bouncer (Proxy)

Sometimes you want to be connected to an IRC server all the time, even when you're not.

In that case you need an IRC proxy, or bouncer, that will stay connected to the IRC server(s) all the time.

That's what jBouncer does.

JBouncer is a Java implementation of a simple IRC proxy (sometimes known as an IRC bouncer). It can run on Windows, Unix, Linux, etc.

An IRC proxy is a program that connects to any number of IRC servers. You can then use an IRC client to connect to the proxy and use those servers. When you disconnect your client, the proxy stays connected to the IRC server.