The Home Computing Master Plan: Macworld 2008 Edition

Here is the orig­i­nal mas­ter plan. It is notable most­ly for pre­dict­ing yes­ter­day’s Apple TV announce­ment, and for my woe­ful bitch­ing about the com­put­er that I still have now (that was more than two years ago!) I now present to you, the new edi­tion of the Home Com­put­ing Mas­ter Plan, as informed by the recent­ly con­clud­ed Mac­world 2008 Stevenote.

Caveat: Some of these items may not be made by Apple, but that should not dimin­ish their worth in your eyes.

The Home Com­put­ing Mas­ter Plan has sev­er­al com­po­nents that fill basic needs in our dig­i­tal life. Those needs include the pro­tec­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of our pre­cious data, the avail­abil­i­ty of per­son­al pro­cess­ing, and the desire for access any­where.

  1. Pre­cious Data: We have a lot of data that only exists in dig­i­tal form. Pic­tures, movies, music, doc­u­ments, etc. Much of that (the pho­tos espe­cial­ly) is price­less and irre­place­able. This past year, we spent upwards of $2,000 recov­er­ing that data from two failed hard dri­ves, and I don’t care to do that again. Our data should be secure and backed-up.
  2. Per­son­al Pro­cess­ing: The orig­i­nal plan called for “Pow­er­house Pro­cess­ing,” a tow­er-grade com­put­er some­where in the house that could real­ly crunch. At the time, I was com­ing off of a job where I had that kind of pow­er, and I thought it was a required item in the Plan. Well, it isn’t. We just need com­pe­tent com­put­ers. But we each need our own, that much is clear.
  3. Access Any­where: To best enjoy our dig­i­tal life, we need to be able to get to it from where we are: the TV room, the kitchen, the car, the store, school, vaca­tion, wher­ev­er.

The plan: Pre­cious Data

Right now, all of our pre­cious data is stored on an Infrant Rea­dy­NAS device. Our data takes up a lit­tle less than 500 GB. That’s all our stuff. The NAS is in RAID mode, and cur­rent­ly has two 500 GB dri­ves. That means, if one of the dri­ves fails, I can run out and buy anoth­er, slip it in, and all will be well. We’re start­ing to butt up against the lim­its of the two dri­ves, how­ev­er, and it may be time to buy a third dri­ve (there are four slots).

I like the RAID sys­tem, but I wor­ry a bit about the lack of a real back­up. I’d like to have anoth­er copy of the data some­where, not just a redun­dant ver­sion on the NAS. Leop­ard’s Time Machine is easy to use, and turns out to be pret­ty flex­i­ble. I like the idea of being able to revis­it my files from a few days ago. That’s pret­ty cool. And it can use the Infrant NAS as a Time Machine disk. I just don’t know if it can do it over a net­work.

Also, to use Time Machine, you need a com­put­er run­ning Leop­ard. So that pret­ty much requires a desk­top com­put­er some­where to “man­age” our pre­cious data.

So, the plan is to get a Mac mini with the min­i­mum 120 GB dri­ve, and attach an exter­nal dri­ve, like New­er’s min­iStack series, prob­a­bly in the 1 TB size (just for fun). That’ll live in the kitchen, and hold all our data, run iTunes, etc. It’ll have a wire­less key­board stuck in a draw­er, and a third par­ty LCD in the small­ish size (13 inch­es?) on an arm so I can hide it away.

The NAS will act as a Time Machine disk for the mini, and for the exter­nal dri­ve (and for all our oth­er Macs). This is, of course, assum­ing Time Machine will work over a net­work now, or soon. That way, all our data will exist in two places, and the back­up will be a RAID device. Excel­lent!

The plan: Per­son­al Pro­cess­ing

With the mini in the kitchen han­dling server­ish duties (and kitchen-relat­ed web brows­ing, maybe bill pay­ing) we’ll each need our own machines to keep our per­son­al stuff. These machines will also be backed up to the NAS via Time Machine (the net­work­ing caveat still being exi­gent).

The wife will be stick­ing with her Win­dows lap­tops for a while. More pow­er to her. I’ve got my old 12″ iBook G4, which is des­per­ate­ly in need of a refresh. The new Mac­Book Air is not for me. I have my eyes on a 15″ Mac­Book Pro, a large exter­nal mon­i­tor, and an exter­nal key­board and mouse. I’d love a dock, but am unsure about the one dock avail­able for the Mac, the ones from Book­Endz. I guess you take what there is. I’ll also get a sec­ond bat­tery and a bat­tery charg­ing sta­tion. Noth­ing like hav­ing to teth­er your lap­top.

The boys don’t need com­put­ers yet, thank good­ness.

The plan: Access Any­where

To enjoy all of this, it is impor­tant to be able to get to my stuff wher­ev­er I am. With a lap­top, I can take impor­tant stuff with me, and with Leop­ard’s screen/computer shar­ing, I can get to the mini when I need to. It may require a (shud­der) .Mac sub­scrip­tion to be trans­par­ent.

We like lis­ten­ing to our music on iTunes, and our cur­rent set­up is just about per­fect in that regard. iTunes runs on our desk­top machine (the mini in the new plan), and pipes the music to an Air­port Express (should that be a ven­er­a­ble Air­port Express?), which sends it out the audio jack to a hob­by built FM trans­mit­ter. We tune the music in on our radios all over the house. Yay! But to change tracks, we need to go to the com­put­er, or use one of sev­er­al imper­fect “remote” itunes con­trollers via my lap­top. So, the plan calls for an iPod touch with Remote Bud­dy installed. Music lis­ten­ing nir­vana. We have a lit­tle iPod (thanks, sis!) for the car, and that’ll do for now. Next car we buy had bet­ter have bet­ter iPod options though.

We’d also like to enjoy our pic­tures and movies more. Right now, the only way to do that is to set the 12″ iBook down on the cof­fee table, snug­gle up three feet from the screen, and wait for stuff to stream from down­stairs. We’ll solve this prob­lem with a few items. First, a new base sta­tion, oper­at­ing at the much faster 802.11n pro­to­col. Then, I think I might spring for an Apple TV, prob­a­bly the small one (we’d only be rent­ing movies via its inter­face, any pur­chas­es would be done on the desk­top machine and streamed to the TV via the new base sta­tion). I’ve offi­cial­ly giv­en up on the TiVo as a home media stream­er. Sup­port on the Mac is woe­ful, and the Apple TV is cheap enough (and I have an HDMI slot open on my receiv­er) to get it, as it promis­es to work with the Apple ecosys­tem I already have. Yay, pic­tures and slideshows and movies (and rentals and ripped DVDs) on our TV. About time, I say.

Final­ly, to real­ly get the most out of our dig­i­tal life, I need to make more pic­ture books. I’ve made a few, but they are a lit­tle expen­sive, so the incen­tive is not there. I could also make some DVDs, but I am peren­ni­al­ly wait­ing for the next ver­sion of iDVD to make the process eas­i­er. I wait still.

Get­ting there

This list is a lit­tle less pie-in-the-sky than the pre­vi­ous iter­a­tion, but much still hinges on one unan­swered ques­tion: will Time Machine back up to a net­worked dri­ve? No answer as of this writ­ing.

So, the cost of all this? Too much, I’m sure, and the small LCD mon­i­tor will be hard to find, espe­cial­ly one that is VESA arm com­pat­i­ble. Let’s price it out, using my wife’s per­son­al pur­chase .edu dis­count for the Apple Store stuff:

  • Mac mini — 2.0 GHz, Super­Drive, 2 GB RAM, 120 GB HD, wire­less keyboard+mouse, .Mac: $1113
  • New­erTech min­iStack v3 — 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 32 MB data cache: $480
  • Sea­gate Bar­racu­da 7200 RPM, 500 GB SATA inter­nal disk for NAS: $160
  • 15″ LCD Mon­i­tor (like one from View­Son­ic or Dell): $160 to $190
  • VESA-com­pli­ant wall mount swing arm for LCD: $60 to $100
  • 15″ Mac­Book Pro — 2.6 GHz, 2GB RAM, 200 GB SATA 7200 RPM, Glossy Dis­play, Apple­Care: $2943
  • 4GB RAM kit for Mac­Book Pro from Cru­cial: $108
  • 24″ LCD Mon­i­tor (Apple if they do an iSight, Dell if not): $700 to $800
  • New key­board (wired): $50
  • Book­Endz dock for 15″ Mac­Book Pro: $300
  • New­erTech 15″ Mac­Book Pro bat­tery charg­er: $150
  • Replace­ment bat­tery for 15″ Mac­Book Pro: $116 from Apple (the only source cur­rent­ly)
  • iPod touch — 16 GB: $400
  • Remote Bud­dy license: $40 or so
  • Air­port Extreme 802.11n Base Sta­tion (assum­ing TimeMa­chine fix): $160
  • Apple TV — 40 GB: $229

So, that comes to a grand total of $7339. Less than I thought, frankly. Secur­ing our Pre­cious Data would cost $2043. Upgrad­ing my per­son­al com­put­er would cost $4467. Ouch. And get­ting all fan­cy with our dig­i­tal assets would cost only $829.

We’re tak­ing dona­tions!

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My name is Danny, and I grew up living overseas, but have settled in Kansas, where it turns out some of my family started, back when. I am helping to raise my own family, and hoping to be proud of what I've done when it's all over.