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!

The Home Computing Master Plan

[This post has been regur­gi­tat­ed from a sta­t­ic page I wrote in 2005. Thought it should live in the time­line, instead of out of it.]

I love com­put­ers, specif­i­cal­ly Apple’s com­put­ers, and I plan to live with them involved in my life as much as pos­si­ble. I have a plan, an ide­al set­up, that I intend to reach at some point, and these are its com­po­nents:

  1. Pre­cious Data Stor­age
    We have pre­cious data, our pic­tures, our movies, our music… maybe even our doc­u­ments and email. Los­ing this data would make me cry. In the plan, there would be lots of room for this data, it would be stored out of the way (so it does­n’t get tripped over), and it would be backed up on a reg­u­lar, auto­mat­ic basis.

  2. Pow­er­house Pro­cess­ing
    I expect to have a need for a fast com­put­er with lots of RAM, with a large, good qual­i­ty screen, so that I can run inten­sive appli­ca­tions (Pho­to­shop, Final Cut Express, Aper­ture, Unre­al Tour­na­ment, etc.) quick­ly and effi­cient­ly. This would live in a study, or an office, and it would be a multi­user com­put­er, it would be there for the fam­i­ly as a resource. It would need access to the Pre­cious Data.

  3. Portable Per­son­al Units
    I’m sold on the con­ve­nience of portable com­put­ing. These units would have to gain access to the Pre­cious Data, but would also need to work on their own, away from home. They would sync up when at home, but when away, they would have a sub­set of the Pre­cious Data, what­ev­er was need­ed for the trip. Each fam­i­ly mem­ber (of a cer­tain age) would have at least one.

  4. Dis­trib­uted Access
    Access to the Pre­cious Data should be avail­able from anywhere/everywhere. The key here is the abil­i­ty to view, show, and lis­ten to the Pre­cious Data. This com­po­nent of the Mas­ter Plan is pret­ty broad, but cov­ers access from oth­er com­put­ers (not owned by us), from our tele­vi­sion, from our hand­held devices, etc. Inter­ac­tion with the Pre­cious Data would be a bonus.

So, what would it take to reach this plan? Well, some of the tech­nol­o­gy already exists, but some does not. And keep in mind, I am self-lim­it­ing (for the most part) to Apple’s com­put­ing offer­ings. I don’t care if you can already do this on Red Hat, or if it’s a cinch on Win­dows. That does not inter­est me.

Net­worked stor­age

For a while there, I was think­ing that an Xserve in a clos­et would ful­fill both 1. and 2., but I am no longer think­ing that way. Instead, I want some big hard dri­ves with redun­dant RAID arrays, with some sort of pow­er man­age­ment and net­work­ing out to all the home units. Wired net­works are tra­di­tion­al­ly much faster than wire­less, but wire­less is real­ly catch­ing up (802.11n should be avail­able by 2007!) so maybe just a phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to the pow­er­house pro­cess­ing unit would be required. They could even live in the same location/room. I don’t want the stor­age direct­ly con­nect­ed to the com­put­er, and thus depen­dent on that com­put­er being on for net­work­ing to be work­ing. They should, instead, be inde­pen­dent­ly net­worked.

Cur­rent sta­tus: I have a 240 GB dri­ve and a 160GB dri­ve con­nect­ed via Firewire to my desk­top com­put­er, which has an inter­nal 80GB dri­ve. The 80 and the 160 are backed up dai­ly to the 240. These are net­worked to the lap­tops in the house via the desk­top machine (so it has to be on) via wire­less (so the desk­top machine has to be awake).

Ide­al set­up: Well, Ars Tec­ni­ca recent­ly reviewed two NAS (Net­work Attached Stor­age) devices recent­ly, that do what I would want. The Rea­dy­NAS looks like an inter­est­ing prod­uct, although I might need to know more Unix than I do now. It has addi­tion­al cool fea­tures like USB ports to net­work print­ers, etc. They have a use­ful-look­ing forum, too. I can see a clos­et with one of these, the print­er, and an Air­port Extreme base sta­tion in it. (As soon as Apple releas­es an 802.11n base sta­tion (Air­port Ulti­mate?) I’ll be upgrad­ing.) Cost? $1,200 gets you start­ed with 800GB of stor­age, and room for anoth­er 800GB lat­er, from Ama­zon. Apple offers their own servers, but noth­ing specif­i­cal­ly out­lined as a NAS. Though, admit­ted­ly, the Rea­dy­NAS does seem to be blur­ring the lines a bit (it does more than just store and serve files).

Big, pow­er­ful com­put­er

Again, for a while I was think­ing I’d just use an Xserve to fill both stor­age and pow­er issues, but I am return­ing to Earth now. Instead, I see a big, pow­er­ful com­put­er with not a huge amount of stor­age, and that stor­age used most­ly for appli­ca­tions, not data (the excep­tion being data that would ben­e­fit from being housed local­ly, like game data files, etc.), The NAS solu­tions I would con­sid­er (above) can all serve web pages, files via FTP or oth­er net­work pro­to­cols, etc., so this com­put­er would not need to do any of that. This just needs to be a num­ber crunch­er, though I reit­er­ate that it would prob­a­bly need to have appli­ca­tions stored local­ly. Big screen, too, to get the most out of it. Maybe two screens, but one 23″ LCD would prob­a­bly do.

Cur­rent sta­tus: Woe­ful. I have an old swing-arm iMac, slow­er even than my lap­top, that is even now just bare­ly get­ting along with sev­er­al apps open at once. It also acts as the stor­age device gate­way, but it is con­nect­ed to the net­work (and the Inter­net) wire­less­ly, because of cable jack issues in our house. The only thing that makes it bet­ter than using my lap­top is the big­ger screen, the track­ball, and the full size key­board.

Ide­al set­up: Well, the best there is right? A full on Quad 2.5GHz G5 Pow­er Mac would be great. Cou­ple that with a big LCD, maybe a 20″ mon­i­tor from Dell (they use the same phys­i­cal Philips-sourced part as the Apple mon­i­tors), or a larg­er one from Apple. I actu­al­ly think the 30″ mon­i­tor from Apple is real­ly nice, but too much for this appli­ca­tion. I’d want to add sev­er­al expen­sive appli­ca­tions and games to this set­up, too.


As portable com­put­ing goes, lap­tops have the mar­ket cor­nered. Palm­tops, or hand­helds, are nice, but you can’t do any real com­put­ing tasks (try edit­ing a video on your Dell Axim, folks). I envi­sion these would be each per­son­’s indi­vid­ual access point to our Pre­cious Data, as well as a loca­tion for more per­son­al data (option­al­ly, and strong­ly encour­aged, backed up to the NAS). I’m inter­est­ed in the whole tablet thing, but more­so in the whole “portable screen” idea, which I’ll go into in more detail in the next sec­tion. The lap­tops allow us to take a com­put­er with us, not just our Pre­cious Data. This real­ly is the least com­pli­cat­ed part of the whole set­up.

Cur­rent Sta­tus: I have a 12″ iBook, and Tiffany has her Thinkpad. Both are con­nect­ed to the home net­work wire­less­ly. Mine can check all my e‑mail accounts (through IMAP and .Mac sync­ing, not via net­work­ing wiz­ardry). Mine can access the music and pho­tos stored in our Pre­cious Data, so long as the desk­top com­put­er in the base­ment is on and awake. Tiffany’s is not con­nect­ed to our net­work, most­ly because she would­n’t be able to see our pho­tos any­way. She could use iTunes, I sup­pose. And she can print to the shared print­er.

Ide­al Set­up: I’m real­ly in love with the small­ness of my cur­rent lap­top, so I think I’d only ever get a small one again, despite the small screen/keyboard. Tiffany loves her IBM, even man­u­fac­tured by Leno­vo, so we’re like­ly to stick with the Win­dows fla­vor where she is con­cerned. But I’d love to have a 12″ Power­book, though some of the fea­tures of the new 15″ one are appeal­ing. I’d need an mouse, maybe a wire­less one, though a track­ball would be bet­ter. Any­one know of a good, portable track­ball? Aidan does not need a com­put­er yet.

Input and Out­put

This is sort of a catch all cat­e­go­ry, but most­ly includes devices and meth­ods for get­ting at our Pre­cious Data with­out a com­put­er. Hand­held devices for read­ing blogs offline, or for watch­ing recorder video, or for lis­ten­ing to music. Tele­vi­sions that are hooked into the Pre­cious Data so we can watch it in 42″ of plas­ma glo­ry. Print­ers able to print in full-col­or from wher­ev­er you are in the world. The abil­i­ty to fax your­self a hard copy of what you’re see­ing online. email­ing pho­tos from your dig­i­tal cam­era back home, where they get filed in the Pre­cious Data and put online. Web sites that update when new pic­tures are down­loaded. Input from the world, out­put to the world.

Cur­rent sta­tus: We have a net­worked print­er, a black and white laser, that is avail­able any time. With a lit­tle fid­dling, I think I could set it up to accept print­ing instruc­tions from any­where. I have a cou­ple of web sites, but they aren’t tied direct­ly to any of our Pre­cious Data. We have a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion iPod that we don’t use (except occa­sion­al­ly as 10GB Firewire disk). We have an iPod shuf­fle. Tiffany has a USB key. We have a TiVo Series 2, which osten­si­bly would let us see our pho­tos and lis­ten to our music, and might some­day let us get TV shows and watch our videos, but does not do any of that today. And that is about it. No con­nect­ed cell phone. We can’t even lis­ten to the iPod in the car.

Ide­al Set­up: I’d like a new iPod with video capa­bil­i­ties. And a car con­nec­tor for it. I’d like TiVo to get off its ass and give me a work­ing ver­sion of the TiVo desk­top, with TiVo To Go to boot. I’d like a TiVo Series 3 box (when they come out) with two tuners, built-in Eth­er­net, and HD abil­i­ty. I’d like a com­put­er that could han­dle Aper­ture, and a cam­era that could do it jus­tice (and a copy of Aper­ture, for that mat­ter). I could start a nice lit­tle cot­tage indus­try there. A good pho­to gallery plug in for Word­Press. A col­or laser for fun. A col­or inkjet that could print to CDs and DVDs. I’d like a cell phone that synced with my address book and my cal­en­dar (for that mat­ter, I’d like a ver­son of iCal that did­n’t suck much… Apple, you lis­ten­ing?).

And then we dream…

What else do I want? If I could wave the mag­ic Moore’s-Law-extend­ing, stan­dards-com­mit­tee-hur­ry­ing, lot­tery-win­ning, Apple-do-my-bid­ding wand?

  • A decent PVR with real home com­put­ing pow­er (Apple again, bring Front Row to the Mac mini). A nice big screen to watch it on (can you imag­ine brow­ing and buy­ing stuff from an iTunes Media Store on your 42″ plas­ma TV?).

  • I’d like an 802.11n wire­less net­work (540 Mbit/s baby! For com­par­i­son, HDTV trans­fers data at 55 Mbit/s). The spec has been final­ized (see here) and devices are expect­ed by 2007.

  • I’d like to be able to bring our lap­tops home and slot them into a cra­dle where they would pow­er up.

  • As soon as they were in range of our wire­less net­work, I’d like our lap­tops to sync their data with our Pre­cious Data.

  • I’d like a cheap, 8x10 dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, or heck, why not a poster-sized one, that con­nects wire­less­ly to our Pre­cious Data for it’s con­tents. I’d like it pow­ered by induc­tion, so I don’t have to plug it in.

  • I’d like a 20″ tablet com­put­er, more of a wire­less screen than a wire­less com­put­er, for work­ing on the work­horse com­put­er while I’m on the deck. Bet­ter, I’d like all our lap­tops, and the portable screen, too, to become screen slaves to the work­horse com­put­er once they are in net­work range, and the work­horse would let mul­ti­ple users be logged in at once (I’ve heard this called a “ter­mi­nal serv­er” or some­such), all using the work­horse’s many CPUs and, much mem­o­ry. Once out of range, they’d revert to their own selves, with data and maybe even apps and OS synced while they were in touch. I’d pay for a Fam­i­ly Pack OS X license if it could do that.