Don Burnside

Recipes, technology, personal stuff and a crap load of archives.

Cord Cutting: Where to start

As more and more of you start your journey to ditching your cable company, more and more of you still have questions and don’t really know where to start. Luckily, you know a guy that has already done all of it. Me!

I’ve started a page here chock full of notes to get your started on your cord cutting. It’s so much easier now that it used to be that almost anyone can do it without trouble. Even if you aren’t looking to drop cable, there is some information on some of the latest bits of gear that you can add to your entertainment system for added features.

So, if this is you, check it out on the cord cutting notes page.

The Mac Mini as a Server

CJ Twitter

_*Disclaimer*: The following is concerning networking Apple computers together, using an Apple computer as a server. Windows isn’t mentioned because, for this purpose, it’s not applicable_.

Friend of the show, CJ, posed the question above on Twitter earlier. Having a few minutes, we went back and forth on adding a Mac Mini server to a home network. He is looking at replacing an existing Mac Pro and is concerned with file storage. Besides the Mac Mini, he is also considering a Synology DiskStation, which is another great option.

The Synology is interesting in that it is, essentially, a linux server with a custom UI. Within the admin section of the device you can configure it to act as a firewall, mail/web server (complete with WordPress), iTunes media server, DHCP server and even a personal cloud server. All rolled into one device. And, at just a skoosh over $300, a pretty good deal. The biggest con of this is redundancy. The drives are fixed and can’t be swapped without opening the case. You can mirror to another Synology device on the same network (via rsync if you speak nerd) or backup to an external USB drive. The experience that I have had with the Synology has been very positive. It’s reliable and quiet and file transfers are pretty quick.

If your budget has more room, the Mac MINI with an external drive would be a better solution. With the Mac Mini, you get a full O/S computer that can be used as a regular desktop machine. Adding a Drobo or multiple Thunderbolt drives would allow you to extend storage to more than you will probably need over the life of the device. If you are looking to do some cord cutting, that’s another advantage of going with the Mini. Add the Plex Server and app to this machine connected to your home entertainment center via HDMI cable and you have a powerful device that will not only serve your files, but you media as well.

You could go full server on your Mini too, which would get you additional on-board storage and other server only options (user account controls, for example), but if all you need is file serving and you are planning on using external storage anyway, I’d vote against the Server version of the Mini. I’d go with the $599 version, add as much RAM as possible and put the rest toward external storage like a Drobo or a few daisy chained Thunderbolt drives (any of these would be awesome).

If you are looking to have access via Windows machines, the Synology device or a networked Drobo would be a better choice, unless you are looking for a full blow media server/HTPC type device.

TechPHX Follow-up

TechPHX, the **new** PodcampAZ, happened November 10th and 11th this year. As I previously mentioned, I went to not only take in a few sessions, but to also present 2 sessions.

The 2nd session I presented on was about Podcasting. All of the information about that can be found at imadeapodcast.com, including a video of my talk. If you are interested in what I think about Podcasting, I highly recommend it.

The first presentation I gave was completely new to me. I decided to work a little outside of the box and spent the better part of 45 minutes leading a great discussion about Instagram. I’m really pleased with this talk and was really excited to be able to present to such an enthusiastic group. Makes things so much easier when the audience is receptive to your thoughts and ideas.

I originally feared that my session wasn’t recorded. There were a few minor snafus with the setup of the streaming, since it was the first time it was being done. But my fears were aliviated when tech wizard Miles was able to find the recording and share it. Not only that, but he also compiled a complete list of notes from that presentation! Not just mine, but for a few others that had similiar problems. Just about every TechPHX presentation is now available in some fashion on the schedule page. Definitly worth checking out.

My Instagram talk can be found here on uStream. The video player is janky and motion stops at about the 30 minute mark, but you can still hear the entire talk. Besides Instagram, we also made up a very nice list of camera apps and other things that can help with your instagram experience.

Like I mentioned, I think this is one of the best talks I’ve given. If you are interested in continuing the discussion, comments are open or you can contact me to setup a meeting.

My First Child Theme

Big WordPress week here at DonBurnside.com with 2 sites getting brand new themes. One of them I created and the other I created, kinda. Plus a few other neat things that I have picked up and incorporated.

But what is a child theme you ask? Let’s head over to the codex for the answer!
>A WordPress child theme is a theme that inherits the functionality of another theme, called the parent theme, and allows you to modify, or add to, the functionality of that parent theme.

In other words, it’s a way to modify a theme indirectly. There are many reasons why you would want to do this. The biggest reason is to not lose any modifications to a premium theme or one of the built in WordPress themes if an update comes down the pipe.

Considering this was my first time, I found the experience not unlike creating a theme from scratch. Luckily, the premium theme I was dealing with, Viewport by Themezilla, is fairly well documented and has code that actually makes sense, which made it simple to make modifications. I was able to make the changes the client wanted while still keeping all of the features that drew the client to the theme in the first place. Best of both worlds.

The other site is an update to my current theme (the same one that is powering this site). Updates include enhanced widget areas, featured image support, custom image support for posts and page and better Facebook integration that includes adding Facebook comments. Besides features, the overall appearance has been cleaned up, incorporating more white space and an overall softening of the edges.

This theme is also my first responsive theme. Full support for mobile and tablet sized screens. It’s not perfect yet, but good enough to launch. I will be updating that after taking the site live, hoping to get it fully dialed in shortly.

Roku vs. Apple TV

Now that I have both in my entertainment center and have been using both for the last month, there are some definite differences between the two. I think you might be surprised with what I’m about to say.

The Apple TV kinda sucks.

That’s right, I said it. The Apple TV, as a cord cutting device, isn’t that great. Let me re-phrase that. The Apple TV, as compared to the Roku box as a cable TV replacement device isn’t that great. All things in context.

The Apple TV is brilliant for anything Air Play related. Click on the stereo, turn on SomaFM and send the output to Air Play. Rad. Same with mirroring the screen of **any** of the Apple devices in the house. A cool YouTube video to share? Send it to the Apple TV. Playing back music from iTunes works great. Viewing photos in your photostream or Flickr is equally awesome.

But that is where the awesome ends.

As previously mentioned, video playback is very slow to get started. This is a bigger hurdle than I initially thought. I find myself going to the Roku box still for the majority of video content. The Amazon app on the Roku has the same selection of shows, at the same quality, for the same price. Sometimes it’s even less expensive than the Apple store too. That and it doesn’t matter if it’s a 5 minute short or a 3 hour movie, it starts in less than 2 minutes and plays continuously without any stalls or skips. Something that can’t be said of the Apple TV.

One thing that is almost the same on the Apple TV as on the Roku Box is HuluPlus. This is the worst experience of anything I have ever experienced. The software is so poor that it usually crashes the device it’s running on **every other time** we start it. And with the continued dwindling of top-tier content being made ‘web only’, I’m finding less and less value with the service and will probably cancel it soon.

If you are trying to do some cord cutting of your own, I would start with a Roku box with an Amazon Prime account. Get the Apple TV if you think you would get some use from it with the Air Play. But if not, save your $100 for now. Same with HuluPlus. Use that money for your Amazon Prime account instead.