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I had a conversation with my friend AAl on Twitter:

@bobtiki:
[Regarding 2,051 emails in my inbox:] It’s a stream from which I pluck the occasional tasty salmon. It’s not all Things I Have to Deal With.

@aalgar:
@bobtiki So… it’s like The Den. Filled mostly with stuff you don’t need, but maybe one thing might be useful?

@bobtiki:
@aalgar oh god what have I done

At that moment, it hit me, what I was doing. The Den, as AAl and I have come to call it, is the personification of my clutter; a room in my house that is somehow possessed of a will of its own, compelling me to go out into the world and return with stuff with which to fill it.

It’s funny because it’s true.

I have a real problem discarding things, and I’ve tried so many ways of tricking myself into doing it, and none of them have really worked, long term. (I’m trying yet another one right now!) I certainly come by it honestly — my grandfather died, leaving a basement full to the brim of old junk, unopened mail, cobwebs, and fifty years of National Geographic. My parents rented a dumpster to clear out his house, and I’ve already rented a dumpster to clear out my own house, when we moved from Maryland to Seattle two years ago.

As fascinating as I found his basement when I was a kid, I’ve sworn that I wouldn’t leave a similar heap when I die. However, I don’t seem to really be making headway on that goal. It’s not just The Den — it’s my email and so many other areas in my life where I deal with the parts that I find interesting, and just let the rest of it flow by. The trouble is, it’s not a stream that will harmlessly find its level in the great sea, it’s a giant conveyor belt of crap that takes everything I didn’t pluck out, and dumps it in an enormous pile that someone will have to deal with eventually.

Probably that someone should be me. It is all Things I Have to Deal With.

I don’t really have the perfect solution here, or Ten Amazing Steps To Learn to Throw Crap Away, but envisioning my email inbox as a giant ugly pile of unopened letters, shitty Penny Saver magazines, and half-torn cardboard boxes really helped put things in a new perspective.

mac_mini_servers

Hi! Sorry about that click-bait title. What one person can write an ultimate guide to anything, really? All I can do is tell you about my own experience, and some tools I find useful.

Have some other ideas to add? Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook, and maybe we can actually build an ultimate guide together, as we hold hands and drink Coca-Cola — with crazy straws from a beer hat, obviously, since our hands are busy.

Let’s get started!

Server

For most of these solutions, you’re going to need your own server. How exactly to set one up is a bit outside of the scope of this guide, but here are a couple of recommendations, in case you’re just getting started.

OS X Server

At home, I use OS X Server running on a Mac mini for web pages, wiki, and file sharing for my family, along with easy management and backup of other Macs and iOS devices in the house. Ars Technica has a thorough guide to OS X Server that’s a great place to start learning about its capabilities.

WebFaction

For more public-facing data, I have a hosting account at WebFaction, which has the best price-to-performance ratio I’ve ever had in a hosted server, while still giving you one-click installation of a bunch of common services, and a TON of well-written how-to support articles. Their tagline, “Be a developer not a sysadmin,” really hits the nail on the head. I’m free to be creative and run these self-hosted services (and my own python apps) without getting too bogged down in server minutiae.

File sharing

Often I have the need to share files with others. I feel like I’ve tried every option: emailing files, emailing the person again to see if they actually got the file, emailing the file again, realizing the file is too big for email, sending a link with SendItToMe or Hightail or any number of spammy “free” file sharing services, FTP, SFTP, sharing links from Dropbox, you name it.

Kloudspeaker

Yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but the project’s old name was “Mollify,” so maybe the time of a service’s name actually matching what they do is long since over. They describe it as:

Document management system in your server, customizable to your needs. Access your documents with full featured web UI or mount published folders into desktop via WebDAV.

Believe me, I’ve toyed with the idea of building my own file sharing service with Python and Django, but Kloudspeaker has staved that off for now. It was super easy to set up on my Mac OS X server at home, and easy to give people access to the folders they need without exposing my server’s login credentials or the underlying folder structure on the server.

I had to tweak some PHP settings to allow for very large uploads, but once I did that, it’s been cruising along nicely. My only complaint at this point is that it doesn’t seem possible to create a link that takes you directly to a file.

File Syncing

Dropbox is great, but sometimes you may want something more private.

OmniPresence

Liz Marley reminded me that while OmniPresence works great with Omni Sync Server, it can also be set up to use your own private WebDAV server. Omni has a comprehensive configuration page that explains how to use it this way.

SparkleShare

SparkleShare is sort of a self-hosted clone of Dropbox with encryption, for those files you really want to keep full control of. You can host your own server that everything syncs through, and it’s Git-based at its core, so it also provides for reverting to previous versions of the files, even when being edited by multiple users.

BitTorrent Sync

Sync provides encrypted device-to-device syncing using the BitTorrent protocols (no central host!), but advanced features lyke syncing an unlimited number of folders and on-demand web access to your files are part of their Pro version that’s subscription-based.

OwnCloud

I’ve seen a few recommendations for OwnCloud (though I haven’t used it yet myself). It seems like it might combine file syncing, file sharing, and a bit of workgroup-style contacts and calendars. Very ambitious. Have you used it? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear more reviews. MacMiniColo has a useful article on how to Install OwnCloud on a Mac mini Server.

DVCS / Git

GitLab

Sure, you can set up a bare-bones Git server easy-peasy, but GitHub is so pretty, and has cool stuff like wikis and issue tracking and easy automation hooks for other services. Well, GitLab is your self-hosted GitHub clone with most of those same niceties.

Project Management / Workgroups

I’m still trying to find a good self-hosted replacement for Basecamp, because all of the options that I’ve tried either have horribly shitty interfaces or a ridiculous purchase price for personal use. Duet seems the closest to a useable solution (for a small one-time purchase), but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet. Any other suggestions?

What else?

Brian Stucki, owner of MacMiniColo, shared this article: 50 ways to use your server, with a wealth of other ideas for hosting your own data. A lot of it is web service or development-focused, but there are several great options.

I’m sure I’m leaving out some details, or maybe you have some cool tools of your own you’d like to share. Drop me a line, and let’s expand this guide together.

Update 2015-04-20: Added OmniPresence, OwnCloud. Expanded Kloudspeaker details.

Update 2015-04-21: Added MacMiniColo articles.

Header photo courtesy pwnEd365, from original photo on Flickr used under CC BY 2.0. Photo has been cropped and colorized.

IMG_2497_crop

As my birthday gift this year, my good friend AAl took me to see Faith No More — which I think finally makes it all of the bands that I was really into in the 90s that I’ve now seen in person (with the exception of Curve, for whom I am no longer holding out hope that they’ll reunite and tour the US).

paramount0

Anyway, I got deafened in person by one of my favorite bands, got a killer sunburst T-shirt, and had a great time with a great friend. Can’t complain.

Useful Mac recently posted The Screenshot Spectacular, with all of the shortcuts and variations on taking a screenshot on the Mac. Very comprehensive and clear.

My favorite is ⌘⇧4 for taking a crosshair-bounded screenshot, and then pressing space to switch it to a cursor that captures whatever window is under the cursor when you click, and then (and I didn’t know this part before today), ⌥-click to capture the window without the big soft shadow around it.

Anyway, check out the whole post for even more screenshot tips-n-tricks. Thanks to Liz Marley and Joel Page for dropping screenshot knowledge.

I’ve applied to get a table in Artist Alley at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle next year, for my VFX podcast, The Optical. So, before I helped my good friends at AAlgar Productions pack up their table this year, I took some measurements. Assuming I get the table, I plan to have an overhead display clamped to the table, and bins underneath. If you’re doing something similar, here are some useful dimensions.

ECCC Artist Alley Table Dimensions

Here’s a scalable PDF of the same dimensions, all released for you to use under CC BY 4.0 (tl;dr — give me attribution, preferably with a link to this blog post, then use it however you like).

Comparison of Buffy original and widened HD looks.

This post on Facebook shows in great detail the disappointing issues with the new HD remaster of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Pivot TV, complete with side-by-side comparisons and video links. (All of the side-by-sides here on the blog are taken from that Facebook article. Thanks, mystery author!)

The questionable 16:9 cropping (or opening the frame up to see crew members and lighting rigs, as above) is bad enough, but the liberties they’re taking with Buffy’s HD color grades are ruining the aesthetic of the show.

Err… that bedroom looks dangerously sun-speckled, Angel.

Err… that bedroom looks dangerously sun-speckled, Angel.

Buffy has always been one of the darkest shows (in terms of luma levels) I’ve ever seen on TV. While I understand tiny tweaks to take advantage of the full color information and resolution of the new film scans (and the vast amount of information a Blu-ray can hold vs. the original Betacam master tapes1), brightening every dark scene makes it akin to going through a haunted house with the harsh fluorescents on overhead the entire time — It actually makes it feel more like a cheap soap opera. (And yes, at times Buffy is a soap opera, but at least it was a moody and atmospheric soap opera!)

That is one brightly-lit cave you have there, Master.

That is one brightly-lit cave you have there, Master.

The new effects aren’t terrible, and I can’t blame them for replacing those, assuming the effects were only ever finished at SD resolution to begin with — the same thing that had to happen for Star Trek: The Next Generation, when they remastered for HD. Kind of weird that the vampire dustings look more like smoke now, though:

…and it always bothered me a little that Buffy isn't holding a stake here.

…and it always bothered me a little that Buffy isn’t holding a stake here.

I’m not usually one to complain, “you’re ruining it!,” even about a beloved film or series like this, but it’s terribly sad to see Buffy being treated like this for the HD remaster. I hope the producers take a hint from the TNG Blu-rays and reassess their decision not to remaster the show in the 4:3 ratio as Joss Whedon and his crews originally intended. That Facebook post seems to hope that this is a “rough draft,” and that these issues will be corrected for an assumed eventual Blu-ray release, but I fear once these episodes are done, no one’s going to spend the money or take the time to do them yet again. Still, since only seasons 1 and 2 seems to have been done so far, fingers still crossed for season 3 and beyond!


  1. I’d assume it was Betacam SP, given the time in which it was made. Later seasons might have been DigiBeta — or even from the start, if Fox was very forward-thinking. However, from personal experience with the formats, and seeing the very soft resolution on the DVDs, I’m going to assume BetaSP for now. 
Photo via meetup.com / Greg Shaw / http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Adobe-Premiere-Users-Group-and-related-software/photos/20488422/#339422512

Since I’m still not terribly happy with Final Cut Pro X, I was looking to attend a meeting of the Seattle Adobe Premiere Users Group, and to do that, they want you to fill out a questionnaire first. The last question took the cake:

Do you think you could make a habit of attending on the first Thursday of every month from 7:00-9:00pm?

That would be a decision I would make after attending one or two meetings and determining what value they have to me, and I don’t think it’s really appropriate to ask when first signing up for the Meetup group. This question also feels very marketing-spammy to be required to answer to join the Meetup group, and sort of turns me off to the group before I’ve even attended a meeting.

Add to that, the organizer chose to change the default nomenclature of group “Members” to “Disciples of video editing,” and I am getting one big negative vibe from this group already.

I get that it takes a certain degree of self-assuredness to organize something like this, but there also needs to be some degree of self-awareness that not everyone enjoys that type of evangelical push, and if you want to be welcoming, you need to account for that.