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Storing Digital Memories (Part 2)

Whatever media digital information is stored on — the only way to figure out whether the information is still usable is to try using it. So I decided to move my photo archive to the living room and connect it via a MacMini to our HDTV.

The MacMini is a low-end, first-generation, PPC version without Bluetooth. This means that keyboard and mouse are tethered — not ideal for a living room environment. I found a solution to this problem that not only untethers mouse and keyboard but also enables multiple people to interact with the Mac Mini at the same time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first problem was to get the MacMini to use the correct resolution for the TV, 1380 x 768. I think the TV’s VGA interface was communicating the correct resolution but the MacMini did not have the timing parameters necessary for that resolution. After some use of Google I found a tool called SwitchResX which allows one to create new resolutions with corresponding timing parameters. For this task, I just used the SwitchResX Control Panel and started with the presets and the quick configuration features. It turned out that one of the presets came pretty close and only required some fine-tuning for the horizontal positioning. The tool asks for rebooting the machine after each adjustment but it turns out that just disconnecting and reconnecting the DVI connector is sufficient.

The next step was to free myself from the tethered keyboard and mouse. For this I use a combination of running VNC on the MacMini and osx2x on my laptop (the intel version is under “Related Links”). osx2x allows me to use my laptop to remotely control the MacMini as if the MacMini’s display is an additional display of my laptop. In my case I configured osx2x so that the mouse pointer appears on the right edge of the MacMini’s display (the TV) when it goes off the left edge of my laptop’s display. Even cooler: multiple laptops can run osx2x and take control of the MacMini.

Something like sorting through photos has now become a social activity with potentially multiple people in control! With many thousands of photos this can provide hours of fun. Perhaps this will allow me to turn photo archival into a competitive game in the spirit of Luis von Ahn‘s ESP Game or Peekaboom.

A few things to consider when using osx2x: key strokes are sent over the network in the clear, e.g. passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers. One could use ssh and port forwarding but I have not gotten this to work yet. Better not to use the TV display to go shopping or manage online bill payments (I’m paranoid enough that I actually quit osx2x on my laptop before typing any confidential information)! Also, in my experience osx2x tends to crash when using anything but the default configuration. As long as I don’t change anything in the preferences and don’t enable “automatic reconnect on launch”, osx2x behaves. And finally, osx2x won’t run without having X11 installed.

Anyways — this setup definitely increased the usage of the archive. In the third part I will talk about some of the ugly things frequent usage uncovered.

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