Upcycling Mac Minis (Part 1)

I have a couple of old Mac Mini systems, in mostly working condition. By old though, I mean 2006 and 2007 era. The older one has a single core 32 bit CPU clocking in at a blistering 1.83 GHz, and a whole gigabyte of RAM. All of that backed with a 60GB HDD. The 2007 is a little better, boasting a 64 bit dual core CPU clocked at 2 GHz, 2GB of RAM and a 1 TB HDD (it also has a defective optical drive, which is more of a problem than it ought to be – thanks Apple). Neither are going to set any records, and, of course, neither are supported by Apple any longer – the 2006 can run Mac OS 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard), and the 2007 gets up to 10.7 (aka Lion).

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Free Portable Music – Legally

Slacker + DevicescapeI’ve spent the day walking around downtown San Francisco testing the new Slacker Portable Player with Devicescape enabled firmware on it so I can sync my radio stations at public hotspots as well as at home.

Notice the top line of that that screen shot where it says “Signing in” – that’s Devicescape at work, getting me online here at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Market Street. And once it is done, it logs me out too.

For those that haven’t heard of Slacker before (where have you been?), they have a flash player for your browser that lets you choose one of their radio stations to listen to, or customise one of your own. The portable allows you to sync a few stations onto a device you can put in your pocket and then take with you. Internet radio for when you’re not connected. Next time you’re near Wi-Fi, just connect and it will re-sync getting you new tunes to listen to.

How is this free? Well, they limit the number of times you can skip forward per hour, and might also throw in some commercials (though I’ve yet to hear one). If you want the freedom to skip as often as you like, or the guarantee of no commercials, they have a monthly subscription premium plan too.

Skype Calls Fail

So, they claim that all calls from US/Canada to US/Canada numbers (landline or mobile) will be free. And, sure enough when I tried to call my home number earlier this morning it rang.

Next I tried calling a Canadian number that was in my contact list: Call failed. So, I tried a US mobile number. That worked. I delete the contact from my list and try again, but it still knows the name I had associated with the number. Exit Skype and restart it. Now I can call the number in Canada. Annoying, but I guess it was free (the quality was pretty poor too, although the call to the US number was OK, so perhaps that was a problem at the other end, which happens to also be a VoIP service number).

A couple of hours later I try to make another call to a US landline: Call failed. So, I retry the call to my home number: Call failed. I don’t even know for certain whether people could have called me; since I could not call out, perhaps I was actually off the network?

Conclusion: I will stick with GizmoProject, which has worked flawlessly for me on Linux and MacOS as well as with hardware ATA and SIP phones. It might not be free to call US numbers, but at least I know the call will connect, and the voice quality will be acceptable. I keep seeing people in the Gizmo forum claim that Skype is better, but I’m not seeing it. Coupled with all the problems its architecture can impose (you give them permission to use your computer and bandwidth when you sign up), I don’t see any reason to stick with Skype.