Automated iPhoto backups to Amazon S3

The combination of parental leave, a Sony A100 10 Mpix camera and the 80 Gb HD of my Mac mini server has resulted in a lot of zeroes and ones needing a place to live. I have realized that a lof of valuable photos are only stored on the HD. Should it fail the family will be really disappointed. Hence, the need for a backup solution.

I was planning to get a small RAID solution for the home network, but they are fairly expensive, need electricity and space. So, I had a look at the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3). If you haven’t heard of S3 before:

Amazon S3 provides a simple web services interface that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web. It gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, fast, inexpensive data storage infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of web sites.

I was expecting S3 to be fairly expensive with the redundancy and all, but it turns out that it is cheap. Really cheap. To calculate what it would cost me to backup my iPhoto library I threw together an iPhoto backup to S3 calculator.

Turns out that starting with 2000 photos at around 2 megs each, adding 100 photos each month willcost me $10/year. Hard to beat if you are trying to build your own RAID solution.

Backup software

Here is the setup I use. I tried some of the S3 client libraries available, but the only one that was persistent enough to do the initial 2000 file sync was jets3t. It is a java library that comes with some easy to use command line synchronization scripts. After setting up jets3t with your S3 API key, all you do is tell the synchronize script to check your iPhoto folder.

Currently, I run it as a scheduled job once a month, but depending on your photography habits you may want to trigger it differently. It works like a charm and last month’s bill from Amazon was $1.23.

Try the calculator and see what your cost would be.

Fixing Overscan Issues for the Mac Mini Mediacenter

I have been running a Mac Mini (Core Duo 1.66) as a media center since I got it at RailsConf last June. Following advice from a friend I invested in a DVI to HDMI cable to hook it up to our Sony LCD TV. This actually improved the image quality noticeably.

However, like everyone else using the same setup I was annoyed with the overscan issue. Overscan makes the OS X menu bar fall outside of the visible area of the screen. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to fix this in OS X.

Fortunately, with the help from DisplayConfigX it is possible to add a custom resolution that will allow you to have the picture fill the entire screen. It isn’t obvious how to do this, but after some digging around using the HTPC search engine I found bits and pieces of information to help me configure it properly.

So, here are my settings with the hope that it can help others that have hooked up their Mac Mini with a Sony KDL-S32A11E widescreen LCD television.

Correcting Overscan with DisplayConfigX

The key is to configure a custom resolution where the front and back porch values are modified to make sure the entire image fits inside the visible area of the screen. However, the total value for lines and pixels can not change. If the total value change the TV will not display an image. This means that you will have to adjust the “Active” values to accomodate for any changes you did to the front and back porch values.

Here are my settings:

display resolution to correct overscan issue

To clarify the meaning of the front and back porch check this image:
Horizontal and vertical porch. Back porch is top/left. Front porch is bottom/right.

Things I miss in Apple’s Front Row

I have been using a Mac Mini as a media center since I got it when attending RailsConf in Chicago this summer. Together with the Logitech Z-5500 speakers it is working great. I have taken the time to digitize the entire CD collection into iTunes and we store the family photos in iPhoto. The computer is accessed via Front Row and has no keyboard or mouse hooked up to it. In fact, it is sitting behind a curtain out of sight from the preying eyes of greasy toddlers.

After a while though my Windows Media Center-using friends began pointing out the lack of customization features in Front Row. If all you want to do is play your already imported music or show photos in iPhoto Front Row works fine. But I want more:

  1. I want to be able to display my own applications in Front Row. If I could display a web page in Front Row I would be happy. This would allow me to write a local web app, skinned as Front Row, and use the remote to do practically whatever I want.
  2. I want to listen to internet radio.
  3. I want to have iChat or Skype integrated into Front Row to place and receive calls.
  4. I want to be able to play DVD image files directly from Front Row.
  5. I want to be able to import a CD without having to switch out of Front Row to see what is going on.
  6. I want to be able to import images into iPhoto without having to switch out of Front Row to see what is going on.
  7. I want to have a on-screen keyboard navigable with the Apple remote to be able to do simple wikipedia lookups or Google queries in a web interface.
  8. I want Google earth integrated in Front Row so that I can look up interesting places without leaving the couch. The on-screen keyboard would work here too.
  9. I want subtitles to work in non-DVD movies.

Suggestions? Equinux Media Central seems to be an option, but that is closed source and still lack some of my ideas. An with this tweak you can make VIDEO_TS folders playable.