My Next Mac Mini Part 2, The Minining

Early this year I wrote about my 2010 Mac Mini and the desire to replace it with something more modern. For some reason the article got some traction and it seemed a lot of people were in the same boat as me. They were also looking at something Mini-like but were uninspired by Apple’s Mac Mini lineup. At the end of my previous post, I settled on this Intel NUC as being my next Mini of choice.

This week, it arrived:


iPhone 7 for scale

Out of the box a few things struck me. Firstly: Just how small it was. If that iPhone 7 above doesn’t give you an idea, here it is sitting on top of my old Mac Mini:

cable management

The second thing that struck me is how un-Apple like it looked. Ports on the front! Coloured ports! I was excited though, this was going to be a fun project. By default Intel NUCs come without a hard drive and RAM, but you can order them pre-configured from places like this with those things and an OS installed too. I decided that half the fun was picking those parts myself, so I picked up 2x8GB RAM sticks and an M.2 drive from my local PC retailer as well as a copy of Windows 10. It was interesting (though not surprising) to see just how cheap RAM and SSD drives are when you don’t buy them from Apple.

Putting in the hard drive and RAM was a breeze. You just flip the NUC over, take off the base and pop both in. Installing Windows was also surprisingly quick and easy. It even comes on a USB stick these days which is handy, since this thing is physically smaller than a CD/DVD.


Windows Update automatically found drivers for all the bits of hardware in the NUC and before I knew it we were up and running. My requirements for this machine were quite specific so I set about verifying everything I wanted to do would work:

  • Drives a 1080p TV
  • Plays online content like Netflix, YouTube, various online catch up TV services, etc
  • Runs iTunes and can play various TV and movie content that I’ve already purchased from Apple
  • Allows me to watch terrestrial TV, as well as pause, record, skip etc
  • Is able to use VPNs and Torrent clients to download very import Linux ISOs

So how did the NUC running Windows 10 go? Very admirably: it did all but the terrestrial TV part. It turns out my almost decade old USB dongle (EyeTV Diversity) isn’t that well supported. I eventually found drivers that seemed to run it, but it didn’t work that well. Also all the various PVR programs I tried had interfaces only a mother could love. I bet some of you out there are fans of them, and that’s fine, but I felt like I was in a horrible alternate reality universe compared to the program I was used to using: EyeTV from Elgato. No big deal, I told myself, I’ll just wander down to my local retailers and pick up a more modern USB TV dongle. It turns out (and perhaps this is a surprise to only me) that watching TV isn’t that popular with the kids anymore, because literally nowhere had them. Also Elgato at some point sold off that part of its business to another company that seems to be running their products in maintenance mode. At this point it was past midnight so I gave up and went to bed.

The next evening, fresh and spritely after a day at the office, an evil thought crossed my mind. I could search for a TV experience I was happy with on Windows 10, buying all new hardware and hoping for the best…or…I could install macOS on this machine. Now I’m not saying I actually did this, mind you. But if I had I would have used a combination of this guide, mixed with this one. And a short time later I probably would have seen something like this:


And perhaps then I would have installed all my software I had before, including EyeTV 3 and had a faster, smaller and much better Mac Mini running all the things the 2010 did. It probably would have looked something like this:


Had I done this I probably would have discovered that everything just works, except for the Bluetooth and WiFi. Perhaps I would have made a quick trip to a store to pick up a Bluetooth USB dongle which worked perfectly with my existing Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard. Finally I might have gone into the BIOS of the Intel NUC and turned off all the flashy lights as well as set the fan settings so that it’s all but silent except when doing processor intensive tasks. I’d like to think I would have been happy with this setup. Had I done any of that. Which of course I didn’t.

Hal: Open The Air Pod Doors

There are a million reviews of Apple’s new AirPods on the web, so this is not one of those. I have however been so impressed by mine that I just had to write about it. And why you ask? Well I feel like this is the first time in a long while that an Apple product has genuinely wowed me and exceeded my expectations. Everything from how small they are, how easy they are to pair (just open the lid) how well everything they do works, wow, just, wow. The feature where it pauses when you remove one? Works 100%. Instantly connecting to my iPhone when I take them out and put them in my ears? Works 100%. Battery life is great, charging them in the carry case is just genius. This is Apple at their very best, it feels, dammit I’m about to say it: magical.

I think the reason all of the above makes me so happy is that this is what it used to feel like to be an Apple user. Every new product was a chance to experience just a little bit more of that crack like magic. Of course it would always break occasionally (like when my laptop pretended like my AirPods didn’t exist until I signed out of iCloud and back in) but you were always willing to forgive the occasional glitches because the experience as a whole was so good.

Lastly, and really importantly they also pass a pretty high bar in my household: the Michelle Test.


I occasionally joke (lovingly of course) that I married my biggest critic, but it’s true in a nice way. I trust Michelle to give me feedback no one else would. The second she saw the AirPods in my ears she just laughed. And rightly so, right now it does feel goofy wearing them. So it was rather poetic that when she opened her xmas presents, among them was her very own pair of AirPods which she reluctantly concedes are pretty good. I caught her a few times just opening and closing the lid of the case, watching the little card go up and down on her phone each time she did.

So hats off to Apple for bringing some of that elegance and charm to their product line that wowed me back in the early 2000’s. I hope there’s more where that came from.

It Meshed With Me

Something about the new year makes me look around and want to replace things I own. Out with the old, in with the new! I know, how very first world, 1%, consumerist of me. To ring in 2017 with a bang, the first thing I replaced was something that doesn’t need replacing at all. My recent(ish) Netgear WiFi Router. Apart from the management interface designed in the 90’s by hardware engineers, it has served me pretty darn well. The WiFi is fast everywhere in our house, the routing…well it routes…and it has done the best job it can to distribute the ultra slow Internet we have here at home around my house.

But when Andy Ihnatko (my co-host at Relay FM) told me about his new Google WiFi mesh network, I instantly wanted it. I couldn’t just buy it though, I’m impulsive at the best of times, but at $299USD for a pack of 3 even I needed a reason. Then it dawned on me, sometime this year the new house that we’re building will be finished. This new house as it happens is much bigger and has more bedrooms than our current tiny house. Yes, what this house needs is good WiFi, and it won’t get that with just one router alone! What this new house needs is a new style of router, one that has multiple nodes that seamlessly mesh network together!

Lame attempt at justification over I headed to Amazon and to my amazement found they’d happily ship it here to our Penal Colony in Australia. The first thing that surprised me when it arrived was how nicely it was packaged. The second was just how small each of the units is:

A white cylinder, one LED strip through the middle of it and on the bottom two Ethernet ports and USB-C for power. The USB-C part was really handy since it came with US power plugs. I already own a lot of devices that charge via USB-C so finding a spare adapter or two was easy. From there I installed the Google WiFi app and was impressed with just how easy it was to set up. It got me to scan a QR code on the bottom of the first device and walked me through plugging it in and setting up a WiFi network. Basically the first unit you set up and plug into your router via Ethernet becomes the primary device, any others you add automatically mesh with that first one, or if your house is big enough each other. On being prompted to plug the second one into power it found it straight away. A short mandatory update later and my new WiFi network was live. Being curious I broke out a great app called Netspot and it confirmed that my house was all lit up in sweet, sweet green WiFi.

I tested file copying to various devices and that was fast and error free. Next up was my pet hobby, Rocket League on the PC for a few minutes of gaming. Here I encountered my first and only roadblock. Every minute or so my ping would go from a reasonable 65 to an unplayable 500+. I quickly figured out that my kids were watching YouTube which causes problems at the best of times (welcome to Australia and my 3.5mbs connection). Not to worry though, this was the perfect time to test out the ‘priority device’ feature. This lets you choose a device to give a premium level of access to, in theory allowing the packets it’s sending and receiving to be prioritised over all the others. In fact the Google Help page about it specifically lists gaming as one reason you might turn this on. So I turned that on and my connection…got worse. This part made no sense at all to me…had Google, the fledgling hardware maker made yet another dud? Their previous failures like the Nexus 9 (with it’s frequent unexplained freezes and lock ups) made me all the more nervous. The amazing Pixel phone in my pocket though gave me some hope though, maybe I’d done something wrong? The next day happened to be a Skype recording of Material…and it too went rather badly.

Some quick googling of my setup afterwards revealed a few things that might be wrong and needed investigating. The first one being that when I’d plugged it into my router, I hadn’t changed any settings on it at all. So my router was both handling the ADSL connection and routing traffic through its LAN ports. The Google WiFi was trying to do the same, on it’s own 192.168.86.x subdomain while my router and devices attached to it were on 192.168.2.x. There’s no point in having two routers going like this (and it can sometimes cause routing issues like ‘Double NAT’) so I changed my router into ‘modem only’ mode, and re-configured the Google WiFi to handle that change. A quick trip to Rocket League revealed a drop in my ping from 65 to 52…a small but seemingly positive change. The frequent and unexplained lag spikes (even when quitting YouTube on the other device) also seemed to be gone. The final test though was what originally had me so excited about setting this up even before moving house: could I play a game like Rocket League (that is incredibly dependent on the latency of your Internet connection) while other people were also doing things on our Internet? Previously I had tried to configure the Netgear QoS settings that were meant to allow this and it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. So I tried the priority device settings on Google WiFi again with this new setup…and lo and behold it now seemed to work! Even when everyone else in the house was doing things on the Internet the game would still mostly be responsive. I say ‘mostly’ because I was still getting occasionally slowdowns and spikes in ping, but it was night and day compared to what it had been like with the Netgear. The takeaway for this feature seems to be: it’s not magic, if something like Google Photos saturates your upload bandwidth during a backup for example, even the priority device will be affected. However if a few people are browsing or playing other online games, it seems to make a big difference.

All in all I’m really happy with Google WiFi, and I haven’t even mentioned things like being able to pause the Internet on a device (or a group of devices that you label) or just how smooth and seamless the app for it is. Literally the only change I feel like I’m missing is the ability to schedule these pauses: it would be great to kill the Internet to all the kids devices in the evening, and only have it turn back on in the morning at a reasonable hour. But this for me ticks all the boxes otherwise, the units are small and elegant so you can place them anywhere you have power. If you have a router that’s many years old or you have dead spots in your WiFi connection, then it’s definitely a worthy upgrade.

My Next Mac Mini


I think I might be getting old, but it took me completely by surprise that the Mac Mini we use in our lounge room as our TV was 6 years old. It’s been such a great little machine. It lets us watch content from all over the Internet no matter where it is or what format it’s in. Netflix, YouTube, perfectly legit Open Source documentaries distributed on Bittorrent, iTunes, Amazon Video, catch up TV stations and even regular old terrestrial TV that is being beamed into our house. I know various nerds and geeks out there each have their own preferred setup for how to get this content onto a screen, but this was ours. One Mac Mini, one wireless keyboard and mouse and one 40″ TV. Perfect.

Well, perfect except that six years in this machine is very creaky. It needs a reboot every week or so (otherwise it will refuse to launch anything). The once super stable TV program we use (EyeTV) has started to flake out on us and in general it’s starting to turn into a hassle rather than a joy to watch content on it. No worries you might say, go to Apple and buy a new Mac mini! Except when you do, you quickly realise there’s something up with the Mac Mini:


Yes that’s right, it hasn’t been updated in 813 days…and the last update Apple made to them was mostly a downgrade in terms of performance. No one except the most desperate of people should even consider buying one of these things. The fact that Apple will still happily sell you a 2-3 year old computer for new prices is beyond insulting.

With the above in mind, I asked myself a question I haven’t really considered since switching to macOS (the artist formerly known as OS X) back in the early 2000’s. Do I actually need this computer to run macOS? I quickly realised I don’t. I need Chrome, I need a few basic apps and I need my Elgato EyeTV Diversity USB stick to be supported so I can watch TV. It turns out there’s another OS that has all those: Windows. I’ve had Windows 10 on a gaming PC I built over 6 months ago and I’ve not had a single problem with it. It’s never bothered me, needed rebooting because it was flakey or even broken a sweat doing all the things I’ve asked of it. I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetic or DOS roots of Windows, but none of those really matter for this device. I just need a small, quiet machine that will do all the things the current Mac mini does. But surely Windows PCs are all great big clunking behemoths that have no place in the living room right? Right?


Wrong. I tweeted about my dilemma and the suggestions started pouring in. The most common one seemed to be for something called an ‘Intel NUC’. I’d never heard of this thing before, and a different three letter acronym came to mind when people kept suggesting it. At 115mm x 111mm x 35mm it’s much smaller than my current Mac ‘mini’. With the latest Kaby Lake (7th Gen) Intel Core processors in it, it’s much faster than my current Mac Mini. DDR4 RAM and a M.2 drive slot means I can choose from the wealth of suppliers out there in terms of speeds and sizes. 2 USB’s on the front, 2 more on the back. Thunderbolt 3. HDMI 2.0 with 4K support at 60Hz. 1Gbit Ethernet, AC WiFi and Bluetooth built in. Oh my golly gosh. Is this what I’ve been missing all these years as a dyed in the wool Mac user? While Apple has been trying to flog us a 3 year old giant computer as state of the art, this is what the PC crowd has had access to?

I never thought I’d say this, but, this is my next Mac mini.

Job Opening at Shifty Jelly

I don’t normally cross post from our company blog (something something opinions are not my employers) but we are currently on the lookout for a support person:

If you’re adept at Twitter and Email, if you get along well with people, if you have outstanding written and verbal communication skills then this could be the role for you! You’ll be responsible for managing our Twitter accounts, answering customer emails and helping out in other tasks that go with releasing and managing successful products like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather.

If this sounds like you, then take a look at the post and apply!