Welcome to mid-2021. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, to coin a phrase.

I finally got around to updating the engine of this site as one of my final COVID-era projects. I was hesitant to push the button out of fear that the rusty WordPress installation would fall apart as soon as I stepped on the gas. Yet all seems okay so far.

Now for some final tweaking.

In the meantime, enjoy a photo of my Hamilton Jazzmaster in front of the Chicago Theater.

HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010: An Inexpensive But Effective Media Machine

HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010
HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010

Sometimes, technology actually solves a problem. In this case, we have the HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010, a $179 computer with the footprint that’s smaller than the average carryout box, yet delivers the goods as promised.

I made my switch to being a full-time Mac user over 10 years ago, yet I still have a few PC applications that either haven’t been migrated to OS X, or for which there’s no Mac-native equivalent. For that reason, I kept a Windows machine around as long as I could. My last “official” Windows machine, a Fujitsu LifeBook, was removed from service about a year ago when I got tired of its wheezing. Since then, I’d been using a Windows 7 BootCamp partition on my MacBook Pro Retina to run the remaining few apps on that platform.

Two of those applications, PlayOn and TotalRecorder, require a running PC for an extended amount of time, e.g., the amount of time you plan on using them. PlayOn is a media-streaming service that will send all kinds of internet-based and network-local media to a WDTV Live or Roku (or Chromecast, phone or tablet). TotalRecorder is a program that captures internet streaming audio, and I use it to record longer-format shows like Those Were The Days, the four-hour old time radio show out of Chicago. Having to lock my Mac into Windows mode for hours while running these programs was an intrusion.

(And yes, I know there are many streaming-audio capture programs available for the Mac– I am a huge fan of Audio Hijack— but it still does not solve the challenge of having to leave my Mac on for hours.)

When I saw a review of the new, tiny HP desktops in Ars Technica, I realized I may have found a solution to my Windows challenges. HP has just introduced a line of inexpensive, lower-powered computers that run Windows 8.1, and the cheaper desktop looked like it could be put on a shelf, loaded with my software, and left to run happily.

It turns out I was right.

I bought the HP Stream Mini Desktop 200-010 at Amazon for $179 during the last week of February, 2015. It’s a good thing I did, too, since within a week they were out of stock everywhere, including HP’s site. (As of this writing, other sellers are gouging for the device at $250.) Based on the recommendation of one of the Amazon customer reviewers, I also bought a stick of 4 GB memory to bring the total memory to 6 GB and the price to $212.  I later replaced the stock drive with a 128GB SATA M.2 SSD for about $60, providing me with a little more storage overhead; but more about that later.

The computer showed up in a box about the size of a laser toner cartridge.  The biggest thing in the box was the full-sized USB keyboard, which HP provides along with a USB mouse and external power supply.  The keyboard and mouse are average-quality, certainly enough to get the job done.   The main unit will easily fit in your hand, and the included setup guide is easy to follow for setting the computer up.

Once connected (I used my Vizio HDTV as the display, and plugged in an Ethernet cable to get it on my network), the computer booted quickly into a guided setup screen.  Not having ever dealt with Windows 8, I was actually impressed with the way the software walks a new user through initial configuration.   Within 5 minutes, the computer was up and running on my network, ready for me to start loading my software.

Right out of the box, I saw I had about 12GB of disk space available.  This was not a big issue, as my plan was to only load a couple program on the computer, and any data would be put on Dropbox or OneDrive and deleted soon after.    I also went through and deleted software that I knew I wouldn’t use:  as pointed out in other reviews, HP was very conservative with loading this machine with the usual “bloatware” given the small amount of storage they provide.

My cable provider gives its subscribers free antivirus, so after loading that and Dropbox, Google Chrome, and Firefox, I was ready to install my programs.   Given the local space available, I had to choose “Selective Sync” on Dropbox because I have a ton of stuff out there:  I only chose the directories I knew I’d want to access from this computer.

PlayOn installed just fine.  The HP Stream’s specifications are well within the requirements for the program, so there was no problem serving up stutter-free video over my network to my TV-connected devices.  I added an external 1 TB drive to the HP to serve up my library of media using the MyMedia feature of PlayOn.

TotalRecorder installed with only one bump:  in order for streaming audio to work on the computer, it has to know there is an audio output device connected since it has no internal speaker.  If I went to a site with streaming audio, it would simply not play it at all, which means TotalRecorder could not capture anything.  I resolved this by plugging in a cheap pair of headphones and leaving them on the shelf with the computer.   From there, it worked perfectly.

The only thing remaining was to figure out how to remotely access the computer, as I did not want to leave it connected to a monitor or the TV.  Since the Stream comes with a version of Windows 8.1 that does not include Remote Desktop, I had to think of another solution.  I am a big fan of TeamViewer, which allows a user to gain control over a remote computer as long as it’s connected to the internet.  (I use this when troubleshooting my daughter’s computer while she is at school.)  I loaded TeamViewer and set it up for “Unattended Access” which involves setting up a free account at TeamViewer’s site.  After entering the codes provided, I was able to fully control the Stream from my MacBook.  The only challenge with this setup, however, is that the remote computer has to think it has a monitor connected in order to have a display to “share,” otherwise it will display a blank screen.  I solved this by buying a Compulab fit-Headless HDMI adapter, which acts as a display emulator (the radio geek in me calls it a “dummy load”) and plugs right into the computer.  I unplugged my monitor from the Stream, plugged the adapter in, and remotely accessed it again from my Mac.  Success!

It’s worth pointing out that HP does not provide Recovery Disks with the computer: there is a Recovery Partition on the built in hard drive, but they recommend you create media with the recovery software as well.   Following these instructions I created a Recovery USB key, which is a good thing to have in the event of a hard drive failure.  If a system crash occurred, I’d have the tools to rebuild the system.

After a couple weeks of the Stream’s providing solid service, I realized I was constantly running at about 5GB of disk space to spare.   This would have been okay, but I figured SSDs are pretty cheap so I may as well give myself a little overhead.   As mentioned above, I bought a Transcend 128GB M.2 SSD which would provide plenty of space going forward.

The physical installation was very easy.  This video shows how to disassemble the Stream and where the memory and hard drive go.  (It also shows the impressive compact design of the computer.)  I was able to remove the old drive and install the new one in a couple minutes.  I did not format the new drive or anything– it was plain “vanilla” right out of the package.

Once reassembled, I inserted the USB Recovery Key I described above and powered the computer up.

I booted the PC, and since it could not find an OS on the internal drive, it proceeded to boot from the USB. The menu that came up gave several options for diagnosing and rebuilding the computer. I chose the option to “Reset my computer” which destroys everything that’s on the internal hard drive by reformatting and repartitioning to the factory defaults. It then loaded the factory system image, rebooted, and I was presented with a system that looked exactly like it was when I took it out of the box.

I had to re-register and reload my programs, but most importantly, I discovered the “reset” program had repartitioned the new internal drive with an appropriately-set recovery partition (as I expected) and a C: partition that took up the remainder of the drive’s space. The “reset” process running from USB took less than 30 minutes to complete. I reloaded my programs and configured everything the way I wanted, which added about another 30 minutes to the process.

I came to this solution after searching on the internet for ways to reload the computer’s current image on a new drive, but none of what I found was particularly helpful or easy to follow.   That’s when I decided to go after the “slash-and-burn” approach, knowing that HP must have provided some sort of tool to restore the factory image.

One thing to point out about the “Reset” option:  when you follow this path, the installer creates the main C: and Recovery partitions as described above, but instead of “hiding” the Recovery partition as it comes from the factory, the Reset mounts the Recovery partition as drive D:.   Since the partition is loaded to just about its 6.7GB capacity, Windows will consistently throw “Disk Almost Full” errors.   The best thing to do is to use the Control Panel option for changing Notifications, and turn off the warnings for Low Disk Space.

Overall, I am very pleased with this computer, and I am looking forward to seeing what else it can do.  Bravo to HP for  coming out with such a great little piece of equipment!

OSX Mavericks “Slash and Burn” Guide

OSX Mavericks Rebuild GuideI recently bought a brand-new MacBook Pro Retina 13″ to replace my five-year-old 15″ MacBook Pro. When I turned on the new computer I dutifully ran Migration Assistant and copied all my old stuff over to the new computer.

That migration included stuff that went back to my first Mac, the iBook I bought in 2005, as well as my iTunes library that was originally migrated from the PC I owned before I had the iBook.

Over the years I’ve done “clean installs” and removed old apps that I didn’t use or weren’t supported, but in all the time I’ve owned a Mac I’ve only done a true rebuild a couple of times.

In the old days of Windows98/XP it used to be a common practice to completely wipe your system and reload everything to give yourself a fresh start. The idea was that reformatting and reloading would get rid of all the old files and applications that cluttered up your hard drive and system performance would improve. It might have been a case of wishful thinking, but my computer always seemed to run better after a “slash and burn.” With the Mac, it never seemed necessary to do this as its internal maintenance processes always seemed to take care of performance issues.

After about a week with the new computer I decided I would do the “slash and burn” on my new Macbook Pro. I had a bunch of questions before and during the rebuild, and I decided to document my experience so all the answers could be in one place if anyone decides to do this on their own. If this guide helps you, please let me know!

1. Before You Start: Back Up Your Data and Take Inventory

Your user data:

The most important step before starting any rebuild is to make sure your data is backed up. I am religious about using SuperDuper to keep an updated, bootable image of my computer’s hard drive at the ready in case of a crash. Every file on my computer is always available on an external hard drive in the event I need it.

Most users’ data on the Mac will be found in the /Users/{username} directory on the Mac, so you should make sure at the very least that you back up that directory to an external drive, simply by copying them with the Finder. I store all my data files (except for photos and music) on Dropbox, which means that there is always a synced copy of all my data available in the cloud.

For iTunes music and iPhoto images I keep a smaller set of songs and pictures on my computer with my “full” libraries on external drives. I manage these libraries with two excellent programs from Fat Cat Software: iPhoto Library Manager and PowerTunes. These programs allow you to copy only the music and photos that you want to keep on your computer, while allowing you to keep everything else on another drive. These applications have come in very handy in recent years, as we all switch to lower-capacity SSD drives.

For iTunes music stored on my Mac, I created a single playlist with all my songs in it and then copied that playlist to my “main” library kept on an external drive. The music was already on the external drive, so the playlist merely organized those songs into a playlist that would be easily copied back once the rebuild was complete. For iPhone apps, podcasts, and other items, FatCat provided an excellent user guide to walk you through the steps to back those up.

For iPhoto pictures stored on my Mac, I simply make sure that the external library (managed by iPhoto Library Manager) is organized similarly to the one on my Mac. This means remembering to update the external library when I load pics from my devices to iPhoto on the computer. Apple’s iCloud will accomplish some of this, but I prefer to manually copy the pictures into the external iPhoto library once a month. Dropbox has a feature that will automatically download new pictures from a camera, iPhone, etc. when it’s connected to your computer, so I always have copies of my pictures in the cloud,and it’s that Dropbox directory that acts as the source when I import pictures into my main iPhoto library.

You should also remember to back up any other data that may not be in your own user directory on the Mac. In my case, I have several email accounts and several years of saved email that I wanted to keep on the new computer. The instructions found on this site will show you what needs to be backed up (it’s all in your ~/Library folder) and how to restore it to the new computer.

If you are an iCloud user, know that your data for contacts, calendars, Safari bookmarks, Notes, iMessages, and Keychain entries are all synced for you. When you login to the computer after the rebuild, all those applications will be repopulated automatically. (If you are not an iCloud user, this would be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the free space you’re granted, just to get the backup of this important data.)

Your Application Inventory:

This step is empowering because you get to decide what gets installed after the upgrade and what’s left behind. Start a list and go through your Applications (and maybe even your Utilities) folder, writing down the programs you want to reinstall. Some are going to be obvious keepers, like Microsoft Office, while others will be relegated to the “maybe” or “no” parts of the list. My list was about 35 apps long: about 7 applications didn’t make the list.

You should take the time to locate any license keys and download links for the programs you want to keep: or, if you are like me, you do it old-school and copy the program installation files to CDs and keep them somewhere safe, along with the license key information.

Note that any application you downloaded from the Mac App Store will show up in your App Store list. Open the App Store application on your Mac and look at “Purchases” to see what’s there. When you rebuild the computer, you will be able to download these applications again, so no need to worry about download links for those programs.

Okay: your data is backed up, you know what apps you’re going to reinstall. Let’s get ready to pull the trigger.

2. Restore Your Computer

With the introduction of OSX 10.9 Mavericks, a bootable recovery partition is placed on your hard drive that allows you to reload the operating system as well as run maintenance programs like Disk Utility. In other words, you do not need a DVD or flash drive to reload Mavericks. (If you are upgrading from a previous version of OSX to Mavericks, you can follow these instructions to create a bootable USB installer.)

To execute the installer, reboot your Mac while holding down the Option key. This will bring you to a screen where you can choose to boot OSX or the recovery partition (in the photo you also see my BootCamp partition: note that running the installer does not touch an already-installed BootCamp environment, which I was very happy to learn).


Once you’re booted, you’ll see this screen:

Utility Screen

If you want to be thorough, go into Disk Utility and erase your boot drive. After formatting, you can exit back into the main screen where you select “Reinstall OSX” and let it run.

The installation process runs for about 30 minutes, loading a base version of the operating system. A key difference with this installation is that it does not load any of the iLife applications like iPhoto or GarageBand– more on that later.

When the installation process finishes, you choose your language, enter your Apple ID, and choose login information just like any other installation. The computer will ask if you want to run Migration Assistant, and at this point you’ll just say “no” and move on. A few more clicks and you’ll be in the main OSX screen.

The Mac App Store should launch automatically and present you with a list of software that you have purchased that you can download again. Here’s where you get to go through the list and choose what you want to download. My selections took about 45 minutes to download and install. This is what the screen looked like after the installations:

App Store Purchased Items

This process actually makes a lot more sense than loading an older version on the computer from a disk and then dealing with downloading updates. By downloading the latest version upfront there’s no endless back-and-forth with updating versions.

Note that if you purchased your Mac after October 1, 2013 your download selections will include the Pages, Keynote, and Numbers iWork apps. Details are found on this page. If your Mac is older, you’ll have to pay for those apps.

Now we have the more tedious interactive part of the process: downloading each of the apps (or loading them from CD/DVD) and installing them. This is where you’ll need your downloaded license keys if you have any paid applications.

To restore Mail to the way it was before, refer to this guide again.

During your iCloud login you synced your iCloud Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Bookmarks, etc., so you should be all set with those core applications.

For iTunes, refer to the PowerTunes guide linked above to copy the playlist you created (and all its songs) back to your new library. You can also follow the guide to return the iPhone/iPod/iPad apps to your new iTunes library. Note that when you sync your i-Device to the computer for the first time it will tell you it’s synced to another library. You’ll want to back up the device to the computer, and then do an Erase and Sync to bring the i-Device back in sync with the newly-setup Mac.

For iPhoto, follow the instructions in the iPhoto Library Manager guide to copy over only the events/photos you wish. I only keep a couple years’ worth of photos on the computer, leaving the rest on the “big” library on the external drive.

And that’s basically it! You now have as clean a system as you can get without starting completely from scratch.

3. What if Something Goes Terribly Wrong?

Remember at the very beginning when I recommended taking an image backup of your hard drive before starting? If for some reason you want to go back to the computer exactly as it was before you started, just attach the external drive where you saved that image with SuperDuper, boot from that drive (by holding down the “Option” key and selecting the backup drive), then copy the external drive right on top of the internal one. Depending on how much data you have, this may take a while but at the end you will have your computer back to its previous state.

I am happy to report that this process, while it took about 6 hours start-to-finish, resulted in a very happy MacBook. It seems to be running a little better, my iTunes library is now cleaned up, and I regained about 11 GB of space by getting rid of things I didn’t need.

I really hope this guide helps, and I will be sure to update this guide with any suggestions that any of you may have.

Good luck!

Ode to the Suet-Filled Spongecake Crisco Logs

As I write this, the snack-cake eating world is in a panic over the demise of Hostess, the company that makes, among other things, Twinkies. There have been runs on the products, and people all over Facebook and Twitter are lamenting their downfall.

(I’ve been more of a Ho-Ho kind of guy, but I left convenience store snack cakes in my rear-view mirror a while ago.)

The likelihood of someone’s buying up the brands and cooking up the “goodness” again is pretty high, as this article by the Associated Press explains.

All this kerfuffle reminded me of an article called “Twinkie, Twinkie, Little Suet-Filled Sponge Cake Crisco Log, Now I Know Just What You Are” in the July 1989 issue of Spy magazine. In the piece, authors Jane and Michael Stern talk about the mystique around Twinkies and the various attempts people have made to recreate them in their homes.

And if you’ve managed to score some of the golden cakes, be sure to run some experiments as shown on the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project site.

In the meantime, just sit back and wait: they will be back.


We bought a new canopy for our gazebo, and take a look at the effect it has on the color of everything on our patio.

These photos were taken within 30 minutes of each other, and I didn’t do any Photoshop wizardry on them. Nice effect, I think.

(For those of you who came here via Google-Fu, this is a Target Madaga Gazebo, Style #L-GZ136PST-7. This canopy came from Garden Winds, and is in the “terra cotta” color. The replacement canopy fits perfectly {both top and bottom sections} and it seems very well-made.)

The Ever-Changing World of Chicago Radio

It took about a year for the plug to be pulled on an ambitious (or some would say ridiculous) project: FM News 101.1. As of today, you will hear music on 101.1 FM instead of talk.

The CEO of the station’s owner cited “lack of audience engagement” as one of the reasons: that’s doubletalk for “people weren’t listening.” Here’s a link to Robert Feder’s play-by-play of the demise of the station.

When I first wrote about the station last year I indicated that I actually wanted to see the station succeed. They seemed a little light on substance and resorted to a bunch of hackneyed gimmicks but my hope was that station management would learn that Chicago radio audiences were more sophisticated, and that the real opportunity for News 101.1 was to fill a niche between WBBM and WBEZ. They opted to swing in the wrong direction entirely.

I did tune in to the station occasionally, mostly when I missed WBBM’s Traffic and Weather report, because News 101.1’s reports were now on the Ones.

101.1 now plays a mixture of 80s and 90s music in kind of an odd mishmash of styles designed to appeal to 30-35 year-old-women (correction provided by my wife, who’s in that demographic).

And so we keep spinning the dial…

Active Recovery

I wrote this piece as my submission to the the3sixfive project. It was published today on their site, and I’m presenting it here to you.

“Active Recovery” is what personal trainers call it: that’s when you follow a particularly intense training period with one that’s a little easier on your muscles, giving you the chance to recover without losing momentum.

I was halfway through my early-morning bike ride in Busse Woods when I dialed down the intensity to catch my breath. In a moment of clarity (this was at 5:45 AM and I was still an hour away from my first cup of coffee, so this is significant) I realized that the idea of the “active recovery” is as much a part of my everyday life as it is to my workouts.

Last week, I left my position at a company where I worked for six years. For most of that time I was in a role that had me on the phone with London at 2:00 AM, in the office in Chicago at 6:30 AM, and on the phone again with Asia at 7:00 PM. I was the guy you’d see on the train with a Bluetooth in his ear and occasionally saying “Can we get back to the issue?” If there were a corporate-equivalent “26.2” sticker I certainly deserved to have dozens of them splattered on the side of my briefcase.

When I resigned to accept a role at a new company I decided to take a week off in between. And true to form I’ve been getting up with my alarm at 4:30, only now my race is to the forest preserve instead of Metra. While my wife is at work, I’m managing the details of the family reunion we’re hosting this weekend, catching up on my not-for-profit work, and fixing things around the house. So while I’m not spending this week fire-walking through the corporate world, I’ve turned to family, home, community, and the pedals of my Specialized Allez to recharge.

On Monday morning I’ll be at a new desk with a new phone number and a new company name on my business cards, and I’ll be ready for whatever challenges come my way, thanks to my Active Recovery.

The rest of my morning ride went beautifully, and I even set a new personal record.

Morning Greenery

Since it’s been so dry here in the Chicago area, I’ve been up every morning around 5:00 am watering all the plants around the house. We put in a bunch of new stuff out front and it would be a shame if it all dried up.

This is what the ornamental grass along our driveway looked like early one morning. It was so peaceful to be out there at that hour, and when I saw the way the water was clinging to the blades of grass I had to get the camera.

Silent Summer 2012

The Silent Film Society of Chicago just announced its lineup for their summer film festival, one of our favorite events of the season. The festival runs on Friday nights from July 20 through August 24 at the Portage Theater in Chicago.

This year will bring us some comedy from Harold Lloyd, some action from Douglas Fairbanks, drama and mystery from John Barrymore and adventure from Fritz Lang along with other great stuff.

Click on the image above to see all the details.. See you there!