Surround Sound and the Mac Pro

So I made a discovery about the Mac Pro (and Macs in general) – they do not support the 3 mini-jack surround system that 90% of Windows and Linux machines use. Instead, they will only output surround sound through an optical port.

I looked at my options, listed here in order of expensive-ness.

Option 1:
Give up on surround sound, either use current surround system in stereo mode, or get new 2.1 channel system.

Option 2:
Get Griffin FireWave, which will output 3-mini-jack surround via firewire. Downside? No windows drivers, so if I booted into windows, I wouldn’t have sound. One of the main reasons I want surround sound is for windows games.

Option 3:
Use optical to 3-mini-jack converter box. Not a bad option, Creative makes one, but it’s discontinued and I didn’t have any luck finding it.

Option 4:
Get a new surround sound system that has optical support.

I ended up going with option 4, and got a Logitech Z-5500 system for $250 (yowtch).

It arrived yesterday, and I was unprepared as to how massive it is. Everything is literally twice the size of my old surround sound system. Physically, and power-wise. The subwoofer is the size of a Volkswagon.

I managed to untangle the old surround sound and set it aside, and somehow managed to squeeze the new speakers into the same places. Except the subwoofer. It came with a warning to keep it far away from your computer, so I moved the Mac to the other side of my desk, and put the subwoofer on the bottom of my wire shelf. It *just* fit.

(click the image for more details)

Finally having it set up, I noticed a few things:

1. You have no control over output when using optical out (a digital signal) – this means the mac outputs at a fixed level, and you can *only* control the volume using the surround sound’s volume knob. This means the volume + and – on the keyboard no longer work. Adjusting output levels in individual apps does still have an effect, I wish I could map those keys on the keyboard to iTunes volume + and -, but haven’t found a way to do that yet.

2. In windows, the Mac internal speaker is on all the time. To silence it, you have to go into the volume control panel and turn the Master Volume all the way down. Now sound will just come out of the surround sound system.

Aside from the price, the physical size, and those couple quibbles, I’m happy with it – it sounds great (though I only use a fraction of the volume available).

One thing happened that lessened my fretting about having spent too much on speakers.

When setting up the speakers, I moved my old subwoofer, and noticed a pile of rolled coins and a bowl of coins under my desk that I’d sorta forgotten about. Every day I take the spare change in my pocket and toss it in the bowl, and every now and then I’d roll them up with a coin sorter. Over time, a small pile of rolled coins had built up. I hadn’t rolled any in several months, a thick layer of dust and cat hair covered the pile.

I dusted it off, and took a half-hour and rolled the loose coins. At first I used the coin sorter, but it kept jamming, so I did it by hand instead.

Humans are really good at pattern recognition. I dumped the coins a couple handfuls at a time into a pile on the floor. First I grabbed all the quarters, as quickly as I could. I was impressed how little of a quarter had to be showing out from beneath other coins for me to find it. Finding a quarter and grabbing it was seemingly faster than conscious thought, my brain was doing all sorts of size, color and weight analysis without my having to think about it. After the quarters, I did the dimes, then the nickels, then the pennies. I also found a couple John Adams dollar coins in there. John Adams has a dollar coin now? Who knew?

When all the coins were rolled, I counted it up. $354.00 (not counting the two John Adams dollar coins, a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, and two bicentennial quarters that I set aside to keep). Wow. It paid for the new surround sound, and then some!

Addendum: By toggling the Feature Key/Function Key setting in the keyboard control panel, I reassigned F1-F3 to exposé, F4 to dashboard, and in CoverSutra assigned F7-F9 to Previous/Pause/Next, and F10-F12 to Mute/Vol -/Vol +. So now those keys control the volume in iTunes instead of trying to control global volume, which doesn’t work with optical out.

…and now I’m poor.

I just ordered a shiny new Mac Pro. Since I did a custom configuration, I won’t get it for a month, though.

So, anyone wanna buy a MacBook laptop?
I’m selling it to defray the costs of a new computer somewhat.

I’ll also be getting rid of my old Dell, though that’s not even worth selling at this point.
Maybe I’ll give it to Moses if he wants it, not sure if it’s better than what he has now.

Macs In Maine

Made it to Maine ok… forgot to pick up apples to make apple pie with, so on the way, I called Judy and she picked some up.

Gave Judy her early Christmas presents – a new iMac and iPod Nano. I figured since she could make use of them now, better to give them now instead of waiting a month.

I hooked the old iMac to the new one with an ethernet cable and sat for a while transferring files and eating Judy’s homemade beef stew, my favorite, yum!

The iPod nano is really sharp… I think it has the same resolution screen as the full-size iPod, I synched her photos to it and they look great on that small screen.

Now “I’m So Tired” is playing on iTunes, and I’m feeling pretty tired myself. It’s a long drive to Maine.

Gotta get up reasonably early tomorrow to make the apple pie… I’ve never made apple pie from scratch before, should be interesting. =)

Not so far off

Here’s an image by French illustrator Villemard, part of a series done in 1910, imagining what life would be like in the year 2000.

Here’s a screenshot from me chatting with Sarah over Skype the other day…

The future is here! Of course, we don’t all have personal airplanes as shown in the other illustrations… but we do have some of the stuff…

So what bizarre stuff d’ya think we’ll have in the year 2100?


Rushing off to Maine – supposed to meet Aaron, Judy and Marcye at Old Orchard Beach in a hour, it takes two hours to get there so I’ll be an hour late. Gaaah!

Only got halfway through prepping the laptop I’m giving to Judy, so I can’t bring it with me today to give to her. Gaaah!

Leaving a bunch of cleaning things that I was in the middle of, who knows when I’ll be able to get back to them. Gaaah!



I took a break from cleaning yesterday and played some Bioshock – but now I’m behind on everything. Serves me right for trying to relax for a while. Gaaaah!

I can actually feel my neck tensing when I get stressed like this.

Sigh. Better go, I’m already late.

A Scanner Brightly

I’ve been thinking about getting a better scanner, both for increased speed and quality, and also so I can scan slides and negatives.

So far I’m leaning towards the Epson Perfection V700. It’s $500, but payday is this Friday…

Here’s a flash walkthrough of the features.
And here’s a review.

It looks pretty snazzy. Adam keeps chiming in that I should get a sheet-fed one, but I don’t think photos feed in with a sheet-fed scanner. So unless I wanted to scan and OCR books, I don’t really need a sheet-fed.

Forget Safari, Get Lynx!

So Apple released Safari for Windows.

I think you’ll join me here in a collective yawn. The only thing this does is perhaps legitimize time testing web apps in Safari, since it’s now cross-platform.

But why not try something really different?
Get Lynx.

Lynx is a text-only browser from the dawn of time (ok, it was 1992, but neolithic time in terms of browsers).

Text-only browsing provides a refreshing change of pace from the bling-bling world of Flash-animated, image-laden websites. Nice, clean ASCII text is your only visual in the world of Lynx.

You can also get an idea of how clean the underlying design of a webpage is by viewing it in a text-only browser.

And if someone looks over your shoulder, it will probably just look like you are typing away in a shell, or viewing “man” pages (unix manuals).

So give it a try. You might like it.

Lynx for OS X
Lynx for Windows

This blog entry posted using Lynx.

Found it!

After that last post, it occurred to me that there were some subdirectories on my psouth email that I hadn’t searched, and there it was! Now armed with both my original and upgrade serial numbers, I can set up Parallels tonight, either just before or just after movie night.