Despite our earlier plans, we are now back on cable TV again. We actually went pretty far in carrying out the plan: after getting lots of useful advice, I bought a Mac Mini and a PS3, along with various accessories, spent an hour or two rewiring things, and spent several hours over the next few days trying to get it all to work.

But I failed. The obvious problem was that I just couldn’t get the Mini to display well on the TV. I’d been warned that it’s hard to get it to display well on CRT TVs, with the borders going over the edge of the screen, but also had been told that there are third party products that let you deal with this. I downloaded one of them, but it just didn’t work: the TV stayed blank whenever we installed a custom resolution, including the ones that the program started us off with. (Good thing I was doing this through a VNC session!)

To make matters worse, our TV is particularly odd in being an HD TV in a 4:3 resolution. The Mac really wanted to display at 1280×720, which meant that everything on the screen was stretched vertically: when I watched videos on it, actors looked even more anorexic than they do in real life. If I could have dealt with the edge-of-screen issues, 800×600 actually looked fine, but I kind of like having a menu bar visible at the top of the screen.

If we could have solved the display problems, we probably would have stuck it out, but I’m fairly sure that would have been a mistake in retrospect. For one thing, while I’d done some advance research to locate online sources for some shows Liesl and Miranda like, I hadn’t done a thorough search, and it turns out that the shows I’d thought of first were unusual in being relatively easily available. Also, getting a Mini didn’t really solve the more important device problems we had, namely that there was too much contention for our one laptop.

So I returned the Mini and got a MacBook. (And we decided to continue our cable subscription, meaning that this really did cost money, instead of being able to hallucinate that it would sort of pay for itself after a couple of years.) Which I’m really happy with: it’s a nice machine, and over the week and a half since we’ve gotten it I’ve never either not been able to find a laptop to use or felt guilty that I was preventing Liesl or Miranda from using the laptop.

Swapping computers turned out to only be the first of three visits to the Apple store that weekend, though. I got up on Sunday morning and turned on the Mac to make sure that I’d be all set to record a podcast over Skype. And it was a good thing that I got up early to try that out, because I couldn’t connect to the internet! I cursed the router and rebooted it; I still couldn’t connect, so I started cursing Comcast instead. But before calling them I plugged the laptop straight into the cable modem, and it connected fine. When I played around with the router a bit more, it turned out that the router’s administrative interface could ping the outside world just fine and that machines within the wireless network could ping each other and the router just fine: the router had simply decided that it wasn’t up for actually, you know, routing.

Sigh. So I recorded the podcast plugged into the cable modem, and then went shopping. Actually, I was happy enough to replace the router—every few months, it stops working and needs to get rebooted, usually at inconvenient times when I’m on vacation and really want to be able to connect to my home machine to respond to e-mail or review Japanese or something. (Yes, I should probably move both of those off of my home machine.) And I’ve gotten tired of hooking up a hard drive periodically to back up my Mac, a problem that will only get worse with two of them around. So a Time Capsule seemed like a good idea: back to the Apple store.

Once I got home, though, it turned out that there was another problem. The Time Capsule says it supports WEP, but apparently what that means is that it’s willing to connect to existing WEP networks but won’t start one of its own. So I had to either turn off encryption or go to WPA; I would have done the latter long ago, but I had devices in the house that, bizarrely, don’t speak WPA. I figured I could live without having the DSes on the internet (and I’ll probably buy a DSi soon enough anyways, our DS Lite’s touch screen is getting a bit flaky), but my Linux machine is connected to a wireless bridge that only speaks WEP, and that’s a more serious problem.

Fortunately, Apple has a solution to that problem, too. So: back to the Apple store for the third time that weekend, the fourth time in two weeks, the fifth time in just over a month. After ignoring the person in the orange shirt who said things I didn’t want to hear, I got to talk to a person in a blue shirt (who remembered me from one of my earlier visits) who confirmed that yes, the Airport Express would do exactly what I wanted. (And, as a bonus, extend my wireless network a bit, though actually the coverage upstairs was already pretty good.)

So I bought one and went home. I set it up to extend the existing network and act as a bridge, and told it to reboot; it didn’t find the network. Took a deep breath, tried again, and everything worked just fine. And has been fine ever since; as a bonus, it also has a USB jack to plug in the printer, so I don’t have to fiddle with swapping cables around for that.

Not a bad outcome, all things considered. I wish I hadn’t had to go to the store three times that weekend, and I’ve certainly learned a bit about not letting optimism cloud my advanced planning. But I’m really glad that we have a second laptop now, and it’s very nice to click on the Time Machine menu icon and find out that this machine was backed up 9 minutes ago without my even noticing it. It’s too bad my DSes can’t connect to the internet, but I have a hard time worrying about that too much. It’s nice to know that the Airport Express works, I would even be tempted to get a second one to extend the wireless range downstairs except that, now that I’ve checked on it, it seems that the Time Capsule’s signal is enough stronger than the old router’s signal that we don’t have any dead spots in the house any more! And if we’re going to be unexpectedly spending money on various bits of computer gear, it’s best to be doing it in the same month when I find that we overwithheld our taxes by an amount that will cover those expenses almost exactly.

Our house is now strewn with boxes, though; I really should clean that up this weekend.

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