Ask TUAW: Mac mini as Time Machine server, baby monitoring with a Mac, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we have questions about accessing a shared Google calendar, baby monitoring, sharing music between user accounts, scanning over an Airport Extreme, using a Mac mini as Time Machine target, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume that you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify), or if it's an iPhone-related question, which iPhone version and OS version you have.

BradC asks

I have a Mac Mini G4 with OS 10.4 installed on it. Is it possible to attach a USB Hard Drive to the machine and have it act as a Time Machine Server for Snow Leopard machines? If not, would it work if I upgraded it to 10.5?

Jude asks

I am considering getting a mac mini as a media centre in my lounge. Can I connect an external usb hard disk (or a partition of the mac mini) and use that as a Time Machine backup destination for my Macbook Pro on the same wifi connection?

It is possible to use a AFP shared disk as a Time Machine backup target. However, it does require the server to be running Leopard (10.5.6) – see this Apple Support Doc. I believe this is the case because it needs AFP 3.3. So, in principle, BradC could use his PPC mini to do this if it were upgraded to 10.5.6 or higher (the latest version of Leopard is 10.5.8). Jude should be able to do this out of the box with a new mini. Obviously, both of will need to turn on AFP sharing for their respective disks.

David asks

QuickTime used to play my WMV files just fine, but after I updated Flip4Mac, it now tells me "The movie could not be opened. The file is not a movie file." But I've played the movie file many times before, so I know the file is okay. Can I revert to the old version of Flip4Mac? Help, please!

I'm not really sure what could have happened. However, older versions of Flip4Mac are available on their download site. You could also try playing your video with VLC, which does support at least some WMV files.

scott asks

I have an all-in-one fax/printer/scanner/copier on an Airport Express. I can print wirelessly, but is there any way to get it to SCAN wirelessly? The printer is an Epson Stylus NX300 connected via USB. I also have an Airport Extreme. If it matters, the AExp is joined to the AExt network.

Unfortunately, scanning is not supported on the USB port of an Airport Extreme or Express. If you really want to use the scanning functions, I suspect your best bet a USB Server like this one from Keyspan / Tripp Lite. It allows you to use USB devices over Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

nichole asks

I have a question about google calendar, ical, and mobile me. I use mobile me to sync my aluminum macbook (10.6) and my iPhone 3G. I publish my work calendar on mobile me, which my boyfriend subscribes to. Everything has been great. He's recently decided to start using google calendar, and has shared his calendar with me. What I'm wondering is a.) is there a way to get his shared calendar into iCal and b.) is there a way to get mobile me to then sync that calendar?

You can subscribe to a published Google Calendar with iCal and the iPhone if all you want to do is see his calendar. If you want to be able to edit it (and he's given you permission to do so, obviously) you'll need to set up your own Gmail account which he will share his calendar with. Then use your Gmail account credentials to set up both iCal and the iPhone. Ars has a handy article that should help get you going.

chefjd asks, serially

I am buying a 27" iMac with stock hardware and software. What are some low cost options for a camera to stream a feed from my daughter's nursery to my desktop? I am a stay & a work at home dad.

Having an infant myself, I've looked into this and I haven't really found an economical solution. Here a few possibilities: 1) a network webcam like those listed here together with SecuritySpy or EvoCam. The SecuritySpy manual has some nice example systems. If you go this route, though, expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars minimum, especially if you're going for a wireless camera. 2) If the nursery is not too far away from your computer, you might be able to get by with the BT-1 Bluetooth Wireless Webcam from ecamm. They offer a range extender that promises range of up to 100 feet, but that obviously varies. 3) a wireless video baby monitor with A/V outputs (like this one) into something like an EyeTV Hybrid. Personally, I didn't think any of these solutions was ultimately cost effective, so I ended up using an old iPhone I happened to have together with Ustream Broadcaster. This actually works surprisingly well during the day (i.e. when there's plenty of light). For night-vision capability, Lauren had a fine DIY rundown using an old iSight.

I am buying a new 27" iMac this week and will be sharing it with my girl friend. We share alot of CDs as we have the same taste in music, is there a way that I can just install the cd once and use it on both iTunes accounts? I would not like to eat as much of HD space up if possible. We both have iPhones and will be getting an iPad 3g when it lands as well. Any suggestions?

As explained in this Apple Support Doc, it's possible to share music between multiple user accounts by keeping the iTunes Media folder in a location that both accounts can access, such as /Users/Shared. Of course this will share all of the music, such that you'll essentially have a single iTunes library between the two of you. There's no convenient way to share just a part of two different libraries without duplicating the files. In principle you could disable the "copy files to iTunes Media Folder" option in iTunes and just keep the shared files in the /Users/Shared hierarchy, but you'd have to add all the files to the second library manually.