Mac Mini Mediacenter, Small & Easy HTPC

Using a mac mini mediacenter is one of the smartest move I have made. I have tried many different home theater solutions without being completely satisfied. Loosing a bit of money in the process too, trying out different solutions. Not all of them are free you know …

Many years ago I had the original Xbox, you know the first game console Microsoft released. It was modified so it could run software not originally allowed by Microsoft. For example Xbox Media Center (XBMC). This software allowed me to play almost any kind of media and it worked well with downloaded movies and TV-shows regardless of what type of codec it was encoded with.

This setup worked just fine for a long time. Xbox Media Center was the best media center solution for me. However you needed to have an modified unit but that was quite common in those days.

Fast forward a few years….

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The time came when we got an 50 Inch Plasma TV. TV Shows and movies are becoming available in HD and I want to view the downloaded content in the best quality possible. Most HD content wont play using the original Xbox, the processor just isn’t fast enough. So the search for a new unit to place under the TV begins.

First I tried using the Xbox 360. It worked okay but it was not perfect for me. Then I bought the Apple TV but I wasn’t satisfied with it at all. Even with hacks it could not play the highest resolution HD content. It had a good interface though. If you have all your media in iTunes, the Apple TV might be something for you.

Again, after a while, I found something called Popcorn Hour A-110. The price wasn’t to bad and it worked well with HD content and MKV files straight out of the box. However the interface was slow and it lacks good support for music, at least when I used it. If you are on a budget however the Popcorn Hour might be a good choice for you. Because it plays nearly everything you can throw at it. Popcorn Hour also gets firmware updates from time to time so it might get new features later on.

What Now?

This page could have ended here. I was pretty near keeping the Popcorn hour because it really worked okay … but then I discovered something called Plex Media Center for OS X. I tried it out on my 13 Inch MacBook Pro for a few months and WOW!, it blew me away, and I am pretty hard to impress. This was exactly what I was looking for!

Plex can play an wide range of video, audio and photo formats as well as online streaming audio and video. It also present this content using powerful library features. This is what sold me: Plex automatically retrieve metadata from the Internet, and display it using one of its good looking skins. It downloads covers and artwork without having to manually tag everything yourself. As long as the directories are named somewhat correctly it will find the info about a particular TV-show or movie online.

I was talking about Xbox Media Center above, Plex Media Center is based on that code base. The developers of Plex have decided to dedicate this development for Intel Mac OS X computers. If you have an older G4 or G5 I am afraid Plex wont work for you. You need an Intel based Mac and at least Mac OS X Leopard.

So, Mac mini mediacenter is certainly possible. I have recently done this myself and I will now tell you a little bit of how I did it setting up my Mac Mini mediacenter.

My Mac Mini As Mediacenter Setup

Can you spot the Mac Mini? Probably not because it is inside the cabinet. It is a small computer, thats for sure… Plex Media Center for OS X is currently running. Showing the movies I have available right now. I am controlling everything with my Harmony 900 remote (a buggy one if you ask me), all devices are hidden though!

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Sound Setup

I have an receiver underneath the Mac Mini. I have connected the Mac Minis sound output using an optical cable. More specifically a Toslink to Mini Toslink Cable. My receiver have an Toslink input but the Mac Mini have a Mini Toslink output. You plug in the cable where you would plug in your headset or speakers, it is the same port. The Mac Mini will detect the optical cable and automatically change the output to digital.

toslink-to-mini-toslink

If you already have an optical cable but the wrong connector, you could just save a few dollars and get an adapter instead.

Video Setup

HDMI Cable, easy and simple. In many cases this makes it easy to deal with the overscanning issues that can appear. I used a DVI to HDMI adapter before but when Apple added HDMI ports to their mac mini computers it made it easy connecting it to a TV set.

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Remote Control

aluminum-apple-remoteIf you want to use Mac Mini as Media Center you also need some way to remote control it. For me, the Apple Remote is enough and works fine. However when you buy a new Mac Mini Apple doesn’t ship the remote control anymore, you will have to buy it here: Apple MC377LL/A Remote. This is no fancy remote, it will do what it is supposed to do and nothing more. I like it that way.

I have to mention one problem I had. When I was using the remote my girlfriends Mac started responding to the remote as well. To turn that off you go into System Preferences -> Security and tick the “Disable remote control infrared receiver”. That should help.

I also use the built in Screen Sharing App in Mac OS X if I want to do a bit more heavy administrative work on the Mac Mini

 

 

 

Hardware Requirements?

This was a question I asked myself before I decided to go the Mac Mini Media Center way. Should I go for the cheapest model?, or buy the one with a faster CPU?. I thought a bit on that, and then I looked at what type of files I usually watch. I came to the conclusion that the cheapest Mac mini would work for me. I can play 1080p, x264, DTS releases without any hiccups. If you want to do more with the Mac at the same time you should consider getting more RAM. It is extremely easy to install new RAM in the newest Mac Mini from Apple. You do not have to take apart the entire computer anymore. Just pop off the bottom lid and there you have the RAM slots.

Storage?

With HD material you will undoubtably fill up that internal drive pretty fast. That is why I am using an external USB drive instead. You can also use storage over the network if you have something set up in your home, NAS for example. It usually works over modern wi-fi but I recommend cabled network anyway. I find it more stable, and cheaper. Cables can be hidden you know.

Shopping List, And Software

As I stated above, this is not the cheapest home theater setup you can find. But for me, this is the only thing that works the way I want it to work. That is why I am willing to pay for that. Here I have a shopping list for you if you want to get started yourself. I am assuming you have some kind of receiver already. If not you will have to make the necessary changes.

– Apple Mac Mini MD387LL/A Desktop (NEWEST VERSION)

– Apple MC377LL/A Remote. Remote control for Apple desktop/notebook PCs. Offers play/pause, volume control and forward/back buttons.

– 6ft Toslink to Mini Toslink Cable. Connectors: Toslink to Mini Toslink. Premium Quality with Gold Connectors.

– Plex Media Center for OS X

What about support and help?

I recommend you to browse the plexapp forums. You will find a lot of useful information and helpful people over there. Even the developers are active and answering some of the questions users have. You can also comment below if you have any questions or need help. I will try to help you to the best of my ability…

The Mac Mini Computer – Cool Ways To Use It

Put Your Mac Mini Computer To Use
The Mac Mini computer is the cheapest desktop computer Apple offers to its customers. Depending on what type of use you have this can be the perfect computer for you.

If you didn’t know, when you buy this computer you only get the computer itself. You will have to buy a keyboard, mouse and display of your own choosing. This keeps the price tag lower (compared to Apple standards that is), and in my opinion it is nice to be able to choose the keyboard and mouse I want to use myself.

An Apple Mini Mac … Is It Slow?

Everything is relative but for its size the short answer is: no. If you want to dig deep in numbers you could always check out mac mini computer benchmarks from the guys making GeekBench. This will give you something to compare with against other Macs. The unit is practically noise-free. You wont get a headache having this in your room, that’s for sure. Also the computer is ridiculously small. Place it just about anywhere you want. It looks pretty darn nice too!

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Light to medium computer work

For general home computing this will do nicely. You can play some games on it. Of course, do not expect to be able to run the latest and greatest graphic intensive games. But some of them can be run. This is the perfect computer if you just do some casual stuff. Like surfing the web, reading e-mail, editing some photos / video, listening to music. Even watch movies if you want. It will do all that and a bit more. Connect it to the TV via the HDMI port on the back for example, I have done so with mine.

You also get the Mac Mini with several BTO configurations, like bigger hard drive, more memory and even a little faster CPU if you are willing to pay for that.

Mac Mini Server

This computer is also great for some smaller server tasks. You can set it up as a Mac Mini server to host your own Blog. Store your iTunes library or even use the Server software from Apple to really do some interesting things. If you prefer using a linux diet here are instructions for ubuntu.

Mac Mini Computer HTPC

The Mac Mini computer can also be used as an mac mini mediacenter. It is not so hard to understand why, the computer is small so it is easy to place in your home. It makes practically no sound at all. We Mac OS X users also have the perfect free HTPC software to make all this work together. In 2010 Apple added HDMI ports to this computer, this makes it easy to hook it up to your TV.

“Unibody” Design

With the Mac Mini model introduced by Apple in 2010 it became easier to replace the RAM yourself. Even Apple themselves advertise this feature on their own webpage. The mini supports up to 8GB of RAM and you can replace it yourself if you like. Just remove the bottom cover  of your mac mini computer and you get access to the memory slots.

2010-mac-mini-3

The power supply is built-in now, you only need a small power cable. No need for a big power brick laying on the floor anymore. Apple have removed the DVD drive, a good move if you ask me. How often do you use that drive anyway? Only with OS install and that can be done using a USB stick. It also now comes with fusion drive as an option.

Problem Ejecting Your Macs DVD or CD?

Get that stuck DVD CD out
Some are struggling with the fact that they have a CD that refuses to eject itself when you press the eject-button. This can be rather annoying, but fortunately it is often easy to solve. Here are some tips for you if your mac cd won’t eject.

(Note: Step 5 only works on computers that do not have Intel processors. If you have an Intel machine, and do not get the CD out after trying the steps 1-4 I recommend that you contact Apple Support.)

1. If the CD dosent come out, close all applications and try again. It may be some application you have open, it might use the CD even if you are not aware of this.

2. If this does not help, open the terminal and type the following: drutil eject and this will hopefully eject the CD.

3. If this don’t solve it, open Disk Utility. And select the CD, then press “Eject”. (In some cases, the CD does not appear in disk utility. If so, proceed to step 4)

4. CD still stuck? OK… reboot the machine, and during startup, press and hold the mouse button. (If you use the Mighty Mouse, or other multi-button mouse, it is the left mouse button that has to be held down.) After a few seconds, this should eject your CD.

If none of these tips work you probably need to call Apple Support.

Cheap Car Charger For MacBook Pro Using An Inverter

If you want an car charger for your macbook pro you don’t have to buy anything extremely expensive. Of course, that is entirely up to you but you will get a long way with buying an inverter instead.

We are (at least myself) taking with us more devices than ever. We are not only bringing our laptops but also smartphones and tablets. All of them want their share of power and it is my suggestion that an inverter is the best and cheapest choice if you want to charge multiple devices at the same time.

Whats An Inverter?

Its a device you plug in to your cars 12-volt outlet. It converts it into 120V AC power. It looks like this: and is a bestseller on Amazon.

BESTEK 300W Power Inverter

As you can see it also has USB ports on its side. Meaning you can charge your smartphone or any other USB device at the same time charging your laptop. Make sure you have an eye on the watt though. The one pictured above is rated for 150w and the biggest charger Apple ships with their laptops is rated at 85W so it should be plenty of headroom for you there.

Get one yourself at amazon.com, they also have an cheaper model rated to 75W if you want to save a few bucks.

BESTEK 300W Power Inverter Dual 110V AC Outlets and 4.8A Max Dual USB Ports

Use Mac Backup Software, Mac Backups

Let us find Mac Backup Software but remember that a Mac is just like a regular PC in so many ways. It has a hard drive, a motherboard, memory, CPU and so on. Many of these components are not just used in a Mac, but also regular PCs.

For instance the hard drive in your Mac is just a regular standard notebook hard drive found in other PCs as well. Just because this hard drive is in your Mac it doesn’t mean it will never fail. All hard drives can fail, even the ones in a Mac so you need to take some precautions.

If you have a fairly new Mac with SSDs it is in my opinion even more important to have a backup routine. If a regular hard drive fails there is a chance of getting the files back. If an SSD fails it is much more difficult.

Imagine all your family photos or videos wiped, just like that. Years of memories gone forever. With no other place to get them back. Would that make you sad? I guess so … deep inside you know it is important to take backup of your data but you haven’t done so yet.

Do it, NOW!

You will regret it later, I can tell you from my own experience. When I was younger I made some music on a hobby basis, I still do but not as much now… All was well and I actually was able to create some tracks people liked. As years went by I was careful not to delete the original project files, but one time … Yes, they where gone, just like that. And I didn’t have any backup. Imagine how annoyed and sad I was, this was actually many hours of work, gone. I still had the finished MP3 music files, but not the project files so I could not go back and edit and change the music if I wanted.

Even after this disaster I was pretty lazy with my backup routine, maybe I burned a DVD once a year or so, not nearly enough to keep up to date I might add…

In Mac OS X Leopard Time Machine was introduced, and this was made to solve the problems I have mentioned above. The laziness problem. You go out and buy an external drive for your computer, plug it in and tell your Mac to use this as your backup disk. Time Machine then starts the initial copy to the drive. The initial copy will take some time the first time. Then it backups your changes every hour. This is faster.

Some argue backing up every hour is too frequent, you can not easily change this yourself but if you use the free software TimeMachineEditor the backup frequency can be changed easily.

So please, make sure you backup your files using Mac Backup Software, you do not know how much your files are worth until you’ve lost them forever.

Converting FLAC to iTunes and Apple Lossless

Get the best sound quality
If you are like me you want to get the best sound quality from your portable device as possible. There are some ways to achieve this and I will show you how you can do just that.

Maybe you have wondered how you can fit so many songs onto your device, and still have room for thousands more songs. The answer is compression. If we just copy a CD without compressing it into MP3 files it would not hold so many songs. And it would be painful to transfer the songs over the Internet, because of its size.

If we DID copy a CD directly without doing anything, the sound quality would likely be much better, you might hear more details and the music quality would likely be a lot better. And that is almost exactly what I am going to guide you through right now.

Hold on! wont this fill up my device fast?, and give me less room for songs? Good, you understand me. You are absolutely right, this will fill up your player pretty fast but let me ask you … How many songs or albums do you really listen to? Do you listen to thousands of songs? Or do you have favorites you mostly listen to? Do you really want the best sound?

Right, rip those favorites of yours in Apple Lossless and keep those songs you listen to less in their current quality state. I will now guide you in how to rip your CD in Apple Lossless with iTunes.

Rip a CD with Apple Lossless

Insert your CD and this window will popup, select NO here because we are going to change some settings.

lossless-1

Now get into the Preferences.

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Click the Import Settings button.

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Choose to import using Apple Lossless Encoder. Then click OK to get out of this window, and OK again in the other window.

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Now click the Import CD button in the lower right corner of iTunes, and it will start to rip the CD and encode it with our newly set settings.

lossless-5

Now you just connect your iPhone, iPod to your computer and drag the newly ripped CD to your iPod, and you can enjoy lossless music on the go! Or stream it with Airplay!

What about FLAC support in iTunes?

I have to confess, sometimes it annoys me that Apple insist on doing things his own way. For people having their entire music collection in FLAC format it is cumbersome to get it over to iTunes. First you have to decode the FLAC files to WAV for example, then you have to re encode those to Apple Lossless … and not to talk about the metadata lost in the conversion process. Pretty annoying to punch in the track names again, but there is a solution. And as always I try to find FREE solutions and I found one.

Your solution is the following free application: X Lossless Decoder. This will help you with the entire process and save you a lot of time!

How-To Get More Battery Time Out Of Your Apple Laptop Battery

If you want to get more battery time out of your macbook battery read this guide for some general guidelines and tips that will help you improve the battery life of your laptop.

First, read about: Learn Battery Care and how-to take care of your MacBook Battery and especially the section where it explains how to calibrate your battery. Calibrate your battery first, it is important if you haven’t done it already.

Notebooks today have many features which can drain the battery. Wireless networking, bluetooth, screen brightness, power hungry applications, a CD that spins in the drive and much more. You can disable some of these features easily if you do not need them, this way you will save precious battery juice!

Turn off Wireless networking (Airport)

If you have no need for Internet access there is no reason to keep the wireless network active, this put a drain on the battery and will decrease the time you get to work with the computer. Click the Airport icon on the top menu-bar and chose turn off the Airport card.

Turn off Bluetooth

If you often sync your mobile phone to your computer maybe you have bluetooth turned on, this will also put a little drain on the battery. Just click the bluetooth icon on the menu-bar and turn it off.

Decrease the screen brightness

You can also save a little battery time by decreasing the screen brightness. Turn it down until you feel comfortable with the brightness. For me, max brightness is almost too bright in some cases anyway.

Turn off keyboard backlight

You could turn this off. Just to get a few extra minutes. And learn where the keys are 🙂

Shut down applications not in use

Check the Dock and see if you have applications open that you do not use. This can in some cases cause the CPU to work more and thus requires more juice from the battery. In Mavericks if you click the battery icon in the top menubar you can see what apps that drains your battery the most.

Remove any CD or DVD

The CD drive might spin up if you have a CD or DVD in it, this will also drain the battery and therefore… take it out.

Energy Saving

Also check System Preferences if you have the most optimal energy saving features turned on.

You understand that all these small things adds up in the end, if you follow this guide you will probably notice some increase in battery time. This will depend on the condition of your battery, but if you get 15 or 30 minutes more work time it was all worth it, right?

This Switch Guide Helps You Switch To Mac OS X

switch-logo

This switch guide is for you that have switched from Windows to Mac OS X or perhaps thinking about switching. Learning a new operating system could be frustrating especially if you have little or no experience with computers. The goal of this guide is to help regular people getting started with their Mac, with comparing some of the features with Windows and what the differences are on the Mac. You can also use this switch to mac guide if you have no or little experience with Windows.
First, you have to set your mind in a special state before reading this switch guide. You are used doing things in a certain way when using Windows. You have to let go of this thinking, this is not Windows, some things are similar, and some things are just not the same. You will get this experience throughout the use of your new Mac, and let me tell you, it is quite normal. Everyone need some adjustment time, in the end you can look back and think: Hm, this wasn’t so bad after all, it is easier now!

Another thing about the Mac, you can trust it. You can trust it to take care of your files, you do not need to poke deep inside the hard drive, the applications do that for you. It is a computer! it should work for you, and only you. You CAN tweak settings all you want though, but it is not needed at all to get productive in no time.

The Dock

OS X Dock
The Dock is the bar with icons you have at the bottom of your screen. If you just started up your new Mac you will have some icons there already. The icons you see is shortcuts to some of the applications you get with your new Mac. If you click on one of these icons it should start to bounce a little bit and the application starts. When the application is running you will see a little blue dot under the icon, this means that the application is up and running. In Mac OS X versions prior to Mac OS X Leopard the icon could be a triangle instead of a dot notifying you of the running application. This switch guide cover Mac OS X Leopard at the moment.

Compared to Windows the Dock is like the list of applications you have under the start button, and the task bar in one. You can also remove icons from the Dock that you wont be using, it is quite easy. Just click and drag the icon outside the dock and release the mouse button. This removes the shortcut and not the application itself. You can also add shortcuts to the dock by simply dragging them in there.

If you closed your application by clicking the red circular button you may notice that the little blue dot is still visible under the icon. This is because you did not really close the application, you just closed the window! There are several ways to close the application in question but the most easy way is to press CMD + Q with the application window open. If you do this you notice that the blue dot disappears and the application is now closed.

You can also customize the Dock in several ways, like move it to the right or left of your screen. You can also hide it when not in use and change the size of the magnification when moving your mouse over the icons. Or turn it off completely as i have. These settings can be accessed through System Preferences, then click on the Dock to get to the window where you can adjust the settings.

Top Menu-bar

top-menu-bar

In Windows all applications have their own menu bar, in Mac OS X applications share the same top menu. If you look at the top of your screen while you have a few applications open and switch between them you will notice that the name on the top changes to the name of the active application. This can cause some confusion if you didn’t know about it, but now you do. If you want to close one of the applications select it so it becomes active, then you can press CMD + Q as stated above, or you could click on the top menu-bar, on the name of the open application and you will get a menu where you can choose to quit the application.

Finder

Look in your Dock, all the way to the left you will find one icon looking like a smiley face. If you click that one you will open the Finder. With finder you get access to all the files on your computer and also other computers in your network, if you have a network. The Finder is the equivalent to Windows Explorer.

At the left side of the Finder window you will see shortcuts to common areas you would likely use most. At the top you will find the hard drive and further below shortcuts to areas like your Desktop, Applications folder, Your home folder and Documents. The right side of the Finder window show you the list files.

Tabbed Finder

The buttons on the top of the Finder window changes the view, you can select to view your files as a detailed list, large icons, column view or cover flow view. This is your choice, i for one use detailed view and think it works quite nice. You can also get more information about one file, if you select the file and press CMD + I you will get a window with a more detailed view of the file. With OS X Mavericks Apple introduced long awaited tabs for the finder. Hit CMD + T to open up a new tab.

In Windows you may be used to copy files with CTRL + C and paste with CTRL + V, maybe cut too with CTRL + X. Well these shortcuts also work on your Mac with one exception. You cannot cut files and paste them, also you have to press CMD + C and CMD + V instead. The ctrl button is used for other things. Like right clicking for example. Many people that make the switch tend to criticize the missing cut feature. Somehow Apple do not want to add it, i do not know why but i have learned to live without the Cut feature. But remember, when you are editing text documents and things like that, the Cut and Paste works.

Some that switch to mac get confused by this: if you select a file and press Enter, you will start renaming the file. If you do this in Windows it runs the file instead. This is one of the small differences between the two operating systems.

Three color buttons

switch-button
As you can see your applications have three buttons, red, yellow and green.
The red button means close, but in Mac OS X that doesn’t necessarily mean to quit the application. If you press this button the window might close, but the application is still running. This might be new to some of the people making the switch. Also different applications use these buttons differently just to add some more confusion.

The yellow button means minimize the window to the Dock.

The green button means zoom, this will maximize the window so it will display the content you have, or the window will fill the entire screen area except the Dock and the top menu.

System Preferences

System Preferences Mavericks

System Preferences is the Mac OS X “Control Panel” where you can do adjustments and changes. For example changes to the Dock, Security, Look and Feel, Sound, Screen, Power management, Keyboard and mouse settings, printer settings, network settings amongst many other. Some applications may put their own settings in System Preferences.

Mission Control

Mission Control

Mission Control (it was called Exposé earlier) is unique to Mac OS X and it is just one of the reasons to switch!. I use this all the time, I can not imagine living without this feature now when i am used to it. Pressing a hotkey or using a gesture on the trackpad gives me an overview of all open windows. Then I just click the window I want and it will be brought to the front. I have set it up so it automatically show me the open windows if i drag the mouse cursor to the top right corner of my screen. You can adjust these settings to your liking in System Preferences then Mission Control. My top left corner show the desktop.

Run Windows Virtualized

Windows 7 Vmware Fusion

You may have heard you can run Windows on your Mac. Running Windows on your Mac works really good actually, it can be good for those wanting a Mac but is forced in some way to use a Windows application where there is no substitute for on the Mac. Then Boot Camp could be one solution. With this you partition a slice of your hard drive and install windows on that. So you will have to reboot. Another option is to virtualize Windows, meaning you run Windows on top of your OS X installation not having to reboot.

Final Words

It is difficult to know exactly what to put in this switch guide and what to not put in it. The switch guide has to be easy to read and understand. There is a lot more to Mac OS X than this guide offers, however as time go on the guide will be improved. If you feel something is missing or just plain wrong do not hesitate to contact me with your suggestions or questions.

Burn ISO Images With Built-In Burn Mac Software

You can easily burn ISO images with Mac OS X. ISO images are a common standard for distributing large software packages. Linux distributions is often delivered in this format over the Internet. An ISO image often contains the complete contents of a CD or a DVD in a single file. When you tell the burning software to burn that ISO file you are basically telling it to reconstruct the CD or DVD from the specifications in the particular ISO file.

In Mac OS X we have something called Disk Utility and this application amongst many other things can help you burn the ISO image to a CD or DVD.

Do the following:

1. Insert a blank CD or DVD

2. Start Disk Utility

Disk utility

3. Find the ISO file and drag it into the left window pane, or from the file menu choose Open Disk Image and select the ISO file.
In the list of your hard-drives (volumes) you should now see your ISO file. Select the file and then press the Burn button.

Thats all, usually I cancel the verification process but you can let it run if this is the first time you are burning a CD or DVD. Just to check if everything went right.

Change The Timemachine Backup Interval

Apple doesn’t want us to change all settings in our os and the time machine backup interval is one of them. By default this backups your computer every single hour. Maybe you want to change it.

The settings are stored in a configuration file, so you can actually change the backup interval yourself editing the configuration file. But there are easier ways to do this. The free app called TimeMachineEditor will help you with it. The only thing this application does is to update the configuration file. You can schedule it to your liking. For example backup every week, or daily at night.

interval calendar_intervals

This little app have never had any issues, but please double-check your backup if you use third party tools like this. Obviously Apple doesn’t support using this, and Apple may change the way Time Machine works in the future.