Brother, I think you're over thinking it... First off, try the smokinator without the water - the water pan acts as a heat sink, absorbing the energy that the fire produces (or at least make sure you're putting boiling hot water in the pan) water is only going to boil at 210+ deg F, that puts a serious cap on heat production...
Or, try it like this - take Mr. Smokinator out completely and just shove all the briqs up against 1 side, light a few of them like you have been for the minion method, and just crack the lower vents barely open, top vent fully open *opposite of the fire* and watch er' come up to temp. Control temp with the lower vent, a little goes a long way!
put a drip pan or sheet of foil under the cooler meat side if you like water in it or not (honestly seams to make little cooking difference IMO - except on poultry - water will not give you the crisp skin you probably want).
Not exaggerating in the least - this method gives me very consistent temps from the VERY edge of the fire (doesn't seem possible, but true) to the very edge of the grate opposite the fire... add a chunk of hardwood every once in a while and you're smokin!
as for several racks of ribs at a time, look for a rib rack to stand them up on edge.
Edit: also, make sure you're measuring the temp at grate level, very different from dome temp or below grate.
Also as far as wood goes - I personally prefer either large chunks (baseball size) - or large chips not the finer stuff - the finer stuff makes allot of (white) smoke and gives off a bitter flavor, try looking around for what is native that people cook over, it might not have a name you're familiar with, but as long as it's from a fruit or nut tree, you're prolly ok, and if it smells mild and pleasant when it's burning then you're good to go!