Free VPN!

Finally I had the opportunity/need/inspiration/circumstances to look for a free VPN server that would run on a server with a static IP on a LAN. 

Turns out Mac OS X has one built in! It’s an open-source UNIX deal called vpnd, and it’s the same one on OS X Server and configured through the GUI. It’s no surprise that Apple left a VPN GUI out of OS X client — Server costs either $499 or $999 — but a very nice developer named Alex Jones came up with the free iVPN, and after a little port forwarding on the router, and 30 seconds of config of iVPN, we had ourselves a legit L2TP VPN tunnel.

It was important to me that the VPN be accessible by the client built-in to OS X — found in Internet Connect in Tiger or earlier, and in Network System Preferences in Leopard. I have become bored with downloading and config’ing standalone software: too many checkboxes, not enough stability.

So…. whoop! Very easy, very free. 

Now, one thing about most VPN connections that has always bugged me is that, even if the client connects to a network resource, say a server, via its local Bonjour hostname, e.g. server.local, when a connection is attempted over the VPN it fails, and the user has to revert to using the IP address. Which is sort of fine, but a turn off to the less technically minded. So I just found this article on about editing the /etc/hosts file:

Create the illusion that Bonjour works over a VPN

I haven’t tried it yet, but it makes sense to me. 

Leopard Server: file names are screwed up when connecting over SMB

Apple is all too aware of the chronic Apple File Protocol authentication issues with 10.5 Server. Some people have fixed this with a cron task that restarts AFP, say, every night. In my experience, this starts to corrupt file sharing altogether, to the point that, eventually, nobody can log in over AFP.

So I’ve been switching people to using SMB (Windows file sharing), which sucks just on principle, but it also cuts out Time Machine backups. I am also nervous about it losing Apple-specific file resources.

Anyhoo, at one site where I’ve asked everyone to connect over SMB, several on the server appeared with weird random file names, such as “_GNEWM~A” or “4UI5WM~7”. Didn’t matter which machine or which user account I was using to connect.

After some poking around, I figured out that folders and files with odd characters in their path, and especially with spaces at the ends of their names, were the culprits. Extra long names, too.

I don’t know if this is an historic problem with OS X Server, and I just never ran into it because most of my clients use Macs, or whether this is specific to 10.5. Regardless, right now OS X Server is hurting my schedule really bad, and I can’t believe I’m having to be wary of proferring it as a recommendation.

Space Question

I’ve been receiving messages that I don’t have enough space on my computer for this and that.  Most recently it had to do with optimized albums and syncing to my iPhone.  Last it was about my startup disk.

Yep, that’s a pretty definitive indication. A modern rocketship MacBook Pro will quickly turn into a land tortoise when it doesn’t have enough hard drive space to do the do. Common wisdom has been spread that the Mac needs about 10% of its hard drive to function properly.

Since HDs have gotten so big, the culprits are no longer system-level items — 2 or 3 gigabytes in the GarageBand Audio Loops and WorldBook Encyclopedia data are now kind of small potatoes — and thus we’re faced with delving into our user data and figuring out what we don’t need constant access to.

There is a lovely, free utility called Disk Inventory X that I have long used to discover what’s taking up room on a drive. We can use Disk Inventory X to find the 300-pound gorillas, usually our music and movies, and pull them off to an external hard drive. Or, in fact, to TWO external hard drives, because we have to remember that a digital file doesn’t exist unless it exists in two places.

One can burn CDs or DVDs, but I find these cumbersome, time-intensive, untrustworthy, and hard to store. A second external hard drive is the way to go.

The built-in way to see what’s consuming space is to open up your home folder, go to View menu > as List, and then View > Show View Options.

In the View Options window, turn on Calculate all sizes. You will start to see sizes of your folders appear. In that window, you can click the top of the Size column (click on the word “Size”) to sort the list biggest to smallest:

From there, you can start clicking the triangles next to the biggest folders to expand the contents of the folders, which will in turn be sorted by size. That will help you figure out what you might start to archive and delete.

Notes: Don’t delete your iPhoto Library! It’s too precious. I usually start with iTunes Movies and TV Shows, which are most easily Trashed from within iTunes.

VMWare Fusion 2 beta is out

Features sound fine, especially better Windows printing [crossing fingers], but the extra cool thing is that v2 is going to be a “free downloadable upgrade for all VMware Fusion 1.x customers, as a sincere thank you to our early supporters.” I really like that kind of language.

Incoming mail has stopped coming in

Wondering why I am no longer receiving mail in Apple I have checked the settings, and every other thing I can think to do. I know the account is active because I can go to webmail and get the email.

So, in the left column, next to the word Inbox, is there a circle icon with a triangle or lightning bolt inside it? If so, click that, and take the account online. Then click Get Mail. Tell me if you get any errors.

I was also having a problem with continually having to put in my password on the other accounts.

It would be worth it to open Keychain Access and see if your keychain is unlocked. One should also periodically run "Keychain First Aid" from the application menu (the one next to the Apple menu that changes its name depending on what app you're in).

SuperDuper errors

A registered SuperDuper! user writes:

Got these errors in SuperDuper:

If SuperDuper ever throws a red “X” at you, go to the Log. See the button at the bottom called “Send to Shirt Pocket…”?

After you do what I suggest below, you’ll want to click that button, and do whatever it tells you.

It occurs to me that there is a chance that — don’t freak — you have data corruption. I’d bet even if you had it, it’s not bad, because you have been able to transfer and backup successfully at least twice.

But if you know how to run Disk Utility from your installer discs, that would be wise. Do it on both your internal and external drives. If you have TechTool, DiskWarrior, or Drive Genius, great, run ’em just for kicks.

And if you have anything with the name “Norton” on it, please put it in the nearest garbage pail. Seriously.

Address Book contacts are gone

I recently realized that all my contacts in my address book are gone. I was wondering how I should go about getting them back. I figure I need to use the back-up hard drive for this, but don’t know what to do exactly.

Exactly. As long as you haven’t backed up to the external since the contacts went away, you’re good. So:

  1. Quit Address Book
  2. In your home folder on your laptop, go to ~/Library/Application Support (where “~” is your home folder).
  3. Inside there, change the name of the folder AddressBook to “AddressBook old” (no quotes)
  4. Now plug in the external drive, and from your backup’s Application Support folder, drag that AddressBook folder into your laptop ~/Library/Application Support.
  5. Eject the external (just in case)
  6. Open Address Book. Your contacts should be there.

BTW, if that drive is the LaCie I remember it to be, with USB in addition to Firewire, then with the new Airport Base Station, we can plug the drive into the Base Station and share it to your network. Instant Network Attached Storage. Sweet!