April 18, 2010

Upgrade to 10.6.3 complete

As I mentioned last week, I've been working on upgrading my system from 10.5.7 to 10.6.3, performing as clean of an install as possible to clear out years of crud under the hood. I've wrapped up the last of my upgrades, and am up and running on a freshly built system.

The only real hiccup was with the Postfix compile, once that was sorted, everything else was fairly straightforward, simply a matter of grabbing all of the various packages to make everything here run, run through all the necessary compiles, then finally transfer over various changed files since the last copy.

Here is a list of the software currently installed for mail and web services:

Xcode 3.2.2
PHP 5.3.1 (10.6 built in version)
Apache 2.2.14 (10.6 built in version)
MySQL 5.1.45
Postfix 2.7
Dovecot 1.2.11
Cluebringer 2.0.10 (Policyd 2.0)
PCRE 8.0
DBI 1.609
DBD-mysql 4.014
Net-Server 0.97
Net-CIDR 0.13
Config-IniFiles 2.57
Cache-FastMmap 1.35

Initially I needed to copy the etc/postfix directory to preserve configuration files when installing the new Postfix,also copied over /var/mail to bring over the mail stores used by Postfix/Dovecot, and a handful of other config files, /Library/Webserver for the web pages.

To get Apache running, there were some simple edits to enable the built in PHP, and setting up the correct vhosts again; I hand edited the files to match the old config to keep from introducing any unneeded changes.

I think that the only real surprise was that there weren't more surprises. I now have everything running in 64 bit mode on the new server, with the exception of some 3rd party apps. Sweet.

Posted by Jim at 10:36 PM | TrackBack

April 14, 2010

Great site with Mac server info

In my web searching recently, I came across DIYMacServer, a site who's focus is all about running Postfix, Apache, PHP, Dovecot, and related code on the Mac. There are numerous articles about each software update that comes down the line, and the author, Richard Valk, does a great job at documenting everything he can about changes each update brings, and how it effects his system.

Posted by Jim at 9:08 PM | TrackBack

Compiling Postfix on Mac OS X 10.6

So, I'm trying to compile Postfix 2.7 on my new 10.6 system. During make, I get this:

In file included from dns_lookup.c:152:
dns.h:23:29: error: nameser8_compat.h: No such file or directory
make: *** [dns_lookup.o] Error 1
make: *** [update] Error 1

A google search found a suggested fix, in /src/util/sys_defs.h, the following line should be commented out:

#define RESOLVE_H_NEEDS_NAMESER8_COMPAT_H

With this line commented out, I'm able to get a good build, but at what cost? Presumably this is going to break some of the name resolution that Postfix uses, which would not be good. After reporting this on the Postfix mailing list, I spent some additional time researching the issue, but ironically kept coming up with various pages that mirror the Postfix list, and kept coming back to my own posting... Time to switch gears.

More searching online found some similar reports for software other than Postfix, but no hints at fixes. Digging into the OS, I found that Mac OS X 10.6 no longer has an include file named nameser8_compat.h, which is the source of the issue. The equivalent file now seems to be arpa/nameser_compat.h. Updating the Postfix dns.h file (line 23) to include this file instead finally resulted in a good build. It may be another day or so before I'm able to put this server online to test.

This information has also been reported to the Postfix mailing list, it is likely that the 2.7.1 version of Postfix should have this change and compile properly out of the box.

Posted by Jim at 10:58 AM | TrackBack

April 11, 2010

Upgrading to 10.6

It's upgrade time again here, and I've made the decision to set up a brand new system on the Mac Mini here. The current system originally started out under 10.3, was then upgraded to 10.4, then 10.5, and also saw at least one hardware switch in there. While fairly stable, I know there's a lot of crud under the hood left over from all the various installs, upgrades, and software changes. So, I'm setting up a new server completely from scratch on Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6.3. I've set up a spare Mini for this work, so I can have both systems up and running simultaneously.

That said, I do need to preserve the web site, and keep the old mail stores around, so this will need to be copied over to the new drive I've set up. After setting up the new drive, I've used Carbon Copy Cloner to copy the web directories, mail storage, and the Postfix directory to the new system, this gets me most of the data that I'll need.

Next I'll need the MySQL data. Since this process is likely to be ongoing for a few days as I test and retest, I'm not going to want to make several data moves from MySQL, so the simplest solution was to set up a Master/Slave relationship on the two systems, so the data will always be in sync between both boxes. I know that at the end I'll need to clone over the web and mail data again, but that will be a quick process at that point.

Now to figure out what works and what doesn't...

Posted by Jim at 8:41 PM | TrackBack

August 17, 2009

iTunes Syncing, Part 2

In my prior posting, I set up a script to handle the syncing of my iTunes library between my home system and the carputer. The script works fine, but executing it via the Terminal is a pain. With OS X, it is possible to rename a shell script with an extension of .command, which will allow it to be double clickable in the Finder, but this unfortunately will cause Terminal to launch, show the output, and then leave the Terminal window open when the script finishes. There are a few hacks to get around this, but the most common solution I've found is to instead call the shell script via AppleScript. As usual, this has caused a few additional headaches...

The AppleScript portion is extremely straightforward. Open Script Editor, and paste in the following:


-- do our sync
do shell script "~/Documents/Scripts/sync.sh &> /dev/null &"

Save this as an Application, and we're done. The line above will execute out script, and spawn this as a separate process, meaning that AppleScript won't be waiting for the script to finish, it will kick it off, and the AppleScript will then quit.

The headache I ran into is that the pmset command wasn't quitting like it should have, the issue turned out to be that the process for that was no longer able to be found by the ps command, because the script was now being launched via AppleScript and not directly via the Terminal. The solution was to use ps -e instead, so the working script is now as follows:


#!/bin/ksh

# this command will keep the system from going to sleep, spawns a new processes
`pmset noidle` &
# get pid of the pmset process so we can kill it later
pid=`ps -e | grep [p]mset | awk '{print $1}'`

# set the log file to be placed in user's home directory
theLog=~/sync.log

SERVER=10.0.0.5
USER=username
ping -c 1 $SERVER > /dev/null 2>&1
if [ $? -ne 0 ]
then
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "server unreachable" >> $theLog
else
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "server found" >> $theLog
rsync -avz $USER@$SERVER:Music/iTunes/ ~/Music/iTunes >> $theLog
fi

echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "Done" >> $theLog

# need to kill pmset we spawned earlier so system will sleep
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "killing $pid" >> $theLog
kill -9 $pid >> $theLog

# Now tell system to go to sleep since we're done
pmset sleepnow >> $theLog

Posted by Jim at 12:09 PM | TrackBack

August 12, 2009

iTunes syncing

Syncing an iTunes library between two computers isn't a straightforward task, normally for this I would simply drag the necessary files between two computers, but for the carputer project, this wasn't desirable. I need some way to keep the two systems in sync with a minimum of fuss and effort. Fortunately, there is a terminal command called rsync that is ideal for handling this task. Rsync works over an ssh connection between the two systems, and since this is running via a script, the login for this connection needs to run without asking for a password, so the use of ssh keys is required. There are a number of good tutorials on setting this up on the web, so I won't document that process here.

The script I need also needs to address a few other issues, including the system sleeping, which presented a few additional wrinkles. As things stand now, the carputer will be a laptop, and will run via the power adapter most of the time. When the car shuts off, the power adapter will be off, and the laptop will be on battery power. The Energy Saver settings are set to sleep the laptop after 1 minute. Obviously, if I'm in the middle of syncing data, I don't want the system to sleep, so the script will override this.

Finally, the script needs to check if the system we're syncing data from is reachable, and abort if it isn't. So, that being said, here is the current script I'm using:


#!/bin/ksh

# this command will keep the system from going to sleep, spawns a new processes
`pmset noidle` &
# get pid of the pmset process so we can kill it later
pid=`ps | grep [p]mset | awk '{print $1}'`


# set the log file to be placed in user's home directory
theLog=~/sync.log

SERVER=10.0.0.5
USER=username
ping -c 1 $SERVER > /dev/null 2>&1
if [ $? -ne 0 ]
then
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "server unreachable" >> $theLog
exit 0
else
echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "server found" >> $theLog
rsync -avz $USER@$SERVER:Music/iTunes/ ~/Music/iTunes >> $theLog
fi

echo `date '+%m/%d/%Y %T - '` "Done" >> $theLog

# need to kill pmset we spawned earlier so system will sleep
kill -9 $pid

# Now tell system to go to sleep since we're done
pmset sleepnow

One additional thing I added some was simply logging of the script's output, I set up a variable called theLog with the file name. Any lines that get echoed to the log will include the date, except for the output of the rsync command.

The server and user variables would be for the machine you're syncing data from, setting up this master machine with a static IP address would obviously be a good idea. Since I'll only be performing this sync while the car is parked in the driveway, I know I'll be connected to my home wireless network, but it's possible that if the script ran while connected to another network that a machine with the specified IP might be found, but the rsync would then fail. Additional programming could be put in place to check for that scenario, but for me isn't necessary at this point.

One tricky bit that this script needs to handle is to prevent the Mac from going to sleep while we're doing our sync. Our Energy Saver settings are set to sleep after 1 minute on battery power, it is possible that our script could run longer than that depending on the amount of changed data that needs to sync. There are some 3rd party tools that can prevent system sleep, but nothing that was ideal for what I wanted here. After much Googling and experimenting, a relatively elegant solution presented itself.

The pmset command, used for interfacing with the Power Manager, in addition to being able to read and set various power settings (system sleep, hd spin down, display sleep, etc), also has a relatively unknown option to prevent the system from sleeping: pmset noidle. Now, the tricky part is that if you enter this command at the terminal prompt, the command runs, preventing the system from sleeping, and just sits there until you quit the process by typing Ctrl-C. Not useful for a script.

What I've done is to tell my script to fork this process by appending an ampersand at the end, so that it will run independently. in the background, letting the rest of this script continue on. In order to kill the process later, we need the process ID of this command, which is what that grep/awk line does. There is actually an easier way to get the PID of a spawned process, but this command creates a new shell and runs the command in that shell, and simply quitting that shell wouldn't quit the pmset that is running there, so it was necessary to get the actual PID of that command in order to terminate it.

So, the system sets the log location, uses the pmset to tell the system to never sleep, , and next, we set the IP address and username for the machine we're connecting to, and do a test ping to see if that IP is reachable. As my intention is to run this script while parked in my driveway, connected to my home wireless network, it wasn't necessary to perform any additional checks, but it is possible that if the system connects to a different wireless network, another system with that IP might be found, which would mean that the rsync will fail later, but for my use this wasn't worth the effort of coding around.

So, if we find out server is down that we want to be copying iTunes data from, then we log that fact, otherwise, we log that the server was found, and use rsync to connect to the home system, and copy files from the specified user's Music folder in their home directory, the ssh connection established will default us to that user's home directory, since we aren't specifying any path, the Music/iTunes/ folder from that location is what we're copying. We specify the destination as the current user's home directory/Music/iTunes folder. The -avz parameters will cause only changed data to be synced, new files will be copied, removed files will be deleted.

When the first rsync is done, everything will need to be copied, so obviously it's preferred to do this while running on AC power when this is first setup. After that, changes should be minimal, and will only take a few moments or minutes, depending on the amount of changed data.

After the rsync completed, we kill the pmset process we forked earlier, echo to the log that we're done and about to sleep, then finally use pmset again to tell the system to sleep now, and we're done!

Posted by Jim at 3:45 PM | TrackBack

August 11, 2009

Carputer Software

There are a number of front ends used for Mac based carputers, unfortunately most of them are either abandoned projects, lacking in features or polish, or otherwise not quite exactly what I wanted. My main objective was simply to use this as a big, fancy iPod, my old click-wheel iPod just isn't quite cutting it anymore in the car. Something that used cover flow would be ideal, easy to navigate, clean interface, in short, what I was looking for was basically already part of the Mac OS, Front Row.

My main issue with Front Row, though, was that my plan was to use a touchscreen interface for the carputer, and Front Row did not allow for such use, it used keyboard input only, or the Apple IR remote, which is basically a remote keyboard, mouse or similar inputs aren't used. What I wanted, ideally, would have been some way to remap the touchscreen input, so that I could touch the top or bottom of the display for up/down arrows, left/right sides for left/right, etc. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to come up with any software that would let me capture inputs this way, so I was back to square one.

A number of folks had recommended the Griffin PowerMate for controlling Front Row, but I wasn't terribly happy with that solution either. At this point, my plan is to use a Logitech Precision Gamepad to control the action, and the USB Overdrive software to remap the controls for what I need.

After some testing, I found that I really only need four keystrokes, up, down, return, and escape to do all I need done in Front Row. My plan for phase two of this project is to disassemble the gamepad, remove the d-pad portion of the controller (lots of soldering and hacking there) and fabricate a new housing for this that would be placed at the steering wheel for easy access, that is, unless some better idea comes along.

So, with the controlling part done, the next thing I needed done in software was a way to keep my tunes in sync with my home system. Time to start coding...

Posted by Jim at 12:48 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2009

Carputer almost ready

Back in April, I started work on a Carputer project for my new car, a 2006 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V. After some planning, purchasing of parts, testing of software, etc, I'm just about ready to begin a rough install this week as a proof of concept. Basically this will involve placing the key parts where they need to go, but the cables will be exposed and everything can be quickly removed. I've got a road trip coming up next week, so this is a perfect time for a good test.

The software was the trickiest part lately, I had to set up some custom scripts to do the iTunes library syncing with my home desktop, and coming up with a convenient way to control Front Row was also a challenge. I'll post a series of articles on the various pieces of the project.

Posted by Jim at 8:17 PM | TrackBack

July 10, 2009

Nintendo DS & AirPort Extreme

Got the kids a pair of Nintendo DS Lites, and after a few days, they got around to playing with the WiFi that's built into them. And of course, they didn't work with my wireless setup. Fortunately, the fix was relatively straightforward (eventually).

Both the original Nintendo DS and the newer DS Lite have built in WiFi. The problem I ran into though was that my AirPort Extreme was set to use WPA encryption, not the lesser (and more easily hacked) WEP encryption, which also required the rather ugly 13 character passphrase. I did test briefly using WEP here, but the thought of having to enter that 13 character phrase on every WiFi enabled device in the house (multiple laptops, multiple desktops w/WiFi, a pair of iPhones, the two DSs), plus having to do this for any guest systems just made this totally unattractive. So, in the end, I decided to set the wireless security to None.

However, all is not lost! I decided to use the old fallback, MAC Address Access Control. Basically, this involved me adding the MAC address for each device to the Access List on the AirPort Extreme, most every modern router will have a similar feature. With the AirPort, I was able to go to the Advanced settings and view the log of connections, so I just fired up an internet connection on all my devices (took a few minutes of going around the house and firing these up one at a time), then going back and copying the MAC addresses out of the log entries, and giving each a description for the device (important to remember the order used!), and in about 10 minutes I was done.

As a last step, I changed the Default setting to disallow access, so that only devices specifically listed will have wireless access. The down side is that any guest systems will need to be specifically added, or have the Default reset to allow access temporarily, either should work just fine.

Posted by Jim at 12:20 PM | TrackBack

July 6, 2009

Updates - Postfix, Dovecot, 10.5.7

Finally got around to upgrading from 10.5.6 to 10.5.7, good news, nothing broke Postfix this time!

Took the opportunity to also upgrade Postfix, now at 2.6.2 here. Nothing tricky about the upgrade, just follow the standard build instructions. Also upgraded Dovecot from 1.13 to 1.2, just released. Again, nothing terribly tricky, just read the docs.

Posted by Jim at 10:03 PM | TrackBack

April 21, 2009

Carputer

And now for something completely different.

I've got a new ride in my driveway, and despite it having an excellent stereo, the only iPod integration is an Aux jack at the front of the radio. Ugh. After researching various methods of integrating an iPod into the existing equipment, I found a rather nice unit from Harmon Kardon which is unfortunately discontinued. A nice external display mounted on the dash to display info on an iPod tucked away in a glove compartment. Since this wasn't an option, I explored further.

Apparently the big geeky thing these days is to install what's commonly called a Carputer, a computer that mounts somewhere in the car, generally tying into the car stereo, and using some form of touch panel display at the dash. These are generally DIY systems with various degrees of quality and style. But, having a number of spare parts lying around, this may be just the thing for me to tackle.

First steps will be to document the existing stereo setup, and see how best to route audio in. I've got a few ideas on where to mount the screen which should give a nice stealth look to the casual observer, and of course, this will all be run under OS X. Stay tuned...

Posted by Jim at 11:35 PM | TrackBack

March 11, 2009

More updates break Postfix

I'm assuming it was the 10.5.6 update, possibly a security update, I don't know. But Postfix broke again after the install finished. Same nonsense with many log entries about files not being owned by Postfix, as before, running a new 'make upgrade' fixed that up.

Had one last problem that was new, Postfix launched, but wasn't receiving mail. main.cf had an entry for inet_interfaces that had previously been set to 'all', but was no longer. Changing that back and relaunching Postfix cured the issue.

Posted by Jim at 12:03 AM | TrackBack

October 16, 2008

Apple Security Update 2008-07 breaks Postfix

At least, if you have compiled your own version it does... More info on this update here.

After running this update and restarting, not only did Postfix not launch correctly, but my logs quickly filled up with warnings about every single file on my drive not being owned by Postfix. Several reboots later I was finally at the point where I could try troubleshooting this, and the easiest fix was to just run a new 'make upgrade' on my current postfix install.

Also, be sure to remove /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.postfix.master.plist before rebooting, as this file won't work for a real mailserver, if you were using a .plist in this location to start postfix previously, you'll need to restore a backup of your original file or recreate it from scratch.

Posted by Jim at 8:47 PM | TrackBack

September 15, 2008

Mail server upgraded to 10.5.5

Made the upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5.5 on the mail/web server here, so far so good, no errors that I'm aware of. Made a fresh backup of the main drive just prior to the upgrade, just in case...

Posted by Jim at 8:03 PM | TrackBack

July 31, 2008

Mmmm... Faster Firewire...

A new version of the IEEE 1394 Standard has been approved, promising Firewire, also known as IEEE 1394 and i.Link, speeds as high as 3.2Gbit/sec, up from the current standard of 800Mbit/sec.

Likely uses for such blazing speeds will be with storage media, DV camcorders could benefit, but even these have been slow to adopt the older 800Mbit standard, though this may now drive some manufacturers to upgrade to faster offerings.

Posted by Jim at 2:00 PM | TrackBack

July 11, 2008

More server upgrades

A new version of Policyd is out, it runs as a Perl module and not as a daemon, I've begun looking at upgrading to this version. More modules will have to be installed first, though, to support this, including configuring amavisd-new, which I'm not currently running.

I think I've also found a workable install process for imagemagick, my past attempts at getting this going have all failed. The steps I've found include a number of additional modules which appear to be either required or strongly recommended, and these may not have been installed previously. My last attempt at doing this via MacPorts failed miserably, including having two separate version of Perl installed, which I think I've now managed to remove all traces of.


Posted by Jim at 5:35 PM | TrackBack

February 13, 2008

getnameinfo fixed with 10.5.2

I have been able to confirm that the getnameinfo issue with Mac OS X 10.5 has been fixed with the 10.5.2 update. I never did confirm if this was an issue with 10.5.2 Server or not, but the fix is in the server version also.

Posted by Jim at 8:11 PM | TrackBack

December 4, 2007

getnameinfo issue with Mac OS X 10.5

I found a rather obscure bug with Leopard while troubleshooting my postfix logs. It seems that mail that I had been getting from some of the mail lists I usually receive was being bounced by my server because it couldn't resolve the IP address based on the DNS supplied by the sending server. If you've read my prior Postfix postings, you know that I'm fairly strict about the servers I accept mail from, and misconfigured servers generally don't get any mail delivered here.

So, this came as somewhat of a surprise that formerly working servers were now being rejected after my upgrade to Leopard. Some troubleshoot assistance from the postfix mail list uncovered the issue, the getnameinfo function in the OS was not resolving DNS addresses that resolved to a CNAME record, or anything other than a PTR record. The unix nslookup and host commands though, worked fine, but postfix relies on the getnameinfo function.

The good news here is that this bug has been reported to Apple, and signs are good that this should be fixed in Mac OS X 10.5.2 when it is released. I'll report back on that after release. For now, my temporary workaround is to identify servers that aren't resolving, and whitelist them in my helo_access list.

Posted by Jim at 8:11 PM | TrackBack

November 22, 2007

newsyslog Revisited

Earlier this month, I wrote about a new utility that handles log rotation in Leopard, and gave a tip on fixing logging for the mail.log. It turns out that my fix wasn't quite right...

The original line in the configuration file was as follows:


/var/log/mail.log 640 5 100 * J

This results in the log file being rotated when it reached 100Kb in size. What I wanted was for the logs to roll weekly as they had with prior systems, and my assumption was that this would continue to happen as part of the periodic.weekly script. Bad assumption.

I don't usually have to scroll too far back in my logs when researching things, but tonight discovered that I had entries going back more than a week, and that the log file wasn't rotating as I thought it should have been. A quick check of the periodic.weekly script revealed that log rotation wasn't there anymore, so I revisited the newsyslog.conf file, and made the following change:

/var/log/mail.log			640  5	   *	$W0D0     J

The asterisk there is in the size column, meaning don't worry about the log size, the $W0D0 is under the when column, this means to rotate weekly, on day 0 (Sunday), at hour 0 (12am).

The man page for newsyslog.conf gives a wealth of info on configuring this utility, and is well worth a read.

Posted by Jim at 11:35 PM | TrackBack

November 4, 2007

New log rotation utility in Leopard

Most folks have no need to ever check their system logs. Some folks check their logs religiously. Mac OS X 10.5 has thrown a new tool into the mix, and it might bite you if you don't know about it.

There is a new command line command called newsyslog, it is called every minute by the file /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.newsyslog.plist, and it's config file lives in /etc/newsyslog.conf.

Tonight, I needed to check my mail server logs for some information, and had to search prior logs. At first, my searches made no sense, as I kept coming up with today's date in the data, but my mail logs normally contain a week's worth of data. Well, not anymore, thanks to newsyslog, now they only contain 100Kb worth of data before they roll over to a new log. Ack! A simple fix, commenting out the log cycling for the mail.log file. Hopefully this tip might help out anyone else out there that gets bitten by this.

Posted by Jim at 1:08 AM | TrackBack

November 3, 2007

Details on upgrades

To recap my recent upgrades here, I was transitioning my old web/mail server from a G4 box running OS 10.4 to a new Mac Mini running OS X 10.5. Funny that I wrote about using a Mini as a server back in 2005, and I'm only now finally getting around to putting one in here...

So, the basic process here was shutting down Postfix, then using Carbon Copy Cloner to clone my existing server to the Mac Mini (booted in Target Disk Mode), then rebooting the Mini into the Mac OS X 10.5 Installer. The Installer had absolutely no problems upgrading a PPC version of OS 10.5 to an Intel OS running 10.5, which was great. I really did not want to do a clean install, which would have been more of a hassle in converting mail files and other lower level items.

The next necessary step after installing 10.5 was to install Xcode 3.0, in order to compile all the apps I needed. Once that was done, I was finally able to start getting things up and running.

From prior dry runs, I had done a lot of testing of various packages to make sure that things would compile properly, and run without errors. There was a good bit of trial and error, and lots of googling. And thanks to someone else googling and finding an earlier entry of mine, a helpful tip out of the blue (Thanks to Paul S.) that helped massively. I had partitioned my drive so that I had a nice workspace partition to hold files between attempts at cloning and upgrading, and I had saved a few helpful notes there as well, which was very handy.

As I had mentioned a few days ago, the unix system accounts for postfix, mysql, www, and others, now for some reason all begin with an underscore character, so I had to edit a few config files where these accounts were specifically used to make sure that they reflected the current users. Also, 10.5 now runs Apache 2.2.x and not Apache 1.x, so I had to do some reading up on how this gets configured in order to migrate my config files, there were few surprises there, once I paid attention to the sample config files. Having saved copies of my working config files from earlier runs, it was a simple matter to copy these over before starting other work.

In retrospect, I should have worked on getting the mail server up and running before the web server, I didn't lose any mail, but I just hated it being offline as long as it was...

Starting with the web side, I installed MySQL 5.0.45 using a pre-build package, I used the one built for 10.4 Intel, and plan to upgrade that to a 10.5 specific build once one is available. After installing this, I simply copied my data folder over, ran the mysql_upgrade script, and all was well. Next, I compiled DBI-1.601 and DBD-mysql-4.005. For some reason I wasn't able to track down, DBD insisted on looking for mysql/lib files in /mysql/lib/mysql, even though my install never mentioned this path anywhere. Some googling finally revealed that the easiest fix was simply to fake it with some symlink trickery:

cd /usr/local/mysql/lib
sudo mkdir mysql
cd mysql
sudo ln -s ../*

DBI compiled fine, DBD threw up an error about incompatible pointers, which I was stuck at for a day or two before finding out that this was just a warning and could be ignored. Sure enough, it ran just fine, and I found that MovableType was now working fine. During the final install of everything, I discovered that I had to reset access privs for my web folder in order for MT to be able to write files, but after doing that, it worked fine again. I'm saving my upgrade to MovableType 4.x for another day.

Compiling Postfix was fairly straightforward, as before, I built Postfix according to the standard install docs to include MySQL and PCRE support, but this time included SASL in the mix. It is very important to read the SASL docs, there was a bit of needing to create symlinks and make sure that header files were in the right locations, but once I followed all the steps outlined, it compiled fine.

The Courier-IMAP pieces drove me nuts for several days. Courier-IMAP 4.2.1, the latest build, just couldn't be made to work here, I eventually tried building an older version, 4.1.3, and that worked just fine. Courier-Authlib 0.60.2 compiled but had problems running, the trick mailed in my Paul S. was to enter the following before doing the compile:

export MACOSX_DEPLOYMENT_TARGET=10.5

This handy command has been around for a few OS releases now, and forces some settings that apparently don't get set otherwise, a quick google search found many packages needing this to compile properly. Once set, AuthLib compiled properly and more importantly, ran properly.

Despite doing the 'migrate' steps, though, my old Courier settings never made it over, and so I had to edit the authmysqlrc and some other Courier files by hand using my older versions as templates, but this work was done in short order.

One site that helped a lot in checking over some of my steps was this one:

http://switch.richard5.net/isp-in-a-box-v2/building-the-mail-server-components/building-the-courier-imap-server/

The versions used there weren't current, but helped to validate what I was trying to do here, and setting the proper CFLAGS and compile arguments. His setup there was very similar to mine, virtual domains, MySQL authentication, etc, which was a great help.

With this done, I was now actually able to check mail the last necessary step, which made a good stopping point for the night with a fairly functioning server.

The next day, I tested a few more functions of the system, and found that one of the web packages I had installed was having problems with MySQL. This turned out to be a PHP issue connecting to MySQL, it was looking for the mysql.sock file in /var instead of /tmp. The easiest fix here was to create a /etc/php.ini file, consisting of the following:

; Default socket name for local MySQL connects.  If empty, uses the built-in MySQL defaults.
mysql.default_socket = /tmp/mysql.sock
; Default socket name for local MySQL connects.  If empty, uses the built-in MySQL defaults.
mysqli.default_socket = /tmp/mysql.sock

The second section for mysqli was required for version of MySQL 4.1 and later, once this was in place and Apache stopped and started, this problem was now history.

The last hurdle I had was getting policyd running, this is the greylisting package I use with Postfix. I had been struggling for some time to get newer builds of this running. I had somehow hacked the 1.7.x version into running previously, and was never able to duplicate my success with later builds. Thanks to some outstanding work by the developers, the final fixes to this are now available in the latest SVN builds, and I was able to get the 1.9.x experimental build to compile successfully, and more importantly, to run successfully as well.

In closing, what I'd like to say here is that when you're rolling your own code, patience is your best friend. Take things one step at a time, make sure you have a backup, and when you hit a wall, do searches and ask questions on mailing lists until you find the answers you need. If all else fails, post about your failures, and someone else might stumble across your post and supply the answers you need, it's amazing how things like that work out sometimes.

Posted by Jim at 9:27 PM | TrackBack

November 2, 2007

Server upgraded successfully

The server here has been successfully upgraded to Mac OS X 10.5. A few tips rolled in earlier this week that resolved the last of my compile issues (details to follow soon), so last night I cloned everything over to the new box and started the upgrade process.

One important tip, installing Xcode is kinda important. It's the little things you forget to do... :)

Posted by Jim at 11:34 AM | TrackBack

October 28, 2007

Upgrades... Hmmm.

A relatively sleepless weekend, and not in a good way. Here's an interesting tidbit, the common unix accounts such as postfix, mysql, www, and others, are now prefaced by an underscore character in OS X 10.5. Why, I have no idea, but when configuring scripts, make sure to change the usernames.

The switch to Apache2 for the most part went pretty well, it took a bit of trial and error to get my virtual domains working, but once I went back and poured over the sample configs, it all started to make sense. Just copying and pasting relevant bits from my old config files was not the way to go. :)

Minor issues compiling the DBD::mysql module, I had to use a slightly older version and it worked fine.

Courier-IMAP is what drove me absolutely nuts, I finally thought I had it all going, and then discovered that the auth module was throwing errors in the log, and I'm still trying to track that down. Also, despite attempting to migrate my older Courier settings, this apparently didn't happen, best thing may be to build it all up from scratch.

Posted by Jim at 10:51 PM | TrackBack

October 26, 2007

Leopard Day...

Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) is available in stores, and of course I've been playing with it for a bit. The new tabbed Terminal is great, having several terminal sessions all open in separate tabs instead of multiple windows is great, it really helps keep things organized.

Anyway, my first pass at upgrading my mail/web server from PPC 10.5 to Intel 10.5 went pretty well, everything actually seemed to launch and run correctly, web services worked, postfix was running, etc. Of course, I want to compile Intel binaries and not use the PPC codes, so I've been testing some installs. So far, most of them are going well, a few minor snags though, but I hope to have things working on the new hardware by the time the weekend is done.

Posted by Jim at 9:19 PM | TrackBack

October 18, 2007

Upgrade prep

I had forgotten what a pain in the ass a major upgrade can be... Made even worse by switching platforms, going from a PowerPC based Mac to an Intel based one.

I did a number of 'test compiles' on the Mac Mini just to make sure that things looked like they'd be working come Leopard day, and figured out that in order to clone my old server over to the new box, I'd have to format the drive with a GUID partition map, something not done by default when formatting from a G4 system... It's the little things that get ya.

So, quick checklist of things to do:

Format Mini's drive as GUID
Download latest MySQL 5, MovableType, Courier-IMAP, Courier AuthLib, Postfix, PCRE, PHP, Cyrus SASL, policyd
Shut down all services
Clone drive from G4 to Mac Mini
Boot 10.5 Installer
Upgrade system
Install MySQL, PHP (built for 10.4.x, will upgrade to 10.5 versions when available)
Build/Install PCRE, Cyrus SASL, Courier AuthLib, Courier IMAP, then Postfix (order probably important)
Build/Install policyd
Keep fingers crossed

Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything that's a dependency, if so, I'm sure I'll find out about it.

I'll probably try for a dry run this weekend, and see what happens.

Posted by Jim at 11:38 PM | TrackBack

September 18, 2007

Major Upgrades

I'm in the beginning stages of some major upgrades to the machine running the web/mail system here, every major piece of software on the back end is being upgraded, and the hardware is seeing some major changes as well Gone will be the old G4 system, in favor of a new Intel Mac, and a whole host of software upgrades for the new hardware to bring everything current with the latest releases (MySQL 5, MovableType 4, Courier-IMAP 4.1.3, Postfix 2.4.5, pcre 7.3, PHP 5.x, etc, etc). Oh, and of course, Mac OS X 10.5, when it ships, hopefully next month.

The plan at this point is to prep the new hardware, install all the software, then migrate the data from the old server, followed by much testing to make sure that everything is working as it should be. If all goes well, shortly after Mac OS X 10.5 ships, I'll be able to wipe the drive and install all the latest bits and be able to go live in early November. There should be no noticeable difference (unless I play with MovableType a bit!), but my UPS will have a lighter power load to deal with, at least. :)

Posted by Jim at 3:04 PM | TrackBack

March 28, 2007

OS X Firewall

Out of necessity, I've been playing around a bit with the built in firewall in OS X, ipfw. It definitely isn't as full featured as iptables, the firewall built into many linux distros, but it's very easy to configure. One feature not controlled by the Firewall GUI settings in System Preferences is the ability to block a specific IP or range, and my old Netopia router didn't provide this either. Thanks to some kiddie trying to hack my system, I found that I now needed this ability.

I came across a slightly dated article at MacDevCenter.com that gave some excellent background on using ipfw, including setting it up as a Startup Item so that you can customize whatever settings you want, and have them take effect at each startup.

One change that I made here was instead of setting up my config file in the /etc directory, I saved it into the Firewall folder in StartupItems, and referenced it there, it seemed a much more logical place to keep this.

Posted by Jim at 9:23 PM | TrackBack

January 9, 2007

iPhone prediction from 2004

As most of the tech and business world is aware, Apple has at long last announced the iPhone, currently set to ship around June. Rumors have been flying for years on this juicy bit of technology, so I thought I'd dig up my own thoughts from 2004, 2 years and one month ago, and oddly enough from close to the same time that this current product was conceived...

In looking back, I think I hit the mark pretty well, the full screen, touch sensitive display, built in WiFi and Bluetooth. I have to admit that the thought of something this size running a version of OS X never occured to me, but a more robust OS was certainly what I was after at the time, capable of handling QuickTime and iTunes content, web, and email access. It's amazing how technology has advanced in two years.

One key point that I hit on was games, something currently lacking on this product, the screen shots and demos do not include any hint at a games area, but as these are things available for current iPods, I'm sure that by the time the iPhone ships, a nice selection of games will be available for purchase, as well as a select few bundled with the phone, or possibly available as a free download. As FCC certification is pending, the bundled software may be fixed at this time, but should be easily expandable later.

Posted by Jim at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

September 30, 2006

Router Time...

I'm once again thinking of replacing my aging Asante router here, and am leaning heavily towards the Linksys WRTSL54GS, it has a lot of great features, and best of all can run an alternate (and customizable) firmware, which sounds like a lot of fun. I've been exploring several options over the last week or so, and right now this guy is leading the pack. More info in a week or three on this front.

What is really bugging me though is that I've also been searching for info on turning my web/mail server box (running Mac OS X 10.4.x) into a router, I can easily throw another ethernet card or two in there, and I can find these little embedded Linux devices everywhere that function as routers, and I know that OS X has to have everything I need in there, but docs are pretty sparce from what I can tell. Of course, I'm also looking for a fancy front end so I don't have to figure out all this IPFW stuff on my own, but is that too much to ask?


Posted by Jim at 1:09 AM | TrackBack

February 18, 2006

Upgrade to 10.4.5

The server here has been upgraded from 10.4 to 10.4.5. I was a little apprehensive about this update as I didn't have a chance to test prior to performing it, but everything went well, Postfix kept chugging, web services uninterrupted, other miscellaneous non-standard compiled code went well. Looks like Apple didn't stomp on anything that I'd upgraded. ;)

The big hangup was an issue with Carbon Copy Cloner, under 10.4, it wasn't able to clone my drive due to an authentication issue, normally I'd clone my drive and test out the upgrade first, so I just had to chance it. The main reason I needed to upgrade was 10.4 apparently had some issue that would keep log files from rotating properly, and possibly other scheduled tasks from running, so it was high time to get that issue fixed.

Posted by Jim at 3:03 PM | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Apple & Palm = ?

Hot rumor floating around (again), several big Palm investors seem to want this to happen, but nothing brewing in the Apple camp that has been leaked yet...

I've said for a while now that Palm could use some help, an Apple takeover would certainly help them out, and could give their products a bit more flash than they have currently.

Posted by Jim at 11:56 PM | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

Evolution TV Review

EvolutionTV is a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for the Mac. It allowed the user to view and record TV, as well as pause/rewind live TV.

The unit features a USB 2.0 interface for bringing the audio/video into the Mac, which can leave some older systems out in the cold. A USB 2.0 PCI card can add this functionality to most systems that meet the speed requirements of the software (PowerMac G4/1Ghz or better), which would let most supported Macs but the iMac join the fun.


The unit is very stylish, with the brushed aluminum case providing looks as well as dissipating what little heat is produced. The one drawback was the lack of a stand for positioning the unit vertically, a nice feature for a cramped desktop. The back of the unit includes the coax input for TV, but also includes composite and s-video inputs, as well as stereo audio, so video from older sources (VCR or camcorders) can be imported easily.

The software provides several encoding options for optimizing video quality, or minimizing file size, and the built in iMovie integration allows recorded video to be edited and burned to DVD from within iMovie. Integration with TitanTV or (tvtv for European users) allows convenient scheduling of recordings, and integration with iCal provides yet another option for keeping track of your viewing schedule. And don't worry if your Mac is asleep or powered off, the software can automatically wake or boot the Mac in plenty of time to catch the next recording.

The one problem I had with the software (but not something that was claimed to be possible), was that it did not provide a complete one-stop solution for viewing/recording/scheduling, so it's no TiVo replacement just yet, but as the name implies, the software is continuing to evolve, the most recent version having gained the ability to pause/rewind live TV. So it is certainly possible that a future version may include such increased functionality.

Miglia also provides great support. When the package was first opened, a slight rattle was heard from the power adapter, apparently from a small bit of metal that had sheared off during manufacture. Though still functional, the adapter was quickly replaced. Later in my testing I downloaded a new version of the EvolutionTV software when setting this up on another system, and was not able to properly view video, a support ticket went in and it was quickly revealed that this software update was problematic with NTSC video, and a revision was quickly posted.

All in all, the Evolution TV is a fine product, and one that should continue to improve over time. The evolutionTV is available from many online retailers or direct from Miglia's online store, and has a suggested retail price of $279.

Posted by Jim at 3:13 PM | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

Wasting time in search of a clock

There are days when I miss running Classic. Not many, but a few. And it isn't so much that I miss the old operating system, but some of the fun things that used to be available for it. In particular, a wonderful package from Berkeley Software called After Dark, and more specifically, the Clocks module from After Dark.

The clock was a nice, floating clock, that slowly moved around the screen, ticking (or morphing) away the seconds. Alas, After Dark became rather broken sometime around MacOS 8.6, and is now a distant memory for most OS X users. The days of a simple clock that told time, and told it well, as a screensaver, seem to be long gone. Sigh...

Posted by Jim at 11:39 PM | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

TV Time

I'm putting the finishing touches on a review of the Miglia Evolution TV, and will be comparing it to the Elgato EyeTV 200, comparing features and usability. I hope to have this online in the next week or so, after I've put these through their paces a bit more.

Stay tuned...

Posted by Jim at 4:29 PM | TrackBack

September 17, 2005

Postfix & Tiger upgrade

I've finally made the upgrade to Tiger on my mail server. That is, I've finally 'successfully' upgraded, it took a few attempts to get everything just right for what I wanted, and now that I'm done I thought I'd share a few details.

Probably the most important step is to make sure that you have a good backup before starting. For me, this step was critical, as it allowed me to back out at any time and get running again from the backup. I wasn't just upgrading from 10.3 to 10.4, but was also upgrading Postfix, MySQL, and PCRE all at the same time...

Tiger (10.4) includes version 2.1.5 of Postfix, for most folks this is probably more than sufficient. However, I wanted to upgrade to the Postfix 2.2.5 release, as it includes a few more bells & whistles that I wanted, I wanted to bring MySQL current, and also bring PCRE (Perl Compatible Regular Expressions) up to date. Basically, this meant upgrading my system to Tiger, upgrading/compiling each new piece, and finally getting it all up and running.

MySQL was a snap, thanks to a ready made Installer built for Tiger. I was upgrading from an earlier 4.1.x release, so there were no worries about my databases not working correctly, and it was a simple matter of copying over the data directory from the old path to the new and getting MySQL running.

PCRE compiled well, but prior to compiling I also upgraded to the latest version of Xcode to get all the latest libraries installed. Standard docs on how to install worked just fine.

The last and trickiest step was getting Postfix compiled properly. After trying a few times and having problems, I finally took a step back and found my error, a simple typo caused from a copy/paste error when trying to get both the MySQL and PCRE code compiled in. For reference, here's the correct MAKE instruction for that:

make -f Makefile.init makefiles \
    'CCARGS=-DHAS_MYSQL -I/usr/local/mysql/include -DHAS_PCRE -I/usr/local/include' \
    'AUXLIBS=-L/usr/local/mysql/lib -lmysqlclient -lz -lm -L/usr/local/lib -lpcre'

After that, it was just a matter of running Make, and then Make Upgrade.

The last and trickiest step was to get Postfix running at Startup again. The Tiger upgrade removed my Postfix StartupItem (included with the Postfix source code), so that just needed copied back to /Library/StartupItems, and I also removed the /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.postfix.master.plist file that Tiger includes for starting Postfix on demand, as I wanted this running all the time, and it also didn't seem to be launching my newly compiled version of Postfix properly. I also needed to edit the /etc/hostconfig file to change MAILSERVER=-NO- to -YES-, and after that Postfix launched perfectly.

In hindsight, I probably should have upgraded 10.4 to 10.4.2 before upgrading everything else, but no mail related updates seem to be part of the upgrade, so this shouldn't be a problem. But if you're planning on going to 10.4 and recompiling other software, get your OS fully current first, then start in on your other work, it'll save you the trouble later.

I used Mike Bombich's excellent Carbon Copy Cloner to clone my working system to a backup drive, upgrade that and was able to do all my testing on a backup drive prior to the actual upgrade, and at any time I could simply reboot from my primary drive and be up and running. Very useful when you can't have a production system down long but need to do some 'live' testing.

Posted by Jim at 10:55 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

Keyspan USB Print Server

About a week ago, my doorbell rings, and before I can get to the door I can hear a large truck driving off, and on the doorstep is a small box. It really irks me when delivery drivers just drop stuff on the porch, but when I found out it was a new goodie to review, I quickly forgot all about that and tore into the packaging.

Behold, the Keyspan PS-4A USB Print Server! Not to be confused with the older US-4A model, which looks identical, the new PS-4A model is bi-directional (printers that can report back ink/paper status can now do so), and includes full USB 2.0 connectivity.

So, just what is a USB print server, exactly? Basically, this will turn your USB based printer into a networkable TCP/IP based printer, sharable to every computer on your network. I know, some of you are probably thinking, hey, I've got a Mac, I can share my printer already. And of course, I was thinking the same thing, until I decided to take this little box for a spin.

The first thing I thought that would be handy is that you wouldn't need to leave a system running to keep your printer shared. The second thing I thought of was that you could print to your printer from an entirely different network over IP, either from a separate subnet in a corporate environment, or to your home system from elsewhere through your home router, something that Rendezvous, er, Bonjour, doesn't do. So, I set about to set things up and see how it all worked.

The box included a CD with software that installed easily on my Mac, and basically this will let you configure your Print Server, set it up with a static IP or use DHCP addressing, etc, etc, and will essentially make it appear to be a separate USB port on your Mac. A connected printer will immediately pop up in your Printer Setup Utility as an available printer with no configuration necessary, assuming you have the necessary drivers already installed for that model, very nice.

The PS-4A directly supports attaching 4 USB devices, but according to the documentation devices that happen to supply extra USB ports for pass-through (internal hubs) will let it chain up to 8 devices total off the one server. Personally, I don't see folks having that many USB printers all in the same spot, but still, nice to be expandable.

First thing I tested was a HP Deskjet 5550 at the office, plugged everything in per the directions, installed the software, and after launching their config utility, sure enough, the printer popped right up. One thing that I didn't care for was that the default setup must have the user 'connect' to their printer in this utility to make it available for use (basically make it unavailable to other users), they can then print, and finally free it up for others to use. Didn't seem very Mac-like, must be a Windows thing. Fortunately, they also include an auto-connect option, which just as it sounds, lets the Mac connect on the fly without checking out the printer first, and releases it once finished.

The big advantage of the new model printer server is that it is bi-directional, meaning that the printer can communicate back to the Mac, for things like paper and ink status. I was able to use HP's utility to get the status of my ink levels and other info, worked just like it was there on the USB bus.

I tested with a few other model printers at the office, several HP models, both Inkjet and a Laser, all worked as expected. So, I packed up my trusty HP 5550 and the PS-4A and brought them home, hooked it all up here, installed the software, and again things worked as expected. I then set up my router's firewall to port forward the particular port I had assigned the print server to the print server's IP address. I connected back to my work system, entered the IP address of where the print server was now located, and in a few moments had again established a connection to the server, but this time across the internet from my office to my home, through my router, and finally to the print server. As before, the HP 5550 popped right up, and another print job came through just fine.

This last test wasm for me, the most impressive. My particular router doesn't like my IP printer at home, or probably any standard IP printer. The router included an option on some models to hook a parallel printer up and print to it via IP, my model didn't include this port, but the router still hogged that port assignment just the same, making printing to a standard IP printer impossible through the router, so I could never print to my home printer from the office before. At last, I was able to send jobs through to a printer here, basically because the Keyspan server uses a non-standard port (reassignable by the user) for printing.

All in all, I was very pleased with this product. In addition to supporting printers, it also supports scanners, multi-function printers, storage devices, PDAs, digital cameras, etc., but no audio/video type devices. I hope to get my hands on one of the newer HP multifunction printers soon and give that a try with this server, HP sells ethernet adapters for several of their printers, but the price on those is much higher than the cost of this little box, and if it works just as well, why spend the money?

Keyspan is well known for their great products, and this looks like another winner for them.

Posted by Jim at 4:17 PM | TrackBack

June 6, 2005

Intel Inside

Well, it looks like the rumors were true, future Macs will infact feature Intel processors, starting in January 2006. Apparently a secret project deep within Apple has had every version of OX X running on Intel powered machines since the beginning.

I'm sure many folks will now think that a future version of OS X will run on an off the shelf PC, but I highly doubt that will ever happen. It also isn't clear on exactly which Intel processor will power future Macs, and if the x86 exploits that are so prevalent will be an issues for these Macs. Many details are still up in the air, but this is incredible news, and it's going to take time to sink in and get my brain wrapped around this whole issue.

Posted by Jim at 1:19 PM | TrackBack

June 4, 2005

Mac/Intel rumors continue

The press is still falling all over itself hyping a move for Apple to Intel chips. Monday kicks off Apple's WWDC conferense, with a Keynote on Monday by Steve Jobs. Full details will be available at that time, but I'm standing by my prior prediction that there will not be any announcement of Macs on Intel processors. Some other type of device, possibly, as I've said, Intel chips have been used in the past in Apple hardware. But if Intel is even mentioned at all, except as a denial, I'll be surprised.

Posted by Jim at 9:13 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2005

Intel chief (almost) recommends Macs

Intel's CEO Paul Otellini has stopped just short of recommending the Mac, but admits that security concerns on Intel hardware won't be fixed anytime soon.

Let the Apple/Intel rumor mongers chew on that one for a while...

Posted by Jim at 12:45 AM | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Apple/Intel rumors - Bah!

Well, the media is just going nuts thanks to a rumor started by 'analysts' at the Wall Street journal about Apple possibly using Intel chips in upcoming products, and everyone's just falling all over themselves buzzing about the possibility. Personally I think that anyone in the media that starts talking about such things should be fired for their incompetence, but here's my take on all of this.

First of all, nowhere in the original article was the word PROCESSOR mentioned. You know, that really big chip that runs the whole show? Last time I checked, Intel made more than just Pentiums, and Apple has used Intel chips in the past in its products. In fact, at this very moment I'm staring at an Apple multi-port Ethernet card removed from a G4 server, and it has Intel chips all over it.

Next, even if there was the thought of moving to Intel processors, as I mentioned Posted by Jim at 7:28 PM | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

Postfix Enabler for Mac OS X 10.4

Postfix Enabler for Tiger is now available, finding this out has saved me some time trying to test the prior release and figure out if it worked. This will activate the built in version of Postfix and within moments give you a fully functioning mail server.

Posted by Jim at 10:27 PM | TrackBack

May 1, 2005

Tiger mail server

Now that Mac OS X 10.4 is shipping, I know that some folks running mail servers will be interested in upgrading their systems. I've heard that 10.4 includes Postfix 2.1.5, the last official release in the 2.1.x series. Even though Postfix 2.2.x is available, light duty servers can still manage just fine with 2.1.5, but I'm assuming that MySQL support and other goodies probably weren't compiled into the build.

I'm going to get my server here upgraded in the next few days to Tiger, which for me will involve recompiling Postfix (I'll probably upgrade to 2.2.3), but I'll also see about doing some testing of the base 10.4 config and report my findings here.

Posted by Jim at 1:39 PM | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

Safari, better than ever

Safari continues to stay cutting edge, thanks to David Hyatt's work to make Safari the first browser to pass the Web Standard's Project's Acid2 Test. And while not part of the current release in Mac OS X 10.3.9 or the about to be available for the world Mac Os X 10.4, these changes are sure to be a part of a future release in short order.

Being fully standards compliant is extremely important in this age, there are so many browsers, so many web sites, that without standards, it would all be a royal mess. Internet Explorer is no longer the de facto standard, and has for years failed to be standards compliant as the internet evolved. Microsoft is now paying the price for that, as are web designers that catered to IE's flaws. Cute graphics on web sites claiming that the site looks best when viewed with IE or that require IE for certain features are no longer a badge of honor, but a warning label that the web designer failed to code properly, used obsolete tools, or just plain didn't care enough about their target audience to create a site that was browser independent, something that can no longer be done in this modern age.

Posted by Jim at 2:06 PM | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

Apple Mythology and Desktop Security

Yahoo had a great article on Apple Mythology and Desktop Security, delving into some of the security problems that exist on x86 hardware, and how such vulnerabilities for the most part do not exist on other hardware platforms. An interesting read.

Posted by Jim at 12:50 PM | TrackBack

April 8, 2005

Mac based PBX

Lately I've been reading up on a facinating piece of software called Asterisk™ , an Open Source PBX (Private Branch Exchange), basically a system for running multiple phones/lines just like most decent sized companies have. And the thing that caught my attention is that it can run on the Mac without too much fuss.

Of course, to get the most use out of it you'd need an IP enabled phone, or a softphone application for your desktop, but regular phones and phone lines can be made to work too with some extra hardware to interface them. I'm seriously thinking about setting up such a system here at home. I'll post more about this when I've had a chance to play with it a bit more...

Posted by Jim at 11:41 PM | TrackBack

March 4, 2005

Shuffle Raid wrapup

This looks to be my final wrapup on the iPod Shuffle RAID article I wrote a few weeks back that drew so much attention. Included are some final notes on installing OS X to a Shuffle, USB hub observations, and some USB 2.0 PCI card notes.

First, some comments on USB hubs. I received several questions from readers on why certain USB hubs were rejected, As several reviews of the iPod Shuffle have noted, the total width of the Shuffle is a tad larger than the average USB cable connector, consequently it has a tendency to block adjacent ports which are mounted side by side horizontally. Ports mounted vertically present less of an issue as the height of the Shuffle isn't significantly greater than a standard USB connector plug.

So, the main choice in hub selection was one where the ports were separated far enough to allow multiple Shuffles to be plugged in without interfering with each other, the cool look of what I ended up with was pure coincidence.

Next on the USB front, USB 2.0 PCI cards. I investigated several cards from a range of vendors, from the well known Mac vendors (Belkin, Keyspan, D-Link) and other no-name PC type companies, in all cases, what I found was that while I could find PCI cards with as many as 5 ports on a card, in each case these ports were all part of a single common bus. To put it another way, the cards featured a single USB 2.0 port connected to a USB 2.0 hub. So despite the fact that the cards featured multiple ports, each connected device would still be sharing a common bus.

In the case of a Shuffle RAID, I do not believe that any significant speed boost would be seen by using a card with multiple ports versus simply using a hub as I did originally. Some benefit 'might' be seen by putting some Shuffles on the Mac's internal USB bus, and others on a PCI USB card's bus, but I'm not convinced that even 4 Shuffles would saturate the bus sufficiently to slow data transfer by a noticeable amount.

Finally, installing OS X to a Shuffle. The Installer prevents this, it's apparently smart enough to know that the Shuffle can't be a boot device, so this choice isn't even offered. Reformatting the Shuffle (done automatically when it becomes part of a RAID set) doesn't help, and though there are some tricks that will apparently force the Installer to install onto 'other' drives, I don't believe that this would have made any difference.

Several folks suggested using Carbon Copy Cloner, an excellent utility for duplicating drives (among other things), to mirror a working boot drive to the Shuffle. This method would have involved creating a drive that was sufficiently slimmed down to fit onto a 4 Shuffle array.

Unfortunately, getting my original group of 4 Shuffles back together in one spot proved exceedingly difficult, so instead I used a utility called BootCD, a very clever bit of software that will strip out the essential bits of the OS in order to create a bootable CD containing OS X, the Finder, etc. So, I created an image weighing in at about 650Mb containing Mac OS X 10.3.5, and copied this back to a single Shuffle, reformatted as a Mac OS Extended partition.

Startup Disk now saw this drive as an available choice to boot from, but oddly prevented me from selecting it as my boot drive. The icon for the drive would highlight, but the system would beep at me each time I did this, selecting any other valid boot drive did not result in this same beep. Also, quitting from Startup Disk and rechecking settings revealed that this setting was not being preserved, and rebooting the Mac showed that this was in fact the case.

The final trick of holding down the Option key at Startup to select the boot drive resulted in the system hanging, apparently the OS just didn't know how to deal with a Shuffle that had an OS installed onto it. After a few minutes of waiting for the system to finish scanning for boot drives, I finally shut it down.

So ended the search for a bootable iPod Shuffle. However, several folks wrote about the possibility of using such a RAID as a way to secure data so that it could not be recovered without all Shuffles being present. Perhaps some secret documents could be stored on such a RAID, and several people given a Shuffle so that only this group could meet at some other location to recover the data (think James Bond or some form of corporate intrigue). This would obviously not need to be done with Shuffles, any similar Flash media would suffice.

One other reader pointed out that this may actually be the record for the world's smallest (physically) RAID array (cool!), but again since this could be done with any USB Flash device, it wouldn't take much for someone to throw one together about half again this size.

Finally, I'd like to thank all the thousands of folks around the world that visited my site, some to marvel at what I had done, others to simply marvel at the photos of 4 iPod Shuffles all in the same place at the same time. To all of them I'd simply like to say, stay creative, and keep Thinking Different.

Posted by Jim at 11:10 PM | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

Shuffle RAID Redux

You've asked for it, you've got it! In the next few weeks I'll be revisiting my iPod Shuffle RAID project, and I've got a few new things to try out. First I'll be adding a USB 2.0 card and quality USB 2.0 extension cables to the mix (Manufacturers, please feel free to contact me regarding donating produt to review), and eliminating the USB 2.0 hub. Second, I've got a few ideas in mind that might just get a bootable OS onto the array, so stay tuned for that. The big delay, of course, will be getting my hands back on those four iPod shuffles... ;)

And to answer the big question that's been floating around the net since I posted that article 'Why', it's as simple as 'Why not?'. For those that complained that this was not a cost effective solution, they've obviously missed the point or are humor impaired. This was just one of those cool projects to see how far you can stretch a given technology, and hopefully give others some ideas on what things are capable of. But it might just be a record for the highest capacity RAID drive of it's size...

Posted by Jim at 6:21 PM | TrackBack

February 8, 2005

Like... Wow. Totally.

Ok, so by now I think everyone on the planet has seen my iPod Shuffle RAID hack. My little site here was doing fine all weekend, all day Monday, happily serving up pages to all sorts of surfers in Asia & Europe, and a smaller number from the US. Not bad for an old G4 sitting under my desk at home running off a Cable Modem connection. Then along comes Slashdot and suddenly my site slows to a crawl under the flood of connections...

Naturally I instantly thought of several things that could help my site deal with the load, but my system was totally unreachable at the time for me to do anything about it. Once I arrived home from work, I set about Slashdot-proofing my site.

First of all, and I'm sure that some of you noticed this, the main images in my Shuffle entry weren't stored on my local system, but instead hosted via my .Mac account. They have wide bandwidth and redundant servers, quite able to handle the load of serving those few files, and keeping that traffic away from my server. But I was still serving up the HTML page itself, several smaller graphics, and the CSS styles sheet. Not a huge chunk of data, but every one of those was a separate request of my server, so again over to mac.com they went. What I was left with was my system here simply serving the HTML code itself, and all graphics and the relatively static CSS file coming from my .Mac account, with the single exception of the favicon.ico file, which I didn't feel like moving since it was so small and few browsers requested that file anyway.

Next up was some quick tuning of Apache, tweaking some of the default settings to adjust timeouts and the number of connections it would handle. I'm still trying to tweak this a bit, and I will regard this as something of a black art, if you're interested, use Google to do some research on this topic, you'll have a bit of reading ahead of you. ;)

Lastly, I noticed that a fair bit of the pounding my server was getting was from some script kiddies who were trying to do all sorts of Windoze exploits and searching for various files/directories, none of which exist on my system. All I could really do there was just shut down the web server for a few seconds when I saw my activity going nuts, and after a few hours things finally settled down.

Most ISPs add in some free web hosting for their users, if you run a small site off a home system, do yourself a favor and take advantage of their bandwidth, offload as many static files from your site to their system, and reduce the overhead of what your system has to serve.

Posted by Jim at 10:18 PM | TrackBack

February 3, 2005

iPod Shuffle RAID

So, what do you do when you and some friends are all getting iPod Shuffles? You make a RAID array out of them, of course! Follow along as we explore new depths of geekery...

Special thanks to Justin, Melissa, and Shanea for the use of their iPod Shuffles. ;)

So, here we have our iPod Shuffles, all the top of the line 1Gb models. I'm sure that normal folks would probably take these home, install iTunes 4.7.1 from the CD in the box, and happily start putting music on the little things, but I had other plans for them...



Of course, for my plans to work, I next had to take a quick trip over to Fry's to pick up a suitable USB 2.0 hub, and by suitable I mean one that would allow two or more Shuffles to be plugged in. Not an easy task, but I finally found a nice little one from PPA Inc. that would do the job (Model 1820, not listed on their web site). After getting them all plugged in, it looked like this:





Next we have the process of preparing them to be used as a RAID array. So we fire up Disk Utility, and put them into a RAID set, Striping them for a grand total of 3.9Gb of storage.



Once that process has completed, we how have the new RAID volume available on the desktop and can copy files over to it. As far as the Mac is concerned, it's just another drive on the system. Of course, iTunes no longer recognizes it, but it's no longer really portable in this configuration anyway...



Total time to copy a total of 1.86Gb was just under 11 minutes. Obviously if each Shuffle had been on their own independent USB 2.0 BUS, this speed would have been improved.

My original intent was to actually install OS X on the RAID and boot from that, but the OS X (Panther, 10.3.5) Installer wouldn't allow installation onto the RAID array, either as a Strip or Mirror set. After restoring the Shuffles to their original configuation, I tried the OS X Installer again and even the Shuffle itself would not allow OS X to be installed on it, possibly due to how the volume itself is made available to the OS.



3/3/05 - Note: Be sure to read the followup article, Shuffle Raid wrapup.

Posted by Jim at 5:29 PM | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Mac mini Server?

Well, unless you've been stuck in a cave this week, you've by now heard about the smallest Mac ever made, the Mac mini, introduced Tuesday at MacWorld. Starting at just $499, this little jewel (it's smaller than my kid's lunch box!) should prove to be an instant hit.

What occured to me today, though, is that this box would also make one heck of a server, too. Sure, if you've got mission critical tasks and need high performance, definitely go out and get a rack full of Xserve G5s, but if you need a cheap box for a web or email server, or whatever else you might need, this thing would be great. And from what I can tell, there shouldn't be any reason why you wouldn't be able to install OS X Server either. I wonder what one of my racks at work would look like filled with these little guys... ;)

Posted by Jim at 11:36 PM | TrackBack

Upgrades and more upgrades

Last week, I wrote of my attempts to get the latest MySQL and MovableType working together. Well, looks like I now have things going properly. When I upgraded MySQL this time, I left all the password information in the old format, and the upgrades went without a hitch.

Of course, I also went ahead and upgraded to Mac OS X 10.3.7, which meant (read here for more info) having to reinstall Postfix 2.1.x, so I took the opportunity to upgrade to 2.1.5 and added in MySQL support there too...

So, after several attempts at getting it all going, it looks like I'm finally all up to date on the various bits of my server now, finally! The Postfix part was easy (oh, also upgraded the PCRE software to 5.0), the main trick was making MovableType 3.14 happy with MySQL.

It looks like I can finally get virtual domains going, now that I can work with MySQL in Postfix. But I think I'll save installing Cyrus IMAP for another day...

Posted by Jim at 11:26 PM | TrackBack

December 9, 2004

iPhone? Doubtful...

Mac Rumors has a page 2 story today about an Apple branded cell phone made by Motorola, featuring iTunes/iPhoto like capabilities, a memory card slot, and a USB port. As Rich Little used to say, "Interesting if true". The story is courtesy of a brief posting at TreoMac.com by someone who claims to have been told about this phone by someone at Motorola.

This type of rumor has surfaced before, and it's become a favorite for folks to chat about, so I figured I'd throw my 2 cents in on the topic.

Steve Jobs has stated before that he believes the PDA market is dying, and that Apple doesn't plan to make another PDA. I've blogged previously about a possible alternative to an Apple PDA, but with the cell phone makers incorporating more PDA like capabilities into cell phones, it makes sense that the PDA market will split between cell phones, and future smaller laptops.

I'm not a fan of Motorola phones, mainly based on points of style, my preference is by far for Nokia's lineup, especially their Series 60 phones based on the Symbian OS, my only beef with them is that they're a bit overpriced, or rather, the phone companies aren't discounting them as much as I'd like. And since Apple tends to have products that are priced at the higher end of the spectrum, it would make sense that these would be the phones that Apple would compete with.

Since this rumor has flown around before, I'm sure a web search will show all sorts of cool looking art with what folks think such a phone might look like. Not being an artist, I'll have to paint my picture of such a phone with words.

A color screen is a given, at least 240x320 resolution with 64k colors, polyphonic sound, IR, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity, and QuickTime software for playing MP3 (with iTunes DRM) and MPEG4 files. It would incorporate Java for downloadable applications/games, and hopefully offer a SDK so that programmers could write apps/utilities in the phone's native language and make direct OS calls (like Nokia's Series 60 phones). And of course it would need sufficient memory for all these goodies. Nokia packs their Symbian OS and apps into a built-in 12Mb flash memory module, so let's assume 32Mb built in, and a Secure Digital memory slot for user expansion.

The phone would naturally be an extension of Apple's digital hub philosophy, syncing with iSync for contacts and calendar info, and also with iTunes/iPhoto for media content. So far, no big surprises, and with the exception of the iApp support, not too different from several high end phones on the market now.

Navigation of the phone's menus and functions might be via a small trackball, rather than the joystick/buttons most phones use, providing a very fluid movement in navigating, and several customizable buttons below the display for quick access to functions like the calendar, address book, or music playlist.

Camera phones are popular, but they add additional cost and many folks don't use them much once the novelty has worn off. I'd much rather see this as an add on option, the user snaps off the back cover, pops in the camera module, and snaps on a new cover with a built in lens.

One area that I see as a problem is internet access, AT&T for example loads up their new phones with all sorts of mMode items and menu functions, and override or replace functions that the phones included from the manufacturer. I can't see Apple going along with this, interfering with their look and feel, so such customization would likely be done by Apple and done in such a way that is flows smoothly with the rest of the design, but (unlike mMode phones) would allow the user to remove such functions if they weren't desired.

One cool feature I'd love to see would be an 802.11 option, with more wireless hotspots around, this would be very handy, perhaps even some .Mac like syncing could be accomplished through such a feature, as well as web browsing, email, etc. Ideally this would be another user installable option, possible through a Compact Flash type add-on. Apple could offer its own phone content through .Mac or a separate service (the iPhone Store?) for downloadable items direct to the phone, or through a Mac via Bluetooth.

The phone would of course be sleek and stylish, with the display dominating the face of the unit. A touch sensitive screen would eliminate the need for a keypad, allowing more room for the larger display, and would resemble a PDA in that regard without actually being a PDA.

But, the key question is could Apple capture a large enough part of the cell phone market to make such a device worthwhile? The iPod has been a runaway success, they just can't be made fast enough, and everyone wants one. Many folks never had an MP3 player just a short while ago, now they're everywhere.

With cell phones, there's a well established market, and making a dent would take a fair bit of work. There aren't that many players in the market, but there ARE a good number of different models, one single phone would not be an effective strategy. So, the big question that would need answered if Apple were to enter this market, is if they'd be committed to developing their own new cell phone platform, and offering a range of models to accomodate the average user that just wants to make calls on an inexpensive phone, to the most advanced user that demands more features, but all with a shared OS that would let developers build software that worked on all models.

Is there such a phone in Apple's future? Many folks think not, but with Apple, anything's possible.

Posted by Jim at 9:58 PM | TrackBack

December 2, 2004

New cell phone blues

My wife has finally decided it was time to upgrade her phone, so I went shopping online looking for options. Her only comment was that she wanted one that could play solitaire. Of course, my requirement was that it could sync via iSync to our Mac at home.

I wanted to stick with a Nokia phone, as I still love my Nokia 3650. But the only compatible phones I could find were both high end Nokias, the 3620, and the 6620, both Symbian Series 60 phones. None of the other Nokias were listed as being compatible with iSync, including all of Nokia's Series 40 phones. Quite a shame, considering that there's so many of these models now, with more on the way, and no amount of searching has revealed a hack for iSync to work with these models.

My search continues...

Posted by Jim at 11:26 PM | TrackBack

November 7, 2004

Great Mac/Postfix site

I came across the site for the ECM Mail Server System a while back, it combines Postfix, MySQL, Courier IMAP, and some other cool utilities into what looks like a pretty solid package, all running under OS X. They've recently revised their code to be up to date with 10.3.5, and the latest Courier IMAP software. Definitely worth a look if you're running Postfix as a mail server and want to add more bells and whistles. When I get around to doing my upgrade here, I'll be following their steps closely.

Posted by Jim at 10:06 PM | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

iBook built in Bluetooth

Tonight I came across a cool hack where a guy actually installed a USB Bluetooth module in an iBook. Yes, an external USB module inside the iBook. Not terribly involved, but will certainly void your warranty.

The author complains at the end that this will of course keep that USB port from being used for anything else. It occured to me from looking at the pics that there might actually be enough room to install a small unpowered USB hub in there too, giving him his port back. I've picked these up on sale at Fry's for under $5. You'd need to remove the shell, but I think it might work...

Posted by Jim at 8:20 PM | TrackBack

October 6, 2004

Correction on ipop3d

The other day I mentioned that ipop3d was the pop3 server built into OS X, well, I was mistaken. It turns out that this version of ipop3d was actually installed by Postfix Enabler, this particular version is from the UW-IMAP project, and was in fact not a built in part of OS X.

Sorry for any confusion.

Posted by Jim at 9:14 PM | TrackBack

Apple updates Postfix

Yesterday, I read about Apple's latest security update, and noticed that it updates Postfix. After doing some checking on the Postfix mailing list, it appears that this update includes a new version of the Postfix code, and not just a minor config change.

What this means is that anyone (like me) who has updated their version of Postfix from the original Apple code will have their version stomped by intalling this update...

All is not lost, though. In my entry Postfix 2.1 on OS X, I mentioned an article at AFP548 which covers the install steps to get Postfix 2.1.1 running on OS X (article currently 'offline' there but still accessible, there are issues with the SASL implementation mentioned that are keeping the document from being officially sanctioned), and a short bit of code is listed to archive the current Postfix code.

This code was meant to archive the original Apple code so you would have a backup, this same code could be used to backup your current Postfix install, so that you can run the Software Update, then restore your Postfix.

Of course, you also have the choice of ignoring this particular update, but it's likely that when/if Apple released a 10.3.6 update, that the Postfix code will be rolled into that as most updates are, so you may get it down the road without realizing it.

My choice here is I think to just recompile Postfix using the AFP article's steps, and install per that article's instructions. This will also be an opportunity to upgrade to Postfix 2.1.4 (I'm running 2.1.3), and include MySQL support, which I'm sure I didn't do before, to help support the virtual domains that I want to implement.

Posted by Jim at 12:19 AM | TrackBack

September 19, 2004

RadioShark

Ok, this is cool... New product from Griffin Technology called RadioSHARK, check out the review on O'Grady's PowerPage. It's like Tivo for Radio, very handy for talk radio junkies who don't want to miss their favorite shows and can't always listen when they want, and at only $70, seems like a nice bargain.

Posted by Jim at 8:52 PM | TrackBack

August 19, 2004

New version of MSU posted

I've posted a new version of MacSitelutionsUpdate, a little AppleScript for folks using the Sitesutions Dynamic DNS service.

I now have it talking to the CGI script that I wrote so it can keep track of the current version, plus some other enhancements.

Posted by Jim at 12:12 AM | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

AppleScript CGIs

The last two days I've been working off and on to get a new CGI working on the web server here, built using AppleScript. And as with most oddball projects I think up in the middle of the night, it wasn't going as planned.

Turns out the magic key to making it all work is a slick piece of software called acgi Dispatcher, by James Sentman.

What this application does is allow Apache to pass AppleEvents to your CGI, actually an ACGI, which then allows the script to actually do something other than just sitting there.

An AppleScript CGI, like the one described here basically lets you use AppleScript to write some routines that can process information, return a web page, or even interact apps on your web server (potentially dangerous if you don't know what you're doing).

In the case of this sample app, it was returning a web page based on some info passed to it, but though the information on the page indicated that it was 'fully supported' with Apache under OS X Server, that isn't entirely true, and certainly isn't true for standard OS X. Apparently OS X Server 10.3 and up no longer included a necessary component for making these scripts function, but the official Apple workaround (according to their Knowledgebase) for OS X Server 10.3, and apparently for OS X 10.1 and later, is to run the acgi Dispatcher application, which acts as an interface between Apache and AppleScript.

Dispatcher has a 30 day demo, and is $15 for home/educational use, and $35 for commercial use.

Posted by Jim at 1:24 AM | TrackBack

August 7, 2004

Server Side Includes w/OS X

After stumbling around with this problem for a few days, trying to get server side includes working, I came across this article that solved my problem. This person was having the issue under 10.2.6, and it apparently still applies under 10.3.4.

Specifically, what I did in the httpd.conf file was to scroll down to where the web directory was actually defined, and added in the 'Includes' option there. Of course this was also after uncommenting the two AddHandler lines mentioned in that article.

I now have something like this:


#
# This should be changed to whatever you set DocumentRoot to.
#

#
# This may also be "None", "All", or any combination of "Indexes",
# "Includes", "FollowSymLinks", "ExecCGI", or "MultiViews".
#
# Note that "MultiViews" must be named *explicitly* --- "Options All"
# doesn't give it to you.
#
Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews Includes



A test document with a .shtml extention worked as intended.

Posted by Jim at 1:55 AM | TrackBack

Mac users, a cut above

The Cult of Mac Blog reports on a finding from a LinuxInsider columnist that Mac users are smarter than Linux and Windows users, based on postings on the internet.

Windows users actually scored below the 5th grade level, which isn't surprising at all, since, well, they're Windows users...

Posted by Jim at 1:12 AM | TrackBack

August 5, 2004

.Mac addresses going fast...

The Cult of Mac Blog is reporting that since Apple began offering .Mac email aliases, the number of available accounts has been shrinking fast. Still more reason to get your own domain set up and run your own mail server. ;)

But as usual, I have a suggestion...

Part of the problem, if you choose to look at it that way, is that once an address has been used by someone, it is never recycled to another user. After all, you wouldn't want to set up a previously used account as your own and then have to deal with that person's spam now, would you? Speaking for myself, my .Mac account gets enough spam all on its own.

One thing that Apple could easily do would be to set up another domain level at .Mac for folks to use, for example, user@G5.mac.com, user@Supercomputer.Mac.com, etc. Also possible might be for some of the domain names that Apple has aquired over the years that redirect to apple.com to also be used as email addresses, such as musicfan@itunes.com, moviebuff@quicktime.com, originalPDA@newton.com, etc, etc.

Opening up cool new domains for exploitation, er, use, by .Mac subscribers can only serve to add to the value of the service, and would most certainly increase the pool of available account names nicely.

Posted by Jim at 11:46 PM | TrackBack

July 1, 2004

Video adapter working

I brought home one of the gViews I had at work, along with two other ATI video cards, an AGP Rage 128 Pro, and a PCI Rage 128 card. I was surprised when I opened my G4 and discovered I had a Rage 128 Pro in there already, I could have sworn it was an nVidia card...

The two 128 Pro cards were slightly different, one had a fan, the other didn't, and were otherwise identical except for a color difference between the DVI connectors (w/fan, black, w/o fan, white). Turns out that both cards worked with the gView adapter.

I never did try out the older PCI Rage 128 card, but I suspect it also would work fine. I was really starting to believe there was some OS X issue going on that was eluding me, but obviously that's not the case.

But some questions remain, such as why the adapter didn't work on the G4's I had at the office with nVidia cards, and why my home brew adapter wasn't working.

On that last point, I think it comes down to not having the right parts, I believe the diodes I was trying to use were too large, looking at their specs I believe the voltage drop across them was sufficient so that the signal that was being measured wasn't being passed, and therefore read as an open circuit. I'll attempt to find some smaller ones next time I get to the parts store and will try to revisit that.

More details as I get them. ;)

Posted by Jim at 9:02 PM | TrackBack

More VGA adapter woes

Well, the mystery deepens. Using a known good diode on my home brew VGA adapter didn't help the matter at all. However, I managed to identify the spare VGA adapters I had at the office when I found an unopened one, and it was the Griffin gView (discontinued). But, that adapter didn't work either!

In every case, OS X reported no display attached, and gave resolution choices of 1024x768 and 832x624 only. I tried multiple gView adapters, various settings, two different G4's. No luck at all, unless I'd actually connect a display to the adapter and reboot, then it would work. Obviously OS X is detecting displays differently from how OS 9 did, I've emailed Griffin support in the hope of getting some answers to this one. Stay tuned...

Posted by Jim at 6:17 PM | TrackBack

June 30, 2004

Tiger Widget clarification

Well, a lot of you are probably aware of the controversy of the Widgets that were introduces for Mac OS X 10.4, also known as Tiger, and their similarity to the Widgets made popular by Konfabulator. I'm not going to go into those issues here, but some clarification on exactly how Apple has implemented them has been written by Dave Hyatt, one of the Safari programmers.

Interestingly, they're a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, basically mini web pages. Very cool, should open up development of new Tiger Widgets to more folks than a JavaScript only solution.

Posted by Jim at 9:10 PM | TrackBack

Bad diode...

Well, I figured out the problem with the homebrew video adapter I was trying to get working. I tested the diode I was using at work today and it was defective. Maybe I damaged it in trying different combinations of settings, or it was DOA to begin with, don't know.

I'll give it another go tomorrow with a new part and see what happens.

Posted by Jim at 8:32 PM | TrackBack

June 29, 2004

Monitor-less troubles

I've been struggling the last two weeks trying to troubleshoot a problem with my server here, seems that if I'd connect to it too quickly after booting via Timbuktu, or at other odd times, it would just stop responding, though web and mail services kept running. Since I couldn't control it, I had no choice but to do a hard reset...

Well, I've finally tracked down the issue as being Timbuktu not liking my Mac booting headless (no display), so now I'm in search of a cheap fix.

Apparently this issue with Timbuktu is fairly well known, and it's been a problem for some time. The quick fix is to make sure you always boot with a monitor attached, but that isn't an option for me.

Supposedly a video adapter that can fool the Mac into thinking there is a display attached can also get around the issue. I had an older adapter that would set the Mac to 1024x768 resolution, but that's a bit tiny by today's standards. I've been trying to come up with a hack to fool it into thinking I've got a multisync monitor attached, but so far the exact trick has eluded me...

I've scoured a number of sites and pulled up every scrap of information on Mac video I could find. For quick testing, I was just hot jumpering the VGA port itself, but I think I wasn't making proper contact, so tomorrow I go shopping and build a proper adapter and we'll see what happens.

Posted by Jim at 7:55 PM | TrackBack

June 27, 2004

Redmond, we have a problem...

I came across some very funny photos of the banners being put up for Apple's Worldwide Developers Converence (WWDC) poking fun at Microsoft, check them out at MacMinute.com. It's always fun to see Apple poke fun at other parts of the industry.

Posted by Jim at 11:31 PM | TrackBack

June 8, 2004

Apple Store in Dell's back yard...

So, I was at the mall today, and what do I see but a new Apple Store coming to my area. The new Barton Creek location in Austin will have its grand opening this Saturday. Crews were hard at work behind brown paper covered windows getting things ready. If you're in the area, stop by and join the crowds, it's sure to be a lot of fun.

Posted by Jim at 10:52 PM | TrackBack

June 3, 2004

Welcome to the iStore

Or maybe the PowerStore. Check this story over at Metropolis Magazine on the architecture of the San Francisco Apple Store. Some interesting details there that share similaritites with several different Macs.

I haven't been to this store yet (hopefully later this fall), I'm wondering if the Chicago Michigan Avenue store or any others share similar features? When the store closes for the night, do the overhead lights pulse softly till morning? Hmmm...

Posted by Jim at 10:17 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2004

What's a pop-up?

I guess I've just been using Safari for too long, I've almost forgotten how annoying pop-up ads could be on the web... And PC users have an even more annoying form of these with the so called 'spyware' software that monitors where you surf and then pops up ads based on your surfing destinations.

Seems that L.L. Bean has had enough and is taking some retailers to court over these practices. I'm so glad I don't use PC's...

Posted by Jim at 11:01 PM | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

But in 2 hours you'll want more music

I came across an article this morning at MacCentral about Chinese PC maker Founder gearing up to install iTunes for Windows on all of its PCs next month. Sounds like a major win for Apple, there.

However, in other news, MacRumors has a report of users in China not being able to reach apple.com, and apparently this has gone on for some weeks, and is also apparently not an unusual situation for major domains to be blocked.

Hmmm...

Posted by Jim at 12:29 PM | TrackBack

Thoughts on the next 'PDA'

PDAs have always been a niche market, being a Mac user with a PDA may possibly be the ultimate niche market. PDAs are very handy tools, there's no denying that. Ever since the Newton introduced the world to the concept of a PDA, many folks have enjoyed having a handy device for storing appointments, contact information, various diversions (games, etc), and even checking email or browsing the web. But, also since the beginning, there have been problems inherent in using such a scaled down device and integrating it into the user's workflow.

The latest generation of PDAs have more power and capabilities than ever before, Tablet PCs are even more powerful and capable, but also much more expensive, and again share the same fundamental flaws; limited functionality, hardware and OS restrictions, and of course, marketshare.

When I last reviewed what I wanted of a PDA, before settling for a PocketPC, I had a number of things that I desired; color screen, wireless capability, reasonably fast performance, integration with my desktop, and a decent selection of software. At the time, I felt that a PocketPC was a better choice than a Palm for my needs, but what I really wanted was something more, something more tightly integrated with my Mac.

I even looked at the Sharp Zaurus, a nice PDA that runs Linux, and though that would compliment the Mac pretty well, but there is almost no sync capability at this time for Mac users.

In the end, what I decided that I really needed was a very small Mac. The 12" iBook and PowerBooks were still too large, not something I could easily carry around in my hand, and certainly not clip to my belt. And I know that Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, has on a number of occasions said that Apple would not be doing another PDA, would never revive the Newton or anything along those lines, but the phrasing of what he said seemed to partially leave the door open for something else. And I know what I'd like that something else to be.

PDAs are basically peripherals, they are not meant to be a primary system for a computer user, just an extension. A PowerBook is meant to be a primary system, though many Mac users also use these as seconds machines. For that matter, some Windows users also use a PowerBook as a second machine, the PowerBook G4 became very popular with Windows users because of its capabilities, and worked very well for them as an extension of their normal workflow. So this got me thinking...

What Apple has never done to this point is designed a Mac that would truly be a secondary system. You don't run Photoshop on your Palm Zire, you don't edit DV video on your iPaq, a PDA doesn't need to be that capable. If you toss those things out the window, you can build a system much smaller and cheaper than a full featured system.

What I'm envisioning is a 6" PowerBook, similar in shape to the existing 12" PowerBook, just smaller and thinner. You won't need the CD drive, simply include FireWire and use it in Target Disk Mode to install software. You don't need a full size keyboard, it wouldn't be necessary to shrink the keys much to make them fit a 6" model. A touchpad could still fit, but the addition of a touchscreen like other PDAs would be a nice touch.

A smaller screen means smaller resolution, but you should still be able to run 640x480 (newer PDAs do on a smaller screen), even 800x600 should be possible, the current low end resolution for OS X. You wouldn't need a G4 processor, a G3 would really work quite well, and the graphics wouldn't have to be high end either, a lower power graphics chipset would suffice nicely. You wouldn't even need the 60Gb or larger drive you find in most portables, 10Gb or less would probably work nicely.

Almost every feature can be scaled back when you're not designing a unit to be a primary system, reducing heat, power, space, and cost. Obviously you'd still want to have built in Ethernet, USB, Firewire (1 port each), forget using a modem, but let AirPort be an option, if only 802.11b and not 802.11g, and definitely include Bluetooth. The only area that I can see now scaling back on would be the battery, PDAs get pretty good battery life, so stretching battery power to the max is a must, but with the lower power components used, I don't see a huge problem here.

Now, some of you are probably thinking that such a Mac would still cost a cunk of change, and I definitely agree. A low end iBook currently sells for $1099, I'd tend to say we could easily shave a few hundred off that price. And now you're saying that you can pick up a cheap Palm for 100 clams, and you're totally correct. But, being a Mac, this puppy wouldn't be shooting for the low end market, it'll take its place with the big boys in the PDA marketplace, the full featured units that have built in wireless and speed and all the other cool features that can go for $650 and up.

I remember how the PC magazines raved about the PoweBook G4 when it came out, and Windows users began snapping them up for their road machines. If such a small PowerBook could ship, and folks could dump their PDAs for something that would let them run full versions of MSOffice, incorporate a full featured browser and email client, and let you run a large percentage of all the Mac software out there, and if it were priced comparably to the high end PDAs on the market now, this machine would be as big a hit as the iPod Mini, they would absolutely not be able to keep them on the shelves.

And I'd probably be one of the first folks in line to buy one.

Posted by Jim at 11:25 AM | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Spell Catcher X 10.1.2

For quite some time, most major word processing application shave included their own spell checking facility, it's just one of those huge convenience features that most folks have come to expect. If you're a long time computer user, I'm sure that you, like me, remember the old days before some modern conveniences as spell checking, page formatting, fonts, or even lower case characters. But I digress...

It didn't take too long after folks got comfortable with spell checking to discover that this convenience was needed in other applications too, email (bulletin boards in the early days), databases, virtually any application that might require text input could probably benefit from a spell checker. Thus was born on the Macintosh an application named Thunder, a power spell checker that would work with most any application on your system. In fact, I'm typing this entry via Safari, my web browser of choice. Who would have though that a web browser needed a spell checker? These folks have been ahead of the game for years...

The latest version of this application is called Spell Catcher X, the latest version is 10.1.2. Rewritten from the ground up in version 10.0 for Mac OS X, a steady stream of updates has continued to add features and improve the user experience, culminating in this latest release.

In addition to spell checking, it also includes an extensive dictionary and thesaurus. Included dictionaries even include medical, legal, scientific and technical terms, as well as dictionaries for German, French, Italian, British English, Canadian French, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss German.

Spell Catcher is able to catch a variety of errors both spelling and punctuation as you're typing, or by checking a selection of text. Additional words can be added to your own custom dictionary, and you can even build short cuts, abbreviations that can expand out to several lines for commonly used phrases, email signatures, or whatever else you can think to use them for.

New in version 10.1.2 is speech recognition, adding the ability to make corrections, change languages, ignore or learn words, create shorthands and more all without typing a thing. Also new is the Instantaneous Correction feature available under MacOS 10.3 or later. This allows virtually instant corrections to text without the use of backspacing over an entry and 'retyping' it that was used previously for corrections. The backspacing thing was actually kind of cool (especially when you were using a shortcut that expanded out to several lines of text), but seeing things instantly transform is even cooler.

For years, I've relied on Spell Catcher in almost all of my writing. No matter how good a writer you are, it's nice to have Spell Catcher looking over your shoulder to catch typos and other errors, and have it ready and waiting to look up the spelling of seldom used words, or offer alternatives through its thesaurus for those over used words.

A free trial of the software is available through Rainmaker's web site, you can also purchase the software online for only $39.95, volume licensing is also available.

Posted by Jim at 5:32 PM | TrackBack

May 12, 2004

Go peddle crazy somewhere else...

Apparently, the brain trust over at Intego has discovered a new 'Trojan' for the Mac, an AppleScript application with an icon somewhat similar to Microsoft Office that some fool apparently downloaded via the Gnutella network, a system commonly used for sharing files, including copyrighted music and applications.

The script, when run, supposedly will delete all files in the user's home directory. This is the second totally bogus warning issued by these folks in just over a month, demonstrating to me a total lack of integrity by their fear-mongering tactics.

Last month's fiasco was another 'trojan' that was an application disguised as an MP3 file, and would even play in iTunes like an MP3 when clicked, even though the file was clearly an application.

It really doesn't take all that much work to build files such as these, they can barely even be called trojans, but since they are one thing disguised as something else, they get in just under the wire for the definition to stick. Anyone even moderately experienced with AppleScript can whip something like this out in an afternoon. Script kiddies have been doing the same thing for years in the Windows world writing batch files that when run will do all sorts of nasty business to the system, absolutely nothing new going on here at all.

Like probably the great majority of Mac users, I was totally unaware of Intego and their offerings until their first warning last month, at which point I decided that there was no way I'd ever purchase anything from them. This latest warning only cements that opinion further, such Chicken Little tactics won't work here.

Posted by Jim at 10:30 PM | TrackBack

Spiel Chucking

A good spell checker can be worth its weight in gold. More, actually, since generally software doesn't weigh that much. Anyway, my long time favorite has been Spell Checker, possibly known to some of you old time Mac folks as Thunder or Thunder 7. I believe that I've ran almost every single version of this program over its extremely long history on the Mac.

Version 10.1.2 is about to be released, I promise to have a review of this excellent application in just a few days. There's even a version for Windows too, but I'm not holding that against them...

Posted by Jim at 12:28 AM | TrackBack

May 5, 2004

Something for someone else to build...

After doing some upgrades this week at work, I find that I now have a few spare Xserve drive sleds. After some web searching this afternoon, I wasn't able to find any external enclosures that I might be able to put them in.

I think it would be pretty sweet if someone could come up with an enclosure that would fit 2 or 4 of these drives that could sit next to my G4, maybe include the blue LED indicators like the Xserve and Xraid. I actually thought about building one, but it seems that finding a SCA to 40 pin ATA connector is about impossible, and without that, no way to connect to it. Too bad Apple doesn't release a nice enclosure like this...

Posted by Jim at 10:12 PM | TrackBack

May 4, 2004

Postfix and Spamassassin

I've written previously about using Postfix Enabler to set up the mail server I'm using for the site. The author, Bernard Teo, was nice enough to hook me up with a beta of version 1.1 that I've been running here for a bit over a week, and it is now available via the link above for anyone that wants to give it a shot. It now includes an optional setup for Spamassassin, as well as a handy Mail Stats generator to keep track of what your server is doing. Also included is a new field to set a RBL (Realtime block List) server, such as Spamhaus to help with spam checking.

I thought I had the Spamassassin part set up correctly, but after setting up a new account here for testing and then going out of my way to put that account where spammers would find it, I found that Spamassasin wasn't checking my mail at all. Read on for how I fixed this, and learned a bit about Postfix's main.cf configuration file.

The main think I discovered with Postfix and its config file (main.cf), was that if you give the same config line twice with two different sets of parameters, the second instance will replace the first. I suppose my work with CSS style sheets had me confused since one line could build on top of what came before, but this isn't the case with Postfix.

What was happening was that the Postfix Enabler was setting up the necessary commands for Spamassassin to filter the mail using the smtpd_recipient_restrictions control, but it turned out that I was using this for some additional filtering of my own, and Postfix Enabler was putting my custom config after its own settings, thereby overriding the settings for Spamassassin.

Once I finally realized what was going on, it was a simple matter to copy the relevant line from the config and put it into my custom settings and restart Postfix. A quick test mail then confirmed that Spamassassin was alive and well, filtering my mail.

For anyone curious, here are the custom commands that Postfix Enabler is setting, and my own custom settings below that. This sets some fairly strict filtering, so be warned.

###Start PostfixEnabler###
alias_maps=hash:/etc/postfix/aliases
alias_database=hash:/etc/postfix/aliases
inet_interfaces=all
mynetworks_style=subnet
message_size_limit=10240000
mydomain=wrightthisway.com
myhostname=wrightthisway.com
smtpd_recipient_restrictions=permit_mynetworks,check_recipient_access hash:/etc/postfix/filtered_domains

smtpd_client_restrictions=hash:/etc/postfix/access,reject_rbl_client sbl-xbl.spamhaus.org
default_rbl_reply=$rbl_code Service unavailable; $rbl_class [$rbl_what] blocked using $rbl_domain${rbl_reason?; $rbl_reason} - see http://$rbl_domain.
smtpd_helo_required=yes

unknown_local_recipient_reject_code=550
###End PostfixEnabler###

###Start Custom Config###
strict_rfc821_envelopes = yes
smtpd_helo_required = yes
smtpd_helo_restrictions =
permit_mynetworks,
check_helo_access hash:/etc/postfix/access, reject_unknown_hostname,
reject_invalid_hostname,
reject_non_fqdn_hostname

smtpd_recipient_restrictions =
permit_mynetworks,
reject_unknown_client,
reject_non_fqdn_sender,
reject_unknown_sender_domain,
reject_unknown_recipient_domain,
reject_unauth_destination,
check_recipient_access hash:/etc/postfix/access,
check_sender_access hash:/etc/postfix/access,
check_client_access hash:/etc/postfix/access,
check_recipient_access hash:/etc/postfix/filtered_domains

smtpd_data_restrictions =
reject_unauth_pipelining,
permit

unknown_address_reject_code = 550
unknown_client_reject_code = 550
unknown_hostname_reject_code = 550

Posted by Jim at 9:37 PM | TrackBack

PocketPC Notes conversion

Thomas Lunde wrote in to let me know that Open Office supports the conversion of notes from a PocketPC. The format of these files is .pwi, also known as PocketWord Ink format. Not quite worth my installing X11 just for that, but Open Office is pretty cool for folks that need the functionality of Microsoft Office but want an alternative to M$.

Also, PocketMac apparently includes a Word Reader that will open the .pwi files as well. I'm still looking for any other apps that will handle this, but for not emailing the contents seems to work for me.

Posted by Jim at 9:04 PM | TrackBack

April 30, 2004

iPod update problems

A report today from MacCentral regarding some problems with the iPod update recently released coinciding with iTunes 4.5.

I've personally run this on two second generation iPods and a 3rd generation iPod without problems, but I have heard of one 1st generation user that had a problem. His iPod was plugged in as the update was downloading and it ran immediately, and somewhere along the line locked up his iPod to the point that it rebooted wtih the flashing folder icon.

He was able to resolve it by rebooting his Mac and letting Disk Utility reformat his iPod as a Firewire drive, then ran an older iPod updater to restore the unit, then the new updater ran fine.

So far, I've not heard of any units permanently damaged by this, but it isn't clear why some units aren't updating as they should. As I see it, there probably isn't any reason why most folks shouldn't run the update now, but regardless Apple will probably have a fix for this soon.

Posted by Jim at 1:23 PM | TrackBack

April 23, 2004

Spam fighting, the Mac way

I've blogged previously setting up Postfix on my server, and wanted to share this link about Spamhaus, and how they're making use of Macs, including a G4 cube, to help ISPs around the world, as well as small time mail servers like mine, keep up the war against unwanted junk mail.

My mail logs show that I'm regularly hit from systems looking for an open mail relay for sending junk mail, Postfix by default blocks these. But I'm getting an increasing number of messages that are being rejected thanks to Spamhaus. So far, not one junk mail has made it to my inbox from a spammer.

Posted by Jim at 11:04 PM | TrackBack

April 22, 2004

Of Macs and PocketPCs...

Life isn't easy for a Mac user with a PocketPC. They just weren't made to work together, situation normal for Windows systems, I suppose. However, the situation isn't entirely hopeless.

There are two software packages on the market for the Mac designed to ease the connectivity issues with PocketPCs, namely The Missing Sync and PocketMac Pro. Read on for more information on how they stack up.

Both applications boast a similar feature set; iCal and Address book sychronization, integration with iPhoto and iTunes, the ability to share your Mac's internet connection with the PDA, etc. PocketMac goes a bit further and also offers sync with Entourage, NOW Contact, and Mail. And both allow for installing PocketPC applications onto the PDA. The PocketMac software currently includes an added bonus of a PocketPC Theme that when installed gives the PocketPC a look very similar to a Mac running OS X, which is a nice bonus.

So, how do they compare then? For basic synchronization with iCal and Address book, both apps did a good job, transferring data in about the same amount of time, both integrate with iSync for facilitating this. iPhoto and iTunes syncing involves adding a plugin to both apps to allow syncing, but again these functions seem very well thought out, and work well in both products.

For me, the big difference was noticed when trying to install applications onto the PocketPC. The PocketPC uses a file format called .CAB, similar to the Mac's .pkg file, it's a self contained format that includes everything needed for the app to run. If the app you want to install is available in a .CAB file, then you're usually in good shape on the Mac. Should you not see this format available where you download the software, check with the author to see if this file format is available, usually it is.

With the Missing Sync software, installing items was as simple as clicking the Install File button in the application, the file is automatically transferred to the PocketPC, and if additional installation is necessary, the PocketPC pops up a window walking you through the steps.

With the PocketMac software, a nice feature has been included that actually will look into a .exe file (the format most PocketPC software is distributed in) and will attempt to extract the .CAB files burried in the .exe. I say 'try to', because of about 6 different apps I tried this on, not one of these was able to be installed. To be fair, the application does caution that it may not work with all files, either I had incredibly bad luck, or this feature isn't quite ready for prime time just yet. Installing a straight .CAB file worked much better, but oddly these files took a very long time to transfer, much longer than it took for the Missing Sync software.

Now, let's take a look at the two companies. I initially contacted both companies about reviewing their software for my office, I received an almost immediate response from the folks at Mark/Space, makers of Missing Sync. In fact, I received the software even before my PocketPC arrived. I received absolutely no response from PocketMac, even after a second request was made for an evaluation copy. After some wheeling and dealing, I was able to procure a copy of PocketMac from a gentleman who was selling his PDA and including the PocketMac software, and it turned out the buyer wasn't a Mac guy, and he sent me the included CD at no cost. So, just to keep the record clear, both of these are official registered copies of the applications.

One thing that can really set apart one company over another is their support after the sale, assisting users in resolving their issues. The more complicated the software, the more important support should be in considering a purchase. Im the case of these two apps, I had minor problems that I needed assistance with once I had things up and running, so again both companies were contacted for assistance.

As before with Mark/Space, I received a quick answer to my issue, which turned out to be the need for a newer release of their software (I was having slow internet access when using the internet sharing feature), and that fixed me up nicely. With the PocketMac folks, my issue was in registering the software I'd gotten second hand in my name. Also as before, repeated contacts yielded absolutely no response. Almost a month later, I still have an open case with PocketMac that hasn't been updated by any of their support staff since the nice but unhelpful woman I spoke with on the phone entered the notes into their system.

So, all things considered, my own opinion is that the Missing Sync software wins this one hands down. It's a tightly integrated package, supported by what seem to be a great bunch of folks. With a retail price of $39.95 (Download version), it's money well spent.

Posted by Jim at 10:38 PM | TrackBack

April 19, 2004

Journey to the dark side

Ok, so after reading my last entry, you're probably wondering just what is so evil about the 3650 that I made the reference to the dark side, and the short answer is, nothing. ;) It's a great phone, and a great platform, I sync it to my work system all the time to keep my contacts and schedule up to date, and it works great. So, what's all this about the dark side then? I'm glad you asked.

If you've been following along, you'll remember that something I really wanted was AvantGo. And for some reason, the AvantGo software just wasn't cooperating with the 3650. So I was back to replacing my Palm III. I figured I had two choices, a newer Palm running the Palm OS, or a PocketPC running (gasp) Windows CE. It was an incredibly hard decision, but eventually, I went with the PocketPC.

Those of you that know me know just how much I loath Windows. It's Bloated, Inelegant, full of Techno-babble, Cumbersome to use, and just plain Hell to use. I'm sure there's a fitting acronym that sums this all up somewhere...

So, what made me pick a Windoze system? The short answer is, Palm just wasn't impressing me as much as they used to. I had researched a number of models, and one thing I was interested in was upgradability of the OS. What I found was that there did not seem to be an upgrade path to upgrade the OS on older, or even some current Palms to the latest OS. To me, this just did not make any sense. In analyzing what I wanted, the two things topping my list were a color screen, and wireless (802.11) capability. Palm had only one model available with 802.11 built in, and though it seemed that others could have this as a separate upgrade, I found the driver and OS requirements to be conflicting, and often dependent on future upgrades from with the manufacturer or Palm. This didn't instill me with a lot of confidence.

On the PocketPC side, I found a number of offerings that included 802.11, and those that didn't include it could add it easily. Eventually, after much reading of reviews and comparing models, I settled on the Dell Axim, in particular, the X5. What I wanted was the X3i, which included 802.11 built in, but I got a great deal on the X5 second hand, and it included a compact flash 802.11 card, so I was all set.

The unit apparently shipped with the AvantGo software bundled, so it was a breeze to set up and get going. And the wireless networking worked fine with minimal fiddling both at the office and at home (AirPort network in both locations), and even have my email mostly working. I say mostly, because I still haven't quite figured out the trick to getting VPN working quite right at the office, but that isn't a big deal at this point.

In short, I'm relatively happy with the unit. I didn't expect it to be perfect (I've already mentioned it runs Windoze), but it's doing the bulk of what I want. Tomorrow, I'll go into some more detail on the software I'm using to sync with the Mac, and some other software gotchas I discovered.

Posted by Jim at 3:20 PM | TrackBack

April 17, 2004

Replacing my Palm III with a Nokia 3650

Yes, it's true, I've gone over to the dark side. For as long as I can remember, I've been a gadget freak; I love having cool toys, especially ones I can use with my Mac. I had one of the original Apple Newtons, the first PDA, heck, Apple even originated that term. I later abandoned that (after many years of use) for a used Palm III, which lasted me up till about last year or so. I'm sure it still works, but it was no longer useful for me.

I wanted color, mainly. I needed something that would sync with my Mac and keep contacts and appointments, and most importantly, AvantGo. I'd gotten to be kind of a news junkie, and loved being able to sync up my Palm and take the news with me and read it over lunch. Apple's iSync was brand new at the time, and that's when discovered the Nokia 3650.

I'd heard about Bluetooth, and knew this was the way to go, no more having to sync up via wires, I wouldn't even need to take the phone out of my pocket. Sweet! I'd had my current phone for a few years, it was pretty beat up, and the battery connector was loose, so I convinced myself that it was time for a new phone. Nokia's 3650 was right at the top of my list, it had everything I wanted: a color screen and Bluetooth. OK, it was a short list. It also included a camera, which I figured I'd never use (I was wrong, but I do rarely ever use it), but I just wasn't finding a better phone, so that was my choice. I got a fantastic deal at the time through Amazon, $150 rebate from AT&T, $150 rebate from Amazon, meaning a free phone for me! Couldn't beat that deal.

The one thing that I didn't want, though, was AT&T's nasty data plan. I knew that it I was going to run AvantGo on the phone, I'd be pulling down some serious data, for the data plan I'd need, the cost would be well over what I pay at home for my high speed internet, so forget that. Some browsing around the net found some links to folks who had used their PC's internet connection shared to their phone, I figured that this would be perfect, if I could get it working on the Mac. So, when I finally received the phone, I set to work. And for a while, it was slow going.

Fortunately, several other folks were pursuing the same lines of research, and having some luck with other Bluetooth phones (mostly Sony-Ericsson models), and after posting messages on a number of discussion boards, sharing lots of low level code and shell scripts, and at long last my friend C.K. Sample of 3650 and a 12-inch finally whipped up a working script that managed to do the trick. If you're intersted, check out his early blog entries for more info on that. Sadly, the main thread we were using at the time on discussions.info.apple.com was at some point deleted when it hadn't been updated in some time, so most of that original research and conversation has been lost, but it certainly hasn't been forgotten. If you have a Bluetooth phone (especially a Nokia) and a Mac, be sure to check out his Share2Blue2th software.

Unfortunately, I never did get my AvantGo software working quite right on the 3650, and eventually gave up on that. I knew that at some point I'd need to get a real PDA again (the 3650 is great, and has a fair number of apps, utilities, and games available), but I'll save that story for another day. ;)

You may have a hard time finding the 3650 these days, after all, it's been on the market for about a year. The Nokia 3660 has replaced it, it has all the same featured, but with a better screen, and a more standard keypad layout. The Nokia 3620 is a close cousin, very similar to the 3660, but operating at a different frequency band, so the one you find will mainly depend on your wireless phone service.

Posted by Jim at 11:55 PM | TrackBack

April 15, 2004

I just SO hate Microsoft...

Here I am, minding my own business, and I decide to run Analog again tonight to see what sort of activity my web site has been getting. My site has been running about a week, and Analog usually came back with a report in about 30 seconds or so. So I wait, watching little status messages go by, wait some more, thinking 'hmmm, must have had a few visitors today', and wait some more...

To shorten the suspense (I could have gone on for a while there), what was a 30 second report last night has been going on for 12 HOURS tonight! And the source of all this? Apparently it's a combination of some IIS WebDAV exploits (whatever that is), the CodeRED worm (I remember hearing about that), and some other worm/virus/Microsoft product that's attacking anything with an IP address...

First of all, I know that M$ this week released like four MAJOR patches to its OS. I'm so glad that security is such a large focus for them, but sheesh, couldn't they have fixed some of these problems a few years ago when they shipped the OS to begin with? It's no wonder that Longhorn has apparently been pushed back another year...

So, I'm sitting here, perfectly immune from any harm as a result of all those worms and viruses floating around the net happily spreading from one M$ system to another (I actually consider Windoze itself to be a virus, but I digress...), and even though the little Mac next to my desk is happily chugging along replying back to all of those requests 'nope, none of that here', my logs are filling up at an alarming rate, and I'm now at 12+ hours elapsed waiting for my log analysis.

This is the price Mac (and Linux) users pay for living in a M$ dominated world. Our systems happily keep chugging along, waiting for ISPs to come back online after being choked to death with floods of traffic from wayward software, waiting patiently while server admins around the globe quickly (or not...) apply the latest patches to stop the worm-o-the-day from spreading, and putting up with log files that ballooning out of control faster than if someone dumped a few truckloads of Viagra off at the bunny farm.

Posted by Jim at 1:17 AM | TrackBack

April 10, 2004

Dark Horizons

I've been playing Dark Horizons - Lore since the first public call for beta testers went out several months ago. My main interest at the time was that, as a Mac users, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to help not only with the development of a new Mac game, but a game that was to be simultaneously available on both Mac and Windows platforms at release!

So often Mac users end up getting ports of cool games that had been available to Windows users for a year or more, by which point all of the excitement of those games has drifted away and focused on the next big release, and then developers conclude that there is no Mac market for games.

Let me tell you, the folks at Max Gaming have really done an outstanding job in creating a wonderful game, and in fostering a growing user community. The gameplay is fast paced, but also requires a certain amount of strategy. The upcoming war should prove quite interesting, with a persistent universe that will play out over time, with changing battlefields and objectives for the players. And to keep things interesting, the upcoming expansion packs will I'm sure add new and exciting twists to the game.

If you haven't played an online game, this one is really a treat. Kicking a computer player's butt on your own desktop is OK, but actually playing in real time with other players across the globe is totally amazing.

The game is value priced at only $24.95, I can't remember the last time I paid this little for a game I enjoyed so much.

Posted by Jim at 9:52 PM | TrackBack

Getting the site online

Well, all my domain changes have kicked in, and my site is now live on the web. Time to notify a few friends that it's out there now.

As promised, I'd like to post some information on how I got my site up and running, hopefully this might be of use to some of you out there if you're looking at doing something similar yourselves.

Probably the most important decision in setting up a site for yourself is deciding on a name for the site, in my case, the Domain Name folks would use to get here. I can't really help you pick out a name, but once you do, you'll first want to see if that name is even available. Most registrars that sell domain names will have a page that lets you look up your potential names to see if they're available. It's quite likely that your first or second choices are going to be taken (the Internet's a big place...), so it might be good to work up a short list. Also, remember that in addition to .com, many other domains are also available (.net, .org, .us, etc). I had originally wanted to go with a .us name (it was cheaper than .com), but finally found a .com name I could live with.

The particular registrar I'm using is GoDaddy, apparently one of the more popular registrars out there. There are a number of others out there offering different services at various prices, so you may want to do a web search on 'cheap domain names' or something similar to find your own.

Next, and extremely important, I needed to find a company that offered dynamic DNS. This is needed if your internet connection does not have a static IP address. You'll know if you have one, because usually your internet provider will charge you a lot of extra money for this... A dynamic DNS service will let you set up a particular domain name (either one you've purchased through a registrar, or one available through the dynamic DNS service) and link it to the changing IP address of your home system. The one key ingredient needed here is some utility for monitoring the IP address in use on your cable/DSL modem, and pass these changes up to the dynamic DNS provider.

Most dynamic DNS providers will list at their site a number of clients that will perform this task. The particular company I chose, Sitelutions, didn't offer a Mac specific client, but with a little bit of AppleScript and cobbling together a few shell scripts, I think I've come up with a working application to handle this. It needs a bit more tweaking for public use, but I should be able to finish this up in a week or so.

So, now you've got what you need to make your computer at home visible to the rest of the world. I should probably point out that if you're one of the folks that are still using a dial-up internet connection, you'll want to forget everything you've just read. If you're going to have a public site, you need your system to be always available, and available at a decent speed. Dial-up just won't cut it, broadband (cable modem, DSL) is the way to go.

Hopefully before you've even thought of putting your home system online, you've already installed a router with firewall protection to keep unwanted visitors (viruses, malicious users, Windows users, etc) from getting at your unprotected system. Mac OS X includes a very nice firewall built into the Sharing settings, but if you have multiple systems on the net, you'll need a router, and it darned well better have a firewall built in.

There are a number of very nice routers on the market, I prefer Asante's routers, mainly because they provide an easy way for Mac users to be able to upgrade firmware (the software that runs the hardware) via a web interface, unlike some other routers I looked at that required a Windoze app to be run. Do some research before making a selection, and find the right one that fits your needs.

Posted by Jim at 5:27 PM | TrackBack