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#664: Server Setup at Home, Hidden Exposé Features, Repair of the Week

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

Memorial Day weekend was spent with good friends, good food, and my friend Jon’s new Australian cattle dog Penny. She’s eight weeks old and kisses just like Waylon, her older brother from another litter. I wish I had a Flip Camera to record some high definition video of the puppy’s first trip home, but I settled for the built-in iSight on my MacBook Pro. The video came out just fine, and I took the opportunity to play around with iMovie ’09, which I found to be very similar to iMovie ’08 for the basic editing I do every now and again. While I didn’t go so far as to create transitions, add music, or share a final product on YouTube, it was very clear just how simple and elegant iMovie really is.

Memories are created just as often on long holiday weekends as they are any time else. One of the Mac’s selling points is its built-in software to display, share, and archive these digital assets. A few external hard drives sure beats a room full of photo-filled drawers! My Aunt Joyce recently bought a MacBook from Small Dog, and she and her children are using MobileMe, a digital camera, and a HD video camera to share with the family. It was inspiring to have them pick up the basics so quickly.

Enjoy this issue, and keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Server Setup at Home  
   
 

For about a year now I’ve been using a Mac mini at home as a consumer-level entertainment server. It’s a baseline model that I added a 320GB internal hard drive and an external 2TB RAID to. It’s a very basic setup, the Mac mini is connected to my television for video output, a receiver that goes to surround sound speakers for audio output, and it’s on my wireless network at home. Generally this little machine houses all of my music, videos and pictures, and I also use the storage space as a backup playground for the other machines I have at home.

When I’m in my home I use “Back to My Mac” (a feature of Apple’s MobileMe service) to control the Mac mini from any room in my apartment. This is a great way to quickly turn on tunes and have them play over the Klipsch speakers in my living room, or to tell my Mac mini to download a new movie or TV show that I’d like to watch later that evening. It’s also a great way for me to transfer files between my mini and my other computers. The one thing that’s been lacking is remote access. While “Back to my Mac” boasts the ability to connect to one’s home computer from afar, this isn’t always the case due to different router configurations. Not wanting to spend the money for a static IP address from my internet provider to properly set up a server at home, I had let the idea rest for a little bit. Luckily, while doing research for a remote consult recently, I was turned on to DynDNS.

DynDNS is a free service that will keep track of the dynamic IP address provided by your internet provider and map it to one of its free domain names. I’m going to preface this by saying that the initial setup can be complex and it differs depending on your individual network configuration. So, if you’re not comfortable with reading user manuals and playing around with port configurations on your router, this might not be the best solution for you.

Setting up the account with DynDNS was simple, all I had to do was submit my current IP address and choose my domain name. I then installed a free application on my Mac, DynDNS Updater, that constantly checks for my current IP address and submits it to DynDNS so they can link it with my domain name. That means I can always use the same domain name to connect to my server despite the fact that my IP address is dynamic.

That’s the easy part. In fact, if you only have one computer at home and it connects directly to your DSL or Cable modem this might be all the configuration you need. Since I have several machines at home that all connect via an AirPort Express, I had to do a little more work. In my setup, my AirPort Express receives a public IP address and then distributes a range of private IP addresses to my computers at home. Think of it this way, let’s say we’re having a field day and every team is getting a number so they can be identified. I’m in team #1, naturally. Now my team might have ten members, so while our whole team is #1 all of my teammates need individual names; that’s what an internal IP address is, an individual name for each computer in my home. The problem with having all of these internal names is that when I want to connect to my server from afar only the public IP address is visible so there’s no way to call on an individual teammate, or internal IP. This means that I have to set up my router to forward all requests for specific services to one internal IP address; think of it as a way to set a team captain.

The first step is to set up the networking settings on my Mac Mini to connect via “DHCP with manual address”. This is done by going to System Preferences->Network Preferences->Airport. Click “Advanced” at the bottom right, select “TCP/IP” and select “DHCP with manual address”. The IP address that I tend to use is whatever address auto-populated initially. I do that because I know no other device on my network is currently using that address; some IT folks are more finicky about coming up with an order of what machine gets what address, that’s up to you.

Next, I need to set up my router to save that IP address for my Mac mini. I do that by opening the AirPort Utility (Applications/Utilities). Select the main base station and click “Manual Setup”. Select the “Internet” tab and then the “DHCP” tab. Press the “+” button underneath “DHCP Reservations” I entered in the MAC address for my Mac mini and the internal IP address that I would like it to have.

The last step is setting up the AirPort Express to correctly route all requests for the services I want to use on my Mac mini. To go back to the field day analogy, this is so that any requests that come from the public world end up going to my Mac mini, who has now become my team captain. To do this, while in the “Manual Setup” in AirPort Utility, click on the “Internet” tab and then the “NAT” tab. Enable NAT, then click on “Port Mappings”. Press the “+” button to add a new mapping. As a helpful leg-up, Apple adds in some default ports that one might want to enable. My main two are “Remote Desktop” and “Personal File Sharing”. The field that then populates allows you to add the internal IP address of the machine that the request should be forwarded to, in this case the Mac mini. Those two ports allow me to use Apple’s Remote Desktop software to remotely control my Mac mini, and AFP for file sharing between Macs. There are several other port options that might be valuable to you but it will depend on your setup.

Now if it does turn out that your internal IP addresses are being populated by another router, or, in the case of my client, multiple routers, the setup could be less straightforward. Anecdotally, in my client’s case, it was better for her to leave her Time Capsule in bridge mode and configure her CradlePoint router to do all of the above (though AFP wasn’t supported on that router). It’s a lot of trial and error, but I’ve been incredibly pleased with the results so far. For someone who’s constantly on the road, I love having ultimate access to my computer at home!

 
   
     
  Tip of the Week: Hidden Exposé Features  
   
 

Exposé debuted with Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) in October 2003. Panther was a vast improvement over 10.2 (Jaguar) in terms of speed, stability, and features. I found that Jaguar would lock up at random, no matter the hardware it was running on; restarting could take up to ten minutes on my Power Mac G5 when it would lock up. Thankfully, Panther resolved that restart bug.

Panther introduced Fast User Switching, forever changing the way families and workgroups share computers. For me, the greatest new feature of Panther was Exposé, the iconic and copied window management system we are all used to. Just this morning I discovered what was, to me at least, a hidden feature of Exposé.

I had a dozen or so Safari windows open, a spreadsheet, and a keynote presentation, and could not see the desktop. I could switch applications using the command-tab keystroke, and then hide others once in the Finder—but that would be a bit disruptive. I had to drag a block of text from a web page onto the desktop to make a clipping. So, I highlighted the text I needed, began dragging it, then pressed F11 (the default keystroke to show the desktop using Exposé), and was then able to place the text clipping where I wanted on my desktop. This done, I pressed F11 again, and picked up right where I left off.

You can use F9 to show all windows for a similar effect. Say you have an unsent email on your screen behind an active Pages document. Save the Pages document, and drag the icon in the window’s title bar. Now, press F9 (the default “show all windows” keystroke for Exposé) to show all your windows. Drag over the email you’re writing and wait a second. Just like Finder’s spring-loaded folders feature, you’ll see the destination window flash a few times and then come to the forefront. Let go of your mouse or trackpad button, and you’ve attached the file to your email.

 
   
     
  Repair of the Week: No Gestures  
   
 

A 17-inch MacBook Pro came in last week because it would not respond to trackpad gestures. This 2.6GHz model had just been upgraded with a solid state drive and 6GB of RAM, and was in perfect physical condition. The customer explained that he swapped in his old hard drive in an attempt to fix the problem. No such luck unfortunately.

Because I ran into the same problem (and a few others) quite recently, I was able to identify the problem quickly at the check-in window, helping the customer avoid further costly downtime. In the About This Mac window I learned that the machine was running 10.5.0, the very first release of Leopard. All he needed to do was run Software Update to get up to a current version of the operating system.

The problem here is that this customer’s MacBook Pro was manufactured after the initial release of Leopard. While most of the computer’s functionality was intact, some of the snazzier features like trackpad gestures were not supported in this first release of Leopard. I offered to complete the updates on the spot using our blazing-fast software update server, and in about 2 minutes every update was transferred to his computer and began installing. In less than ten minutes, the problem was resolved and the computer was 100% up to date.

Have you done your software updates recently? If not, you can complete them by selecting Software Update from the Apple menu and following the instructions. Updates through the Software Update function are always safe and recommended installations.

 
   
     
  Employee Thoughts: How To Make Sure You Leave With What You Really Need!  
   
 

I spent this past Memorial Day weekend in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, near where my wife is from. My brother-in-law, Kurt, was there, and we had an enlightening experience while trying to fix a trailer of his. The trailer’s right axle tube had failed and the tire had begun to rub on the chassis. He’s not so mechanically inclined, so when it broke last Fall, Kurt decided to defer the repairs over the winter and wait until he had better weather (and some help). Sounded easy enough—and so we began.

There’s a ‘big box’ store close by that sells trailer parts, so I assured Kurt that we should be able to get what we need. Before heading out, we made sure to take the measurements we needed (leaf springs: 26”, axle: 78” from mount and 86” from hub). When we got there, we found the parts we were looking for, but… who had the piece of paper with all of the measurements? We couldn’t produce it, so we went from memory. I remembered that the spring set was 26” long and a 78” axle sounded familiar, so I grabbed them off the rack.

Once back at the homestead, we got to work. After getting the heavily rusted steel parts off the bottom of the trailer, we went to place the new axle. Problem: it was too short—by almost 10”. We ended up finding the paper with our measurements in the process (“There it is!” we laughed), so I checked the two numbers. Sure enough, I purchased an axle whose overall length was about as long as what was needed to go between just the spring mounts.

Back to the store for the correct piece. After about 40 minutes, I returned with another axle. It mounted as I expected and I bolted everything together. We weren’t done yet, though. The next day, after inflating tires that sat through the winter, a new issue arose: I never measured the bolt pattern of the hub, and found that the measurements differed. We called the box store and asked them if they had an axle meeting all the specifications, and they assured us that they did and promised to tuck it away awaiting our arrival.

Our third trip to the store was also not without problem—though the axle was different, it still was ultimately the wrong size. This time, the consensus from the crowd was that we would buy new tires and rims instead of returning for a fourth time!

So what is the point of this little story? We often think we know what we need, so we inadvertently pass over the details that may actually uncover the real need (that could be very different). We tend to make assumptions and not realize that we should educate ourselves on what possibilities exist so that the professionals who are there to help can actually point us in the right direction. We here at Small Dog Electronics work the same way—we want to make sure you get what you really need, so help us answer those probing questions that will ensure you leave happy.

 
   
     
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