Remote for Airport Express & iTunes

I stream music and podcasts from the computers in the office into kitchen using an Airport Express unit. Whilst the Airport Express units are little pricey they are very versitile, the only problem being they do not come with any remote which results in a lot of trips backwards and forwards to adjust the volume and what is playing. I finally got sick of this and ordered an Keyspan Express Remote from It turns out that the New Zealand office of is in Wellington and within a couple of hours of placing the order I had the remote in my hands (which was fantastic service).

The Keyspan remote setup in my kitchen with speakers in the background (click to enlarge)

Setting up the remote was a piece of cake as it plugs into the Airport Express via USB and sets itself up to work with iTunes automatically. The remote looks okay although it would have been much better if it had a more stylish look and feel similar to the Apple remote. However this is only a minor drawback considering the price and functionality delivered. If you own an Airport Express (or are thinking of getting one) I definitely recommend picking up one of these remotes in order to complete the experience.

Another request for a small scale iServe alternative

I was interested to see a call by Tom of New Rowley for a home-orientated Mac server for storing all the digital music, video and photographs people are collecting. The product described by this post was very similar to the one I described as ideal for the small business sector a while back. It is nice to see that I am not completely crazy and that such a product would satisfy a couple of juicy markets. Whilst I do not think I would buy one for my house I am pretty sure an iServe for the home would be a lot better than the current crop of large external storage devices available for the average consumer.

Scalix and Apple Mail

OSX Mail is a typical Apple product, it has some great features that make it fantastic but it is let down by the tiny details. For example I've been battling with it's 'Synchronize IMAP Account' feature and its ability to almost crash my Scalix mail server. The feature is useful because it creates a local copy of an on-line IMAP account for SpotLight searching and general offline use. Unfortunately if this process is run after a long period of time offline it can cause the Scalix IMAP server to trip up and not allow further IMAP connections.

I've been on the Scalix forums trying to resolve this issue and it seems like the root cause is a hard-coded limit of 17 simultaneous IMAP connections within Scalix. Unfortunately OSX Mail creates multiple simultaneous connections when performing the synchronization process and just to make matters worse it takes its own sweet time in closing them. Consequently it does not take long for the 16 process limit to be reached, the Scalix IMAP server to trip over and the Mail client to be left out in the cold.

The most annoying thing about the problem is that unlike Thunderbird, OSX Mail offers no way to limit the number of simultaneous connections, thus getting around the issue. Fortunately it sounds like the server team will resolve this hard coded process limit bug, perhaps in time for Scalix 11, so the annoying issue maybe resolved once and for all.

A few useful OSX Mail bundles to correct its shortcomings

Apple's Mail application by itself is not the most fully featured of email tools, it lacks proper calendar integration, column views and more technical things like always connected IMAP IDLE mode. Fortunately it makes up for these shortcomings in its interface, great search functionality and integration with the rest of OSX. But still its nice to have the functionality that is available within contemporary applications like Thunderbird and Outlook and that is where Bundles come in.

Bundles are Apple Mail-speak for functionality extensions similar to Firefox's. Unlike Thunderbird which has the ability to be extended but has so many inbuilt features its almost pointless, Mail has a wide array of Bundles that provide nearly all of the functionality missing within the base application.

Cacti: Simple system graphing for networks

Steve Wray put me on to Cacti the other day and I must say its pretty nice once you get over its slightly confusing interface. Cacti graphs statistics from network devices but unlike similar tools it does not try to do anything else. Think of it like bling for your network, good to look at, but maybe not that practical in a network emergency. But just like bling it is easy to put on and even better it is sure to impress your system admin friends, which in those hot and steamy server rooms we all want to do...

Installation is straightforward if you are running a typical LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) but it can also run on a number of platforms including Windows if you are desperate. Cacti uses the PHP-SNMP extension to talk to SNMP agents on the network, keeps configuration settings in MySQL and stores accumulated network information as RRD files that get processed by RRDTool. Users can be configured with different access rights and devices/graphs can be clustered together in trees for easy viewing.

Click to enlarge screenshots

CrossOver Office for Mac

CrossOver Office will soon be available on OSX Intel machines and it is looking pretty good. CrossOver use the Wine libraries to reproduce the Win32 command set on non-Win32 operating systems (most famously Linux). It all runs quite well but the result does look ugly at times as the Windows look and feel often doesn't sit well with more up to date visual styles. Whilst what comes out of this latest pairing may at times have the visual characteristics of a swan/pig mutant it will at least get useful tools like Microsoft Visio running in OSX without virtualisation. This is good as running virtualised software is expensive on both the processor and your wallet (technically you should buy two operating systems). Hopefully this means with Wine on OSX maturing we may see a OSX version of Picasa from Google based on Wine, I don't think it could seriously compete with iPhoto in terms of OSX integration but at least it would provide an worthwhile alternative for people who do not like iPhoto or who are used to Picasa on other platforms.

OpenOffice OSX native next month

It sounds like all those OSX users out there will finally be able to run OpenOffice native in Aqua from the mid-September. This is well overdue news considering the platform already runs 'natively' in the Windows and Linux environments. Sure you can run OpenOffice in OSX through the X-Windows system but it is ugly and unintegrated with the rest of the system but what self respecting, sunglass wearing Apple user wants to ruin the look of their desktop by doing that?

A few months back I switched to using NeoOffice, a port of OpenOffice that achieves Aqua-like integration through careful use of Java. It is a great choice for OSX users who cannot wait until the 'pure' version becomes available and even then NeoOffice maybe a better choice for a while longer as it is more mature. What I would really like to see that I know will not be in the initial release is some Aqua goodness shining through. OpenOffice is one of those useful but really boring applications that could be brought to life with a couple of well placed animations, some window transparency and a side-helping of Aqua class.

A little OSX security tip

The administrator designated user is by default the first user created on an OSX system.
In many cases you probably only have one user on the system and in that case this account will have administrator privileges. Whilst administrator privileges are not complete 'root' privileges it does hold enough power to do serious damage.

Most of the so called OSX 'viruses' are actually trojan horses that are executed by an unsuspecting user. The most famous one was a bash script named like an image file and then given a picture icon (so when the user opened it the malicious script was run).

The easiest way to protect yourself from all of this is to create an admin account with administrator privileges and then take away administrator privileges from your everyday users. This will ensure that even if you accidentally run a trojan or just a malicious application it won't be able to cause any real harm (though it would still be possible to delete all your personal data files). Whenever a system modification is about to take place the authentication box will popup asking for the administrator username/password. This is a nice warning message to you that a system change is going to take place and a deterrent to those users who are not supposed to be making system changes (like kids wanting to install games or p2p clients).

It is a nice security blanket and something Apple should really consider doing by default (but I guess they are more concerned about ease of use). If you ever need true root privileges to edit system details (like files in /etc/) open the Terminal and do the following:

SleepWatcher: Mac housekeeping before going to bed

If you have ever mounted a network volume you'll know that chances are if the Mac goes to sleep it won't remount the volume when it wakes up. This is a pain for me because I have all my music on a single samba share, using SleepWatcher ensures that volume is always mounted when I wake my Mac from its slumber.

To perform tasks at the sleep/wakeup moment create .sleep and .wakeup files in the user's directory (e.g. /Users/david/.wakeup). These files are just plain old shell scripts so you can do anything you like within them, just ensure you mark them executable by the user. Below is my .wakeup file which I have symlinked to .sleep, it mounts my music volume (on the server SERENA) when waking up and disconnects when going to sleep.

Three very useful tools

Over the last couple of days I have come across three very useful tools:

Google Browser Sync
Just released it keeps all your Firefoxes in sync with each other. Great if you have more than one computer (or virtual computer). I have used other bookmark management tools in the past but as this is integrated right into Firefox, automatic and free it is hard to beat.

Widescreen view for provides a three panel view very similar to that of Outlook or Thunderbird. When you have a widescreen display it makes a lot of sense.