From Mac Tips

Fixing Wi-Fi upload issues with a Sonic.net ZXV10 W300 modem/router

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I have Sonic.net for my ISP here in Oakland, and I’ve been pretty happy with the speed and consistency of the DSL service they provide. After returning from my latest visit to the East Coast, however, I discovered I had little to no upload bandwidth on my MacBook Pro. Trying various test sites yielded download speeds in the 12-14Mbps range, but the upload timed out on all of them. I was unable to send a test email from Apple Mail. If I plugged my MBP directly into the ZXV10 W300 modem/router combo that Sonic.net uses, everything worked fine, including standard upload speeds of 1Mbps (that’s why I’m only pretty happy with Sonic.net, by the way–I could really go for a slightly faster upload speed). I also noticed that in the Status menu of the router configuration page, there were a lot of Rx and Tx errors under the Wireless tab, which just didn’t seem good.

A few different things I tried didn’t help:

  • Checked and re-configured the modem according to the Sonic.net wiki (I changed the ‘Bridged’ setting to ‘Enabled’ as it was ‘Disabled’, no effect)
  • Restarted the modem
  • Restarted the MBP
  • Changed the channel on the WLAN from ‘Auto’ to 7, 8, and 11 in case someone had a router hard-coded to channel 1 (my auto-selected channel)
  • Put the MBP really, really close to the router

Here’s what did work:

  1. Log in to the router config page (type 192.168.1.1 into your browser URL bar, default username/password are both admin)
  2. Go to Interface Setup -> Wireless
  3. In the Multiple SSIDs Settings section, Authentication Type was set to WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK
  4. The menu item directly below that, Encryption, was set to TKIP. When I pulled that menu down, the options available were TKIP and AES.
  5. I switched the Authentication Type to Disabled. NB: don’t leave your router set this way, unless you’re in the middle of the woods somewhere
  6. After re-testing the connection, I was able to upload normally.
  7. When I went to re-enable authentication, I re-chose WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK.
  8. To my surprise, the Encryption pull-down now included the TKIP/AES option, which wasn’t there before. When I chose this option, my connection worked perfectly.

So, what could have caused this? I suspect that somehow the modem configuration got corrupted, or alternately TKIP-only encryption was working fine for a while, but stopped working with my MBP after a recent OS X 10.8 software update (I applied one while out of town). Either way, I don’t really care what broke, as long as I know how to fix it. If it happens again, that’ll point to the router as the culprit for sure, though.

Solving ‘org.apache.httpd: Already loaded’ error on Mac OS X Snow Leopard

I recently ran into a problem where my local Apache instance wasn’t responding to requests. Trying to restart or start it with sudo apachectl restart yielded an error message like this:

org.apache.httpd: Already loaded

Checking running processes, I noticed that apache wasn’t actually running, which seemed a bit strange. Luckily, apachectl offers a helpful command for checking your config syntax, apachectl configtest. Sure enough, it turned out I’d modified the httpd.conf a couple of weeks ago, but never rebooted Apache. Commenting out the offending line and starting Apache fixed the problem and I’m back up and running.

Active Directory / Open Directory group nesting fixed in Snow Leopard

There was a bug in Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” that prevented proper application of MCX settings to an Active Directory group nested inside an Open Directory group. This problem has been corrected in 10.6 “Snow Leopard,” but it’s important to note that this is a client-side issue as well that requires you to upgrade all machines to Snow Leopard in order to have the settings properly apply.

The problem evidences itself in the following way: under Apple’s Magic Triangle guidelines, the proper method for access management on the desktop is to “nest” AD users and groups within OD groups, and then to apply settings to those OD groups. This allows for user management of AD users on any Macs they log into, while avoiding the risk of extending the AD schema itself. For the most part, this worked correctly in Leopard, except on AD groups nested in OD groups when applied to Computer groups within the OD. For example, placing a user AD\joeuser into an OD group called banned_users and then denying the banned_users group login access to the LabComputers OD group would block Joe from logging in, but adding AD\alumni into the same OD group would not prevent login access.

Thankfully, this nesting behavior now works correctly in 10.6. As long as you upgrade your clients as well, you should be able to manage Computer settings just like you’d expect.

Become root on Mac OS X Snow Leopard (or Leopard)

Here’s a little tip I use all the time, but have yet to commit to the blogosphere. If you’re trying to work on the Terminal command line in 10.6 or 10.5, it’s annoying to be prompted for your password to sudo every 5 minutes, and it gets confusing who’s running what commands. If you just type

sudo /bin/bash

and authenticate once, you’ll get a command prompt as root, without having to auth every few minutes. Just. Remember. To. Log. Out.

Ok, but it’s still not a good idea

There’s been an inordinate amount of buzz surrounding the (potential) release of a new Apple tablet computer, which prompts me to ask, why is Apple building a tablet? PC manufacturers have been making tablets in one form or another for years, and they don’t sell. Is it because no one with the design ability and skill for marketing has created one until now? No, it’s because the concept is fundamentally flawed when deployed in the real world, and therefore has been rejected by consumers who, universally, live in that same world. Here’s why.

  1. Tablets are kind of like laptops, except that you either a) flip open the screen and lay it flat or b) the screen is exposed all the time. With the first option, you basically get a laptop with a weak point, i.e. the swivel where the screen goes from laptop to tablet mode. With the second option, you get scratches on your screen unless you are very, very careful.
  2. We buy desktops because they are fast. We buy laptops because they are portable. We buy phones because we can carry them with us and get access to information quickly and easily. Why would we buy an oversized phone that won’t fit in our pocket, can’t make calls, and lacks the horsepower of a laptop or desktop?
  3. Except on Star Trek, people who carry a device in one hand and attempt to move their other hand around on it will drop that device. Repeatedly. That’s another reason the phone makes sense — you can hold it in your hand and use gestures with the other hand.

If you don’t agree, consider this: many experts predict smartphone sales will surpass laptop sales by 2012. Why? Because smartphones can do all that stuff we need to do on the fly, without weighing us down. If you just need to read an email or surf the Web, why take out your laptop/tablet when your pocket-sized device will do?

Stop making me buy your over-priced hardware, Apple

A couple of Apple reps were by recently touting the new Podcast Producer 2 server product. If you’re not familiar with Podcast Producer 2, it basically lets you do audio and video capture, as well as camera control and some nifty workflow creation (for doing things like automatically stamping video with copyright info and a watermark). It’s not a bad product from a design standpoint, except that it has what I consider a critical weakness in most Apple server products–it’s designed to force you to buy a lot of over-priced Apple hardware. Here’s what Apple envisions for a typical classroom with A/V capture:

1 Mac Mini to drive the lecture station, show slide shows, etc ($700)
1 Mac Mini connected to a camera to control video/audio capture ($700)
1 video camera ($200)
1 microphone ($100)
1/6 of an Apple XServe ($1,000)

That’s $2,700 per classroom, based on my rough estimations, or about $2,000 more than it should cost. The extras are all in the Apple hardware–most of which is unnecessary. How can I be sure of this? For one thing, the second Mac Mini is superfluous, except that Podcast Producer 2 is incompatible with network video cameras. This isn’t a technology limitation–I’m currently running streams from network cams such as those made by Axis into QuickTime Streaming Server on Mac OS X Server. Why can’t I use those same cameras with Podcast Producer? Because Apple wants to sell me an extra Mac Mini to control the camera, that’s why.

It’s things like this that make me so opposed to encouraging Apple products in the enterprise. If Apple just made good products (they do) that worked well with whatever hardware you have (they don’t), then they would be a real player in the enterprise. But since they have taken the route of limited hardware (under the guise of interoperability concerns), I am less than enamored with Podcast Producer 2, for the same reason I dislike many Apple products.

Installing Microsoft Office 2008 on Snow Leopard

If you’re having trouble putting Microsoft Office 2008 on your new Snow Leopard (OS 10.6) Mac, it may be because you need to install Rosetta, the PowerPC emulator that allows you to run older software that was not designed to run on Intel Macs.

As it turns out, while Office 2008 is completely universal (that is to say, it will work with both PowerPC and Intel Macs), the installer is written only for PowerPC. If you put the disk in your computer without Rosetta, you will probably receive a message about it not being compliant, or you may not see the disk at all. If this happens, simply insert the Snow Leopard disk, and add Rosetta. Then re-insert the Office disk and it should prompt you to use Rosetta to run the installer.

Disable annoying Time Machine pop-up with Apple Remote Desktop

Do you hate that annoying popup that shows up in Leopard every time you put in a drive, asking you if you want to use Time Machine with that device? Better yet, if you actually say yes, you’re on the way to re-formatting that drive (albeit with a couple more steps). Guess what, if you’re running a computer in any sort of multiple login environment, you can bet your users hate that popup too, and might come screaming to you if they accidentally erase their drive. Here’s a solution that can be deployed via Apple Remote Desktop as a UNIX command. Just substitute the username of your local administrative account anywhere in the script where you see “admin” in bold:

sudo -u admin defaults write com.apple.TimeMachine DoNotOfferDisksForBackup -bool YES

cp /Users/admin/Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine.plist /System/Library/User\ Template/English.lproj/Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine.plist

NB: Each of the two separate chunks of code above is one line in the Terminal or in Remote Desktop.