How to protect your home network with a VPN router

In this article, I describe how I added security to my home network by installing a router that directs all internet traffic through an encrypted VPN connection. The adventure includes my experience with the FlashRouters company, the Tomato router firmware software, an OpenVPN connection to the Cloak network, the Linksys E2500 router and the Netgear Nighthawk R7000 router.

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The importance of external bootable backups

This morning I posted an article about some CrashPlan-related issues discovered when migrating my wife’s dead iMac to a new machine. Another lesson learned in that situation was about the importance of external bootable backups.

My wife’s old iMac, dating back to 2011 I believe, had an internal 256GB SSD and a 1TB internal hard drive. Back in the day, I thought I could improve her desktop tidiness by doing without an external drive, and creating a 256GB partition on that 1TB drive, for the purpose of maintaining a bootable backup.

What I didn’t consider at the time is what actually happened last week—green bars suddenly appeared on her screen, followed by a shaking and shifting of the image, increasing in frequency until the whole screen went white—and the machine shut down. And then upon reboot, the whole ordeal would start again!

Evidently the machine was dying, and it occurred to me then that the only bootable mirror I had for migrating to a new Mac was the hard drive inside that dying iMac!

Since the bulk of the computer’s files lived on the other portion of the 1TB drive, managed by BitTorrent Sync, the start drive itself contained relatively little data. So I had hopes that I could keep the machine booted long enough for Carbon Copy Cloner to mirror the startup drive to an external USB drive. Lucky for me, after a third reboot, the machine stayed up long enough—barely!—for CCC to finish its backup. The machine repeated its meltdown literally seconds after the backup completed.

Lesson learned: Always maintain an external bootable backup of important machines!

Mac OS X — admin vs wheel group (and how that affected CrashPlan)

Last week my wife’s four-year old iMac died. When the new one arrived, I set it via migration in the form of a USB-connected drive containing a mirror of her old system.

After booting up the migrated machine, I ran into an issue in which the CrashPlan app wouldn’t start, and the menubar app reported “Can’t connect to backup destination”. I tried running the CrashPlan uninstaller, and then doing a fresh install, but unfortunately it didn’t help.

Checking the console, I found messages reporting that the file “.ui_info” couldn’t be found in the directory /Library/Application Support/CrashPlan. Which was strange, since I could clearly see that file existed in a Terminal directory listing.

What I also noticed was that the CrashPlan directory was owned by the “wheel” group, while most of the other directories in Application Support were owned by the group “admin”.

I then tried manually deleting the CrashPlan directory in the Terminal, and running the CrashPlan installer again. This time, the CrashPlan directory was owned by the “admin” group—and, consequently, the CrashPlan app successfully started up.

This experienced prompted a couple of observations:

  1. Even when authenticated by an admin user, the CrashPlan uninstaller was unable to remove its CrashPlan directory in Application Support.
  2. A fresh install of CrashPlan didn’t set the correct group ownership of the CrashPlan folder in Application Support, which led to the app being unable to start.
  3. I have the impression that the “wheel” group may have been deprecated at some point in the OS X evolution, but still getting passed on from machine to machine in migration upgrades. I wonder whether it would be a good idea, or even safe, to do a global change of anything on the computer owned by “wheel”, changing it to “group”?

If you know the answer to the third, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

How I migrated my snippets from TextExpander to Keyboard Maestro

TextExpander is a Mac utility for creating auto-expanding text shortcuts—“snippets”—that can save you time on things you repetitively type, such as email signatures, your telephone number or boilerplate responses to support emails. With version 6, Smile decided to move away from paid upgrades, to a subscription plan that would cost roughly $5 per month. The move was controversial, a situation which is well documented at Michael Tsai’s blog. I’ve been using TextExpander for 10 years, but decided against continuing with a subscription plan.

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