Birds Like Wires

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Running pfSense on a Mac Pro

I’m a big fan of pfSense. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s an open source firewall that’s got more options that you can shake a stick at, but most importantly, is as solid as a rock and takes about a second to back up.

I’d been running it as a virtual machine on a couple of servers, but with a recent round of hardware changes I found myself with a 2006 vintage Mac Pro with no job to do. True, it’s massively overpowered for the job, but it’s got two good gigabit Intel NICs built-in and would make the VM setup, which I never liked, redundant. Plus, it would otherwise be sat on the floor doing nothing.

Setup

It’s trivial; I prepped the Mac with a single 80GB hard drive and zapped the PRAM just to be on the safe side (CMD-ALT-P-R). Then I burned the AMD64 image to a disc, booted the Mac with ALT held down and chose the ‘Windows’ CD. It’s obviously not Windows; that’s just what the Mac is programmed to title boot devices that aren’t OS X.

From there it’s just a case of choosing the installer when prompted and telling it to do a ‘Quick / Easy Install’. Everything from there is handled by pfSense, except for removing the CD (hold down the left mouse button to force a CD eject on reboot). Very easy.

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Recovery of ASMedia ASM1051

An ASMedia ASM1051 chip on a small circuit board, attached to a SATA hard drive.

Quite some time ago, I bought a super-cheap 2.5” USB 3.0 enclosure on eBay. It was no more than a few pounds, so when it suddenly stopped working one day, I didn’t cry about it. But it was a tad annoying, because I’d keep reaching for it in the drawer, knowing it had a sizeable drive in there.

One day I picked it up and, imagining its time in the drawer might have healed it, plugged it into a laptop. Magically, it worked! But when it came to transferring the files to another machine – dead again. It sat there with its light on, drive spinning, but never appearing as a USB device.

Then I twigged. The laptop had USB 3.0. My desktop machine did not. How bizarre! I tested my theory between a few more machines until the proof was in; connecting the drive to any USB 2.0 machine would not work, while USB 3.0 was just dandy.

It went back in the drawer.

The Fix

Today I reached for it again and this time decided to see if a repair was possible. Firmware would seem to be the culprit, but nobody is sensible enough to produce a firmware flash utility for such things, surely?

Taking a closer look shows an ASMedia ASM1051 bridge chip. Luckily, the nice folks at Plugable based their USB3-SATA-U3 around the same chip and they do indeed provide an ASM1051 firmware update utility known as MP Tool! Sensible people! The best news is that it targets the chip and doesn’t do any weird manufacturer-specific fiddling to prevent you from running it on other devices. I had very little to lose, so I simply followed their instructions; plug in, run software, press ‘Start’.

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Mac Pro Storage Upgrade

An SD-PEX40079 with three 256GB Crucial m550 mSATA drives attached.

I’ve been slowly changing my storage habits lately, because I’ve been seduced by the speed of Solid State Drives. When I bought my Mac Pro, I got it with the extortionately expensive Apple SSD. It’s as solid as a rock, and the only thing out there with official TRIM support, but it’s not the speediest option and that’s largely down to the measly 3Gb/s SATA II bus that Apple forgot to upgrade with the 2012 edition. Seriously, guys, you couldn’t have swapped out that controller?

However, because these Mac Pro machines are proper tower systems with PCI-E 2.0, there are options out there. For a long time I was going to go with the Sonnet Tempo SSD Pro (or the Pro Plus as it’s now become) but blimey, at over £200 it’s an expensive way of putting SATA III in your machine. And eSATA is a lovely feature, but not already owning any eSATA caddies, I just didn’t think I’d use it that much.

A little Googling turned up this thread on the TonyMac forum, where ‘gsloan’ had found success with the Syba SD-PEX40068. But would you believe it; discontinued. Nuts.

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Caching Server Cache Size

The Caching Service in OS X Sever is great – turn it on, and it largely works just fine. However, I host the cache itself on a Drobo. The Drobo appears as a 16TB volume on the system, so Server.app thinks it’s just a wonderful idea to give me Cache Size slider graduations of 30GB, 1TB, 2TB, etc. That’s not helpful.

Luckily, Apple haven’t obfuscated the configuration for this at all, and I’m not being sarcastic for once. Just go to:

/Library/Sever/Caching/Config/Config.plist

You’ll find the CacheLimit key right there at the top, with an integer value in bytes. Turn off Caching Server, edit, turn Caching Server back on again. Lovely.

Screenshot of Server.app showing the Caching Server config panel.

Okay, so the slider shows the wrong value, but the Usage area gets it right. Now why couldn’t they have just put a box in the UI? Ah, because this is Server.app, not Server Admin.app.

My sarcasm is creeping back!

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SqueezePlay OS for OpenFrame

Latest Release: 15th January 2015 – CHANGELOG

Download SqueezePlay OS v3.03 for External Storage – (220MB) MD5

Download SqueezePlay OS v3.03 for OpenFrame 1 Internal Memory – (219MB) MD5

Download SqueezePlay OS v3.03 for OpenFrame 2 Internal Memory – (220MB) MD5

  • Which version should I download?
  • - If you want to run this from a USB storage device, download the External Storage image.
  • - If you want to run this from internal memory and have an O2 Joggler (or similar) download OpenFrame 1 Internal Memory
  • - If you want to run this from internal memory and have an OpenFrame 2 (front facing speakers) download OpenFrame 2 Internal Memory
  • For either internal storage version, you will need the Reflash System to install it.

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Command Line Wireless Options in OS X

Managing OS X wireless options was a terrible mystery until I discovered the magical hidden ‘airport’ command. If you do any Mac sysadmin work, I recommend:

sudo ln -s /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/A/Resources/airport /usr/sbin/airport

This gives you lovely, straightforward access to the airport command, from which you can turn wifi on and off, configure administrative settings; basically everything you need. However, watch out; there’s been a change in the version currently shipping in Mavericks. My fave command was:

sudo airport en1 prefs RequireAdmin=YES

But this will no longer work. Instead you receive this response:

'Unrecognized prefs option 'RequireAdmin=YES'.

It’s not a problem, because Apple have actually unpacked the RequireAdmin option into it’s three constituent parts; RequireAdminIBSS, RequireAdminNetworkChange and RequireAdminPowerToggle. You can now control each of them individually.

So my favourite command has now become:

sudo airport en1 prefs RequireAdminIBSS=YES RequireAdminNetworkChange=YES RequireAdminPowerToggle=YES

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