By Collin Allen

Dock Trick

September 9, 2006

Here’s a fun Mac OS X Dock trick:

  1. Set your Dock’s minimize effect to Genie.
  2. Open Applications, Utilities, Terminal.
  3. Type killall Dock but don’t hit Return just yet.
  4. Open Safari and load a decent sized website.
  5. Switch back to the Terminal, keeping the Safari window in view.
  6. Shift-click the yellow minimize button of the Safari window, and hit Return to execute the command while the window is busy morphing.

The Dock process will be killed, and it will disappear, leaving the Safari window with nowhere to go. The window will freeze mid-transition.

The cool part is that the window is still responsive, and you can scroll around and see the content transform in real-time. The Dock automatically relaunches, so you don’t have to worry about breaking anything. Finish minimizing the window, or do Command-W to close it.

Credit due to Marco for his recent comment on the Cool Things You Can Do on a Mac article, although this is likely the original source.

WRT54G Won't Upgrade

September 3, 2006

After half an hour of messing around with my Linksys WRT54G v5 hardware, I was finally able to upgrade the firmware on the device. I try to maintain a secure setup by using WPA encryption, HTTPS web-based management, and Ethernet-only administration. However, it seems that all my conscientiousness worked against me when attempting to upgrade from v1.00.6 to 1.00.9. For reasons known only to Linksys, you can’t upgrade the firmware while logged in over HTTPS. The kicker, though, is that you get no warning or indication that anything is malfunctioning – the upgrade simply doesn’t happen. A text-based progress bar is displayed for about 3 minutes, and (about one in three times) you get the following error:

Upgrade are failed.

The solution to this is to re-enable plain HTTP administration, log in unencrypted, and then retry the upgrade.

Portable Xbox

August 27, 2006

A creative hacker at managed to carefully pack the contents of an Xbox console into a portable form factor. It’s yet another project that makes me exclaim “I had that idea!” However, the creator did a far better job than I could do with the tools at my disposal. His hack includes creating a custom vacuum-formed case, hooking up Li-Ion batteries to power the system, and wiring a PSOne LCD to the video output. It’s a masterfully executed hack that sets the standard for his other portable video game creations, and is a must-see for any Xbox hardware hacker.

Mac Meet Xbox: Part 1

August 19, 2006

Although this is a little late – the successor to the Xbox has already been released for some time – I thought it would be useful to others to write up a comprehensive guide on modding an Xbox and using it with a Mac in a Windows-centric world. It’s never too late, though, because the Xbox is continuing to drop in price and makes a dazzling home media center that blows the Mac Mini away.

This is going to be a multi-post article, as it would otherwise be an extraordinarily long post. Sections will cover opening the Xbox, installing a modchip, and finally loading and configuring the media center software.

Why Xbox?

And why not a Mac Mini? Why choose an Xbox for a home media center solution, and how does it outperform to the Mac Mini? In a word: compatibility. Right out of the box, the Xbox is a terrible home media solution. In fact, it doesn’t even make an attempt at any media center capabilities, short of ripping CDs. However, when modified and loaded with the open-source Xbox Media Center software, it can play just about any file format you’ll ever encounter in an interface that’s as shiny as Apple’s own. Covering all the bases from AVC/H.264 to Xvid, Xbox Media Center is what makes it happen, and is a stellar example of the kind of quality software that can be produced from a truly dedicated team of programmers. Finding plugins for QuickTime that work as smoothly as Xbox Media Center would be a nightmare. Adding a DVD Playback Kit to the Xbox setup lets you have complete control from the couch, even if you’re just checking the weather or listening to some music from iTunes.

Choosing Chips

Like all modern gaming systems, the Xbox has copy protection and various restrictions to stop people from backing up games and/or running their own software on the system. That has to go. Thankfully, modding Xboxes has been a long, well documented effort, and there is much to show for it. It took only a few months for clever hackers to exploit bugs and holes in the system and gain access to the inner workings, making all sorts of homemade projects possible. Xbox Media Center is among the most popular and well-recognized of the lot.

First on the route to an Xbox-centric home media solution, comes the choice of deciding on the right hardware to enable all the cool stuff to come. Dozens of Xbox modchips are available, many of which require soldering to tiny, tiny spots on the motherboard. If you’re uncomfortable soldering or have an unsteady hand, there are solderless solutions available, but I highly recommend practicing soldering if you intend to get good and continue modding beyond a modchip. Soldering a modchip into an Xbox is far less complicated than with other systems like the PS2, but still requires both patience and skill. Practicing soldering on an old VCR or stereo motherboard is a good way to start (it’s how I learned!). Xbox modchips can run up into the $70 range, but you don’t have to spend a bunch of money to get great features. My modchip of choice – at least until production ends – is the Xecuter 2.6 CE Lite. This model is intended to be soldered in, although a solderless kit is available. Among it’s notable features are included front panel switches, total Xbox hardware compatibility, a backup BIOS bank if you make what would otherwise be a costly mistake, and network flashing. For all the features included, the Xecuter 2.6 CE Lite can’t be beat.

Up Next

That’s it for this edition of “Mac Meet Xbox.” Stay tuned for the next installment, which will cover opening of the Xbox and installation of the modchip.

Mac Meet Xbox: Navigation

Part 1: Why Xbox + Choosing Chips

Part 2: Cracking the Case + Installing and Flashing

Part 3: Installing XBMC

Part 3.1: Networking in Detail

Hamachi on Mac OS X

August 14, 2006

Planning to run Hamachi under Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard? Please read this updated post instead.

Over the weekend, I had the need to create a VPN (Virtual Private Network) between a few MUG members and myself to use iChat through a proxy. I should mention that this did not help our paticular situation, as the proxy/firewall we were attempting to bypass was pickier than we first thought. However, I did learn how to use a great VPN tool, Hamachi, and I thought I would detail the steps needed to get it running under Mac OS X. Hamachi has been discussed at length in various episodes of the Security Now! podcast, which I highly recommend (In particular, episode #18 covers most of Hamachi).

The idea behind Hamachi is to create a secure virtual network between computers over the internet, and get them communicating as if they were all on the same local network together. Having all the computers on the same virtual LAN has numerous advantages, including connecting business networks, playing LAN games, and sharing files. Connections are made secure with the use of various encryption and handshake technologies which prevent prying eyes from seeing the information sent back and forth.

Hamachi for Windows is more advanced than the Mac version as far as point-and-click interfaces go, but the Mac version is quite stable and works just as well. To get started using Hamachi, first download and decompress the latest release. You’ll also need to grab the latest Tun/Tap driver.

First, install the Tap package from the Tun/Tap file you downloaded earlier. Then, open the Terminal in your /Applications/Utilities folder, and type cd Desktop to change directory to your Desktop folder inside your Home folder. Do cd [hamachi], where [hamachi] is the folder that was made when you decompressed the downloaded file. In my case, the folder was titled hamachi-, so I did cd hamachi- Your Terminal window is now navigated inside of the Hamachi folder, and you’re ready to start installing.

Installing Hamachi is quite easy – almost as easy as installing most Mac OS X applications. Type sudo ./install, followed by your administrator password. The admin password is required because Hamachi installs system-level components to make everything work. After the quick install is done, type sudo tuncfg. Tuncfg (tunnel configuration) sets up the VPN tunnel for Hamachi. From this point onward (until you reboot), your administrator password is not required, as Hamchi does all root level functionality in one fell swoop. Type hamachi-init to generate the cryptographic keys that will be used to protect your data as it speeds throughout the internet. Typing hamachi start will load Hamachi and prepare it for use.

As this point, you would also want to get Hamachi running on any other computers you would like on your virtual network, PC or Mac. PC users need only to download and run Hamachi, and they can all connect to the same network. Once that’s done, you’ll need a network for everybody to connect to. Again in the Terminal window, do hamachi create [network] where [network] is the 4 to 64 character name of the network you’d like to create. If the name is already in use, you can simply try again. When prompted for a password, do not enter your administrator password. What you’re being prompted for is the password to log onto your virtual network. Choose a word or phrase not in the dictionary, preferably longer than 8 characters. For security, the longer the password, the better. After your network is created, you can then instruct all your other computers to join the network using the password you chose.

After all the computers are connected in Hamachi, that’s it! You can view members of the network by doing hamachi list, and connect to their IPs (starting with “5.”) as if they were all on your own local network. One popular use for Hamachi is to share music on iTunes with your home computer (under Preferences, Sharing), and then install Hamachi at work. When both computers are connected, iTunes will be fooled into thinking your home computer is on your work computer’s network, so it will allow you to stream music to your workplace via the internet.

I should note that when your computer is restarted, you’ll have to do sudo tuncfg and hamachi start to re-run Hamachi. Also, the Hamachi OS X ReadMe has a listing of commands to delete networks, evict members, and other useful features that are worth a look.

Now that you’ve come this far “the hard way” by typing in commands and learning how to set up Hamachi on your own at the command line level, you should know about two graphical ways to use Hamachi. After using Hamachi for a few minutes, I thought it would be cool to run a Dashboard widget to control it. A single Google search turned up exactly what I had imagined. A third-party Mac OS X program, HamachiX, is also another great front end to Hamachi on the Mac. Both solutions work quite well, and may save you some time in setting up a quick VPN between your computer and others, anywhere else in the world.