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Troubleshooting Quickies, Electronic Surveillance Law, Windows Risks, Policy Banner Bug?

Folks,

First, a few troubleshooting quickies:

USB or FireWire Troubleshooting Step 1

If you are having trouble communicating with a USB or Firewire device what's the first thing you should do? Go to the Apple menu, select "About this Mac", and click on the "More Info" button in the About box. This will launch System Profiler. Once System Profiler launches, click on the USB (or Firewire) line in the sidebar on the left. See if the device that you're trying to use shows up at all in the upper pane on the left. If it doesn't appear, then you have some sort of electrical connection problem -- a bad cable, a bad connector on your Mac or on your device, maybe your device isn't plugged in or turned on, or you might have a bad USB or FireWire hub in the middle.

Don't Change That Name

Why you shouldn't change a home directory name, and how to fix it if you did — and why you shouldn't run as an admin user.

Apparently some folks have tried to change their home directories' name, by going into the /Users folder, clicking on their home directory, and editing it. And then everything stops working. To fix this, the easiest way is to use another administrator account. Go into the Accounts preference pane and get the exact spelling of the user's short name. Go into the /Users folder and change the user's home directory to match the short name, log out, and log in again.

What if you don't have another administrator account? Things go downhill from there. The next way is to boot into target disk mode, plug into another Mac, and fix it that way. However, you will need to use the command line to get the exact spelling of the user's short name.

sudo nicl -raw /Volumes/<Target HD name>/private/var/db/netinfo/local.nidb -list /users

If the troubleshooting machine has a hard drive that has the exact same name as the target machine's hard drive, you might want to temporarily change the hard disk's name to something else to be sure you're hitting the right disk. Be sure to use the private/var/ path, as using just var/ points you back to the troubleshooting machine's hard drive.

If you don't have another Mac handy, another alternative is to enable the root account on the machine. You can do this by booting from an install DVD, going to the menu and selecting Reset Passwords. Reset the root password, and you can log in to the machine as root and follow the first set of steps. Once you are done, log in as an admin user, launch /Applications/Utilities/NetInfo Manager.app, click on the lock and authenticate, and select from the menus Security --> Disable Root User.

If you don't have another Mac or an install DVD, you can fix things by booting into single user mode. Fsck and mount the drive, and use the following command to look up the correct short name for  the user:

nicl -raw /private/var/netinfo/local.nidb -list /users

Then, look up the bad home directory name:

ls /Users

and rename the home directory

mv /Users/<bad name> /Users/<correct name>

What's the easiest and absolutely best way to prevent this from happening? Run as a standard user, not an administrator user. A standard user could not have renamed the home directory. This on top of all of the usual security issues involved with running as an administrator users. If you want to convert your account from an administrator account to a standard account, please see my earlier newsletter <http://ps-enable.com/articles/newsletters/newsletter11.html>.

Thanks to Kim Whittington, one of the one-on-one trainers at the Bethesda Row Apple Store, for inspiring these two.

What's Wrong With This Long Name?

A while back, I was hanging at the genius bar at the Tyson's Corner store and we ran into a weird one. The customer's iMac was set to autologin on boot, which it did, displaying the user's long name. However, after logging out, we couldn't log in again using the user's long name. We were able to log in using her short name just fine. What was going on? It turned out the user's long name had two extra spaces — one in the middle and one at the end. It looked like "Firstname<space><space>Lastname<space>". A little bit of quick editing in the Accounts prefs pane fixed that, but it was a frustrating 45 minutes to figure out what was going on.

An Impassioned Plea

I'm not big on politics in these newsletters, but we really need to do something about the wiretapping legislation that's going through Congress right now. The current administration has shown once again that the executive branch cannot be trusted to limit itself and will attempt to arrogate powers beyond those it is given, unless it is specifically required to have its actions reviewed by another branch of government. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, was forced to admit that the current temporary wiretapping law did not help capture the recent terrorist cell in Germany. See <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/12/AR2007091202267.html>.

Please write your Congressman and Senators and urge them to require that all electronic surveillance be reviewed by the judicial branch. In my mind, this is not a Republican vs. Democratic party issue; while I am a registered Democrat, if you feel that you can trust the Bush administration, consider how you would feel if a Hillary Clinton administration had the same powers. Quite frankly, I'd feel just as uncomfortable either way. Without some sort of required review, there is just to much temptation to overextend the executive branch's powers.

To lookup your Congressman and Senators, you can go to <http://house.gov/> and <http://senate.gov/> and enter your zip code or select your state at the top of the page. An e-mail is good, a fax or phone call is better, a hard-copy letter is even better. Since I live in the Washington, DC area, I may make a personal visit to my elected representatives to express my concern over this issue. Another way to help is to donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation <http://www.eff.org/>.

Windows: An Unacceptable Business Risk

This goes beyond the usual problems with Windows; it has to do with Microsoft's behavior. Microsoft just pushed a stealth update to ALL Windows systems — whether or not they were set to auto-update or not, and without notifying the owner of the computer. <http://blogs.zdnet.com/hardware/?p=779>. The potential for disaster is quite clear — anyone who depends on their system running smoothly, since you can't always tell when an update will cause a problem with a mission-critical application.

I trust Apple to test updates to the Mac OS, but I will verify for myself whether or not they work in my environment before I push them out to all of my systems. I specifically do not want automatic updates and I will move away from Apple if it should take the attitude that Microsoft is taking, which is one of minimizing the whole thing. <http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/137208/microsoft_downplays_stealth_update_concerns.html>

Policy Banner Bug?

A couple of people have reported that Policy Banner 1.0 hangs the system at the login window. I'll take a look at it, but I'd like to get confirmation from anyone else who's seen it happen as well. A system profiler dump would be useful as well. To recover from it, just boot into single user or target disk mode and copy the /etc/authorization.backup file to /etc/authorization.


--Paul

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