Getting ADSL to your Airport Extreme

Apple is famed for it’s “it just works” technology, and for the most part that’s true. However, when it comes to the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, it’s lack of a built-in DSL modem means you have a little figuring out to do if you want to use the Airport Extreme as part of an ‘internet connected’ network.

When my Netgear DGN2000 DSL wireless router expired a short time ago I decided to replace it with a Linksys WAG120N DSL wireless router. Great little device (so far) but it’s one drawback is that unlike the Airport Express which has three Gigabit Ethernet ports (1,000Mbps), the Linksys only has Fast Ethernet ports (100Mbps). Now I do large backups every day to two Synology NAS devices and they, like my Mac Pro are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet ports. Connecting them via the Linksys alone would just create a bottleneck and slow down my data transfers ten fold! Enter the Airport Extreme – the objective is to use the Airport Extreme as the centre of my wired network, but to also have internet access at the same time. Sure, I’m lucky enough to have two ethernet ports on the Mac Pro so I could connect one to the Airport Extreme and the other to the Linksys, but that’s messy plus not all Macs have two network ports. At it’s simplest, what I wanted was this…

AE Config 00

Basic Network Configuration

The first step is to set up the Linksys DSL router as normal, so connect the Mac to it via a cable and log in to it as per the manufacturers instructions. Give the DSL router your ISP details and configure it with an IP address of 192.168.1.1 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. Next it’s a case of configuring the network settings on your Mac to talk directly to the DSL router, so enter System Preferences, choose Network and make sure that your Mac has an IP address (e.g. 192.168.1.4) on the same subnet as the DSL router, and tell it that the router it should talk to is at address 192.168.1.1. At this point you should have a simple network of your Mac and the DSL router and you should be able to surf the internet. Next I connected an ethernet cable to one of the Linksys routers four ports with the other end going to the ‘WAN” port on the Airport Extreme. Now it was a case of firing up the Airport Utility and manually configuring the Airport Extreme.

AE Config 05

Connect your Airport to your modem/router

In the Airport Utility, once it finds your Airport Extreme Base Station, highlight it and click on the Manual Setup button. Now click on the Ethernet tab at the top ans select Internet Connection. You should set Connect Using to Ethernet, and Connection Sharing to Off (Bridge Mode).

AE Config 01

Internet Connection settings

Now click on the TCP/IP button and choose to configure IPv4 Manually. Now it’s time to gve the Airport Extreme an IP address and tell it how to talk to the outside world.

Give the Airport Extreme an IP address of 192.168.1.2 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 (same as the Linksys). For the Router entry, enter the address of the Linksys, i.e. 192.168.1.1, and for the DNS Server(s) do the same. Here you are telling the Airport Extreme that any traffic that is not for something on your home/local network (e.g. internet traffic), send it to the Linksys router.

AE Config 02

TCP/IP settings

At this point you should be able to save the settings and apply them to your Airport Extreme. The next step is to disconnect the network cable from your Mac to the DSL router, and instead connect the Mac directly to one of the ethernet ports on your Airport Extreme. Now you should find that you can still surf the web but your Mac is only connected to your Airport Extreme. You can then add devices (in my case the two NAS boxes) directly to the Airport Extreme so that they can talk to your Mac at gigabit speeds, rather than just the ‘fast’ speeds of the DSL router.

If you want to use a service like OpenDNS then there’s no reason why you can’t and it’s simply a case of adding the IP addresses of the two OpenDNS servers to your Network settings on your Mac, like so:

AE Config 03

OpenDNS settings on the Mac

I have since extended this setup with wireless and I currently have an XBox 360, a PS 3 Slim, a Nintendo Wii, a Mac Mini, an iPad WiFi and iPhone 3G, plus my Panasonic Viera TV all talking to the internet via this little network. The Linksys DSL router is currently providing the (802.11n) wireless service, but I’m looking at ways to use the Airport Extreme’s ability to provide 5Ghz wirelss to enhance this setup (i.e. avoid interference from my neighbours on the 2.4Ghz band).

More on that in another post…

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What’s in the dock?

Following my post on OS X uninstallers, Matt asked about what applications are in the dock in my screen shot. So here’s a quick run down of the extra apps I’ve got in the dock, plus what’s loaded and showing in the menu bar.

What_s What

The Dock (from left to right)

Path Finder – I use this instead of the default Mac OS X Finder for most of my file management on the Mac, mainly because I can open it with two panes visible and drag & drop between them, but it’s got a whole host of other file management goodies besides.

OtherInbox/Fluid – OtherInbox is great for managing my mail and an absolute must in the fight against spam (I wrote a separate post about it). Here I’ve got the web interface to it bundled as an application using Fluid, so I can quickly launch straight into it from the Dock.

NetNewsWire – the best way to keep on top of all those RSS news feeds. I’m a bit of a news junkie (hmmm, might even post about what feeds I follow at some point), and NetNewsWire makes it easy to get my daily fix, oh and it’s free.

Microsoft Messenger – After moving to the Mac I still had a lot of friends using Messenger, and the Microsoft client gave me the best compatibility even though it lacks some of the features of it’s Windows counterpart (like audio & video in the personal version). I do like Adium as an IM client, but for some reason keep going back to Messenger. Old habits die hard!

VMware Fusion – If there’s one indispensable app on my Mac, this is it. It’s neck and neck with Parallels when it comes to running Windows on your Mac, and I typically run three Windows VMs side by side during my working day. VMware has been rock solid and we use it at work so I can move VMs between machines if need be.

1Password – I keep all my logins. passwords and secure notes such as software licenses in 1Password. Browser integration makes it a snip to quickly and safely log in to web sites, plus with the iPhone app I’ve got all my passwords safely backed up on the phone.

Pages 09 – This was my first choice for word processing on the Mac, although I had to add MS Word later.

Word 2008 – I bought MS Office 2008 for the Mac simply because so many of my colleagues use Word on their Windows machines and this gave me the best compatibility for sharing those docs.

Excel 2008 – Not much of a number cruncher but have written a couple of complex spreadsheets in Excel 2007 for Windows which I use weekly and Numbers 09 had a few issues handling them, so Excel 09 was the natural choice. Even so, there’s still a couple of compatibility issues between Excel 07 and Excel 2008 – ahem, thank you Microsoft.

EyeTV – how else to get my daily fix of pulp TV without leaving my Mac? Bought an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid and this is the software that came with it. Works brilliantly and dead easy to use.

Spotify – The revolutionary music streaming service that everyone’s talking about. A good range of music to suit all tastes, and relatively unobtrusive adverts for the free service.

Last but not least, there’s an icon in the dock that lets me quickly connect to my Mac Mini (standard built-in OS X screen sharing stuff).

The Menu Bar (left to right)

Skitch – Superb for capturing screen shots and then editing/annotating them. All the text and arrows in the screen shot at the start of this post were done using Skitch. It also lets you easily upload and share the fruits of your labours.

Evernote – Great dumping ground for all those notes I would otherwise be scribbling on bits of paper, plus I can sync my notes between computers, and with an iPhone version I can sync notes to that too.

DropBox – Another great way to share files between computers, and even with friends. 2Gb of online storage for free!

OpenDNS Updater – I’m a great fan of the OpenDNS service, keeping me safe from dubious websites, phishing attacks etc. I even wrote a blog post about it a couple of months ago. The OpenDNS updater is a free little app that syncs your IP details with the OpenDNS service.

GMail Notifier – A handy way to keep tabs on new Google mail. This was Google’s own version, but I’ve since switched to the leaner GMail Notifr app.

Yahoo Widgets – A hangover from my Windows days, thousands of widgets to put on your desktop, and I like the fact that you can change the transparency of any widget.  I know OS X has the Dashboard for widgets, and with a little hack you can put Widgets on your desktop, so it’s horses for courses. (To be fair, I think Yahoo Widgets are on the way out as there’s fewer and fewer new widgets appearing these days).

Smart Reporter – A little menu bar app that monitors the SMART status of your drives – green is good. I’ve got four drives in this Mac Pro, so any early warning of an impending failure is a plus.

Mozy – Online backup tool (this is me and my backup paranoia again). Mozy offers a good balance of functionality and cost (just $4.95 a month for unlimited storage).

Little Snitch – I was actually quite happy with the built-in OS X firewall, but I got Little Snitch as part of a MacUpdate Promo Bundle. I installed it and found that it’s nice to have that little extra bit of control and information about what your firewall is up to.

iStat Menus – An assortment of useful menu bar indicators for various aspects of your system. Here I’m using the memory meter to keep an eye on how much of my 12Gb has been gobbled up by my VMware virtual machines.

MobileMe – Apple’s online service needs no introduction. I keep this in the menu bar simply to give me quick access to go and check up on it or force a quick sync.

On the desktop there are two Yahoo Widgets visible. The one on the right is the standard Yahoo Weather Widget that comes bundled with the app. You can see it here at around 50% transparency so it blends into the background. The one on the left is something called Neon Gauges which will give you a graphic representation of various aspects of your system. Here I’ve used circles to indicate CPU and disk usage and have blended them in with the shapes on the background wallpaper.

There you go, a lightning tour of what’s on my OS X desktop. Obviously I’ve done the rebuild since taking that snapshot, but I still use most of those apps, so hope this gives people a few ideas. This has given me a few ideas for other posts I might do in the future, like:

  • What news feeds I’ve got in NetNewsWire
  • What’s on my iPhone
  • A sum up of what’s in (and around) my Mac Pro

OpenDNS, a free and useful layer of defence for your Mac

Many people switch to Macs simply because they’re fed up with the constant fight against viruses, trojans, spyware and the like on their Windows PC, and it’s fair to say that as a general rule Macs aren’t yet the victims of such attacks (notwithstanding recent reports of trojan infected pirate copies of Adobe CS4 and iWork ’09). However, more and more computer criminals are switching to different ways to try and part hapless users from their money, or at least their data and ‘phishing’ scams are proliferating everywhere.

Add to this the increasing amount of stuff on the internet you’d like to avoid, or perhaps protect your kids from, and you start to feel that a little help in this department might not go amiss. Ok, now here’s a quick techie lesson – the whole ‘internet access’ thing revolves around something called DNS (Domain Naming System) and it’s basically some behind the scenes trickery that translates web addresses that you and I can understand (and even remember) into the strings of numbers that computers use to find each other. So, you type in http://www.microsoft.com and DNS translates that into something like 123.456.789.012. Doesn’t matter what web address you enter, DNS will translate it (if it exists) and you’ll get your web page. Now the important thing here is – DNS isn’t fussy. It doesn’t care if you have young children in the house, it doesn’t care if some crook sets up a spoof website to trick you out of your ATM card PIN number, it just lets you see the web – warts and all!

OpenDNS

OpenDNS

So it stands to reason that if this DNS service is helping you get these web pages, then it could also help you by filtering out web pages that you don’t really want to see. Now there are various ways to do this, but by far the easiest way is to use a DNS service that already knows about all sorts of web pages that people might want to avoid. Enter OpenDNS. It’s a free service that already knows about tens of thousands of web sites and has categorized them into ones that are ‘safe’ or are associated with the not so nice side of the web, like… phishing sites, sites loaded with trojans and other malware, pornography sites, the list goes on. The principle is that you use OpenDNS and you tell it what categories of things you want to avoid. It then makes sure that if you deliberately or even unintentionally enter a web address that falls into one of your chosen categories, it politely blocks the request and lets you know. Result – you don’t stumble upon something you’d rather not see.

So how do you get your Mac to use OpenDNS rather than your ISP’s own DNS? Well there are two ways – you either tell your Mac to use OpenDNS (in which case it’s only the Mac you configure that’s protected), or better still, you tell your router to use OpenDNS. If you choose the router option, then every Mac (or PC or even Linux machine) can be protected in one go. Here’s how to set up the two options in a little more detail:

Configuring your Airport Extreme Base Station to use OpenDNS

  1. Go to your Utilities folder and launch the Airport utility.
  2. You’ll be greeted with an initial screen showing you your Airport Base Station (or a list if you’ve got more than one).
  3. Select your Airort device and click on the Manual Setup button.
  4. Click on the Internet tab.
  5. In the two boxes to the right of where it says DNS server(s) make a note of any values currently shown (just in case it doesn’t work).
  6. Now enter the following values in those two boxes. Enter 208.67.222.222 in the first box, and 208.67.220.220 in the second box.
  7. Finally click on the Update button and once the Airport has restarted itself you’re done.

Note, take no notice of the other settings you see on my Airport Extreme configuration screen, I’m currently using mine in ‘Bridge’ mode so my other settings may well be very different to yours.

Configuring an individual Mac to use OpenDNS

  1. Go to System Preferences and click on Network.
  2. Now choose the network interface that you use to connect to the web. This might be either a wired ethernet connection called something like ‘Ethernet 1’ or a wireless connection called ‘Airport’.
  3. If there’s already a value in the box next to where it says DNS Server, make a note of it, then delete it.
  4. Now click on the Advanced button and then choose the DNS tab.
  5. Under the large white box below the label DNS servers, click on the ‘+‘ sign and enter 208.67.222.222 then hit Enter.
  6. Click the ‘+’ sign again and enter the second DNS server address as 208.67.220.220 and hit Enter again.
  7. Finally click on the Apply button and close your System Preferences.

Don’t worry if all this sounds a bit daunting or if you’ve got a different router. The principles are the same and the OpenDNS web site has examples of how to change the DNS settings for a wide variety of routers.

Airport OpenDNS settings

Airport OpenDNS settings

Now you’ve configured your router or your Mac to use OpenDNS, the only task that remains is to tell OpenDNS what sort of websites you’d like filtered out. For this you go to the OpenDNS website and you’ll need to create a free account. Having done that, you log in to the OpenDNS website and choose Dashboard and then Settings. On the settings screen it is all pretty intuitive. You can chose from various pre-configured settings (High, Moderate, Low, etc.) or you can create your own custom settings and choose to block certain categories of website, or even individual websites. Once done, just save your settings.

Individual Mac OpenDNS settings

Individual Mac OpenDNS settings

Now you’ve set up your Mac or router to use OpenDNS, and you’ve told OpenDNS what you don’t want to see, but there’s

one final piece in the jigsaw puzzle. If you don’t have a static IP address, then how does OpenDNS know where you are and how to apply your settings to you? Well you could just log in to the OpenDNS website when you start your Mac but that would be a bit of a pain. Why not run a little utility that does it all for you? I use a free utility called OpenDNS Updater and I put it in my Login Items so that it launches every time I switch on my Mac. Just give it your login details for OpenDNS and it does the rest.

At this point you’re probably thinking his sounds too good to be true and that there’s got to be a catch. Well no, there isn’t. Does it slow down access to the web? No, not as far as I can see. What about cost – is OpenDNS really free? Well the free home service is paid for by sponsored links, but you’ll only ever see them if you enter a non-existent web address and then all you see is an OpenDNS page telling you the website doesn’t exist rather than a default page telling you the same thing.

The only time you'll ever see sponsored links is if you enter a non-existent web address

The only time you'll ever see sponsored links is if you enter a non-existent web address

So there you have it. It’s safe, it’s free, it’s unobtrusive and it works with Macs, Windows PCs and even Linux PCs, so here’s to safer surfing!