Setting up a free VPN connection with the native OSX client

On Sunday, I learned — via TorrentFreak — about a new, free, anonymous VPN network that’s part of a graduate studies program in Japan. The idea is that if you’re locked behind the Great Firewall of China or some other, similar internet censorship situation, or if you just want to browse from another geographic location either for privacy issues, or because you’re doing something slightly (or not-so-slightly) naughty and you want to make your browsing anonymous from your ISP, this service — called VPNGate may work for you. For example, you might be able to use it to get around local blackout restrictions for internet streaming of sports events (*cough* not that I would know anything about that personally).

This isn’t a discussion on internet hacking, however, this is how to get this to work for you if you are on OSX Mountain Lion. It’s actually pretty darn nifty and blows what I was doing before — using the ProxySwitchy Google Chrome extension — completely out of the water. Windows users will need to go somewhere else (though my understanding is you can do this on Windows boxes without a third-party VPN client, as well). Yes, there are instructions in the VPNGate site, but you have to look for them and you have to know what you’re looking for.

System Preferences

First, go to System Preferences. I have a shortcut in my dock, but you can also get there from the apple menu in the top left corner. Once you’re there, go to Network.

New Connection

Click the “+” button to create a new connection and select “VPN” from the dropdown. The default should be “L2TP over IPSec” and that’s fine. Name your connection (if you want) and then click Create.

Connection settings

Now you need to enter in some settings. First, pick a server. If location doesn’t matter to you, the Japanese servers are probably fastest, but there are use cases where you may want to connect from a specific country (one I can think of off the top of my head was last summer’s London Olympics where you could watch the games online if you were in the UK). Enter the IP or servername into the Server Address box. The username and password for everything is “vpn”, so the first place you put that is in the Account Name.

Now you need to go into the Authentication Settings.

Authentication Settings

Remember, the password to everything is “vpn”, so put this into “Password” and “Shared Secret”. Hit OK and then go into Advanced.

Advanced

Put a check in “Send all traffic over VPN connection”. Leave the other two boxes checked. Click OK.

Now you’re all set and you can connect over your VPN connection. To test this, go to Google.com. If you are connecting from a Japanese VPN server, you will be sent to google.jp. The VPNGate site will also tell you what your IP is and where you’re connecting from, so you can also test that way.

VPN ConnectionBonus! The “Show VPN status in menu bar” option is awesome. This adds a little icon in your menu bar when you’re disconnected which provided easy access to connect to the VPN. When it’s connecting, it shows you the status of the connection and then how long you’ve been connected.

Now I can uninstall ProxySwitchy and forget about those free public proxy server lists.

Note: Knowledge is power and with great power comes great responsibility. And that responsibility is yours, not mine, if you use VPN servers to, for example, steal stuff. So, don’t be a dick and have respect for people who produce content and deserve to get paid. Don’t blame me if the FBI cracks your encryption, finds out you’ve been hosting a video streaming service of in-the-theatre movies off your Windows XP box through this service. Also, have respect for those individuals contributing to this amazing service and don’t clog their bandwidth with your crappy pr0n downloads, dude. You can also give back and hook your own machine up to the network to be used as a VPN server for others.

Timed Screenshot Alfred Extension

I was shocked — SHOCKED, I tell you!!! — to learn today that Skitch (the once-amazing screen-capture and image sharing app that is almost worth ditching Windows for Mac just to be able to use) no longer lets you do timed screenshots. What??? I was so upset, I had to do some digging and learned that you can do this with a built-in Mac app called Grab — which has virtually no GUI whatsoever — or you can do it in Preview. Both of those require me to open an app that I don’t already have open and that’s an extra step. So I created this simple Alfred extension that will do a timed screenshot within Alfred that will save in your /Pictures directory.

Timed Screenshot

This doesn’t solve all of my problems — I still need to open the image, for example, if I want to crop it or add annotations — but for what it does, it gets it done, and doesn’t mean leaving Preview open 24/7 (I hate leaving apps I’m not using open).

SublimeText 2 on Mac OSX 10.5.x with Wine Bottler

Because I can never leave well enough alone, I installed a copy of OSX 10.5.7 on my Dell Latitude D531 via a copy of iATKOS v7 I had lying around.  Why Leopard and not Snow Leopard or Lion?  Well, first of all, by the time I got a couple moderately successful installs of Leopard (enough that I knew how to reproduce it), I was pretty satisfied to leave well enough alone, but also I wasn’t sure the Dell laptop could handle the newer software.  In going through and setting up software to make this a functional work machine, I realized that my IDE of choice SublimeText wouldn’t run natively on 10.5.  This had to be remedied.  SublimeText, as I’ve discussed before, is the best development environment (and possibly the best text editor, in general) there is, and I would not accept a lesser editor after embracing Sublime so fully.  And anyway, a solution was readily available.

First, download Wine Bottler.  Wine Bottler is an app that bundles Wine for OSX and will take care of setting up your Wine configuration so you don’t need to worry about it.  But, more than that, it allows you to create .app shortcuts that can then be redistributed (if you so desired) or installed into your Applications folder like a regular app.  (This is one of the annoying parts of using Wine — it installs in it’s own little isolated environment, which makes creating shortcuts that you actually can, you know, use, tedious and occasionally problematic.)  Wine Bottler will even bundle Wine into your .app file, so if you were going to redistribute the app, your users wouldn’t need to have Wine installed themselves.

Once Wine Bottler and Wine are installed (both are in the download bundle from the Wine Bottler page), you can download the Windows version of SublimeText.  I chose the 32-bit version because I didn’t really trust my laptop nor Wine to be able to handle the 64-bit architecture, even though the Dell has a 64-bit processor.  I didn’t want to try to push my luck.  (Note, this process could probably be applied to most other simple Windows apps.  I say “simple” because, although Wine 1.0 officially marks the milestone where Windows apps can actually be run natively within a Wine wrapper, there are still bugs with a lot of programs and it generally has to do with the complexity of the program  you’re trying to run (games, graphic applications like Photoshop, anything that involves rendering video might be a bit much to expect Wine to handle well — I tried running DVDShrink under  Wine and it failed miserably).)

You are about to open a Wine file

Double-clicking the SublimeText installer opened Wine Bottler automatically, and I was asked for some information about the app.  First it wanted to know if I should just run it as a Wine file or if I wanted to create an OSX application with WineBottler.  I chose the second, then immediately regretted it because I was running an install file — would the shortcut created be a shortcut to the installer?  Answer: no — the install ran through fine and at the end I was given a choice to pick the path (in the Wine /Program Files directory) for the app I wanted to create a shortcut for and where the .app file should go (I chose Documents then later moved it to Applications).

SublimeText 2 in Wine on OSX 10.5.7

Once Wine Bottler creates the shortcut, Sublime runs more or less the way you’d expect it to after a loading window pops up saying it’s preparing the file.  If you’re used to hitting the command key for everything, you’ll have to switch your thinking to using the control key (command+c vs. ctrl+c to copy, etc.), but otherwise it works the same as the native equivalents.

Applications

SublimeText 2 InfoNow, because this is vitally important, there is one last thing that must be done to fulling bring the SublimeText experience to OSX 10.5.x and that is the application shortcut icon.  I had a few, high resolution SublimeText png icons I had downloaded for my ObjectDock on my Windows machine that I found from the SublimeText forums in a Google search, but being a relatively new Mac user, I had to Google to figure out how to use those pngs as the icon for SublimeText to replace the generic app icon it was given automatically.  This is actually fairly ridiculously easy:

Open the png file in Preview, hit command+a to select all, then command+c to copy it.  Then go over to your Applications folder and either right-click and do More Info for the SublimeText shortcut or use command+i to open the application info screen.  Click on the small icon at the top left of the window (I was misled by the large icon at the bottom — don’t try to use that) so it is highlighted, then do command+v to paste your icon in and, voila new application shortcut icon.  Now you can drag this to your doc and it looks and acts like a regular, native version of SublimeText.

Again, this process could be used for other apps, too, but, since it’s Wine, your mileage may vary depending on the app.  Hopefully this was useful to someone other than me, let me know in the comments if you found this helpful.

someone put me out of my g33k’d misery

i feel like steve jobs is playing a cruel game of punk’d on me.

so here’s the deal.  i have a macbook.  many applications that i want to use don’t work or don’t seem to be entirely supported or have weird issues in tiger (such as the bizarre instance of photoshop not being able to open .psds).  plus, spore requires 10.5.3, and spore on the mac would be awesome.  so i finally decide to try to upgrade from tiger (10.4.11) to the latest leopard (10.5.5).  

that’s when i started reconsidering suicide.  or at least technocide.

leopard installed okay the first time around. in fact, better than — it was more responsive and had a faster boot time.  so i did the software updates…which proceeded to kill everything.  after the 10.5.5 combo update, the laptop would no longer boot.  ultimately, i had to start over from scratch — erase everything i had installed and do a new install.  here’s the summary:

for some reason, every install directly from the 10.5 disk failed.
trying an archive & install (that keeps all your old settings and applications) didn’t boot after it got trashed from the update.
which means i would need to install 10.4 first and upgrade.
the 10.5.5 combo update, according to various mac forums, seemed to have issues for some people, so I did each incremental update separately, but I only got as far as 10.5.1 before i started having more issues.

so here’s my dilemma.  i love osx, i really do.  if i had a choice, i’d use it as my de facto operating system.  but i don’t want to spend another 2-3 hours hacking away at the laptop to try (and possibly fail.  again) to get it up to 10.5.  i thought about running time machine, and making a backup as soon as i have a successful install of 10.5 so at least i have a restore point when it fails, but that just means that i’m expecting to fail when i install the updates.  i’d rather not just expect to fail.

so my options are:

install tiger again and leave it.  possibly funky-acting programs and no support for current/next-gen applications (making the laptop dated).
install tiger again and sell it.  possibly using the money to buy one o’ dem fancy schmancy asus eee pc’s which i read have had osx86 successfully installed on them.
install something completely different.  i downloaded and was this close to installing the google linux distro, gOS — the biggest detractor was, a) no app support for what i wanted, i’d have to find possibly lesser-quality equivalents of what i want and expect the adobe suite to not work 100% (so back where i started with that), plus, what’s a google OS without chrome?  seriously.  considering waiting until they finish chrome for linux and inevitably release a new gOS with chrome out of the box.

ultimately, installing something completely different doesn’t solve anything, but the install process would be like 15 minutes vs. 2 hours.  and my sketchy cd-rom drive just keeps getting worse everytime i do this, so by the end i’m kind of expecting that it won’t accept any cds anymore at all, which doesn’t help things.

so i’m at a loss.  what do y’all think?