Democracy Player Updated

Democracy Player was released this afternoon.  The new version provides a multitude of bug fixes and now uses significantly less memory. is said to require 50-75% less RAM that the previous release.  In addition, the new release is also much faster.

For the unfamiliar, Democracy aims to be something of an internet based TV set.  Democracy Player uses RSS and Bit torrent to aggregate podcasts and other web based audio and video content into one easy to use application.  The application not only makes it easy to find the content, but takes care of watching for updated content as well.  Simply subscribe to your favorite syndicated webcast using its RSS link and all of the new episodes are automatically downloaded.

Over time, Democracy has seen a great deal of evolution.  The product has become more stable and useful with each release.  And for a pre 1.0 release, the application shows a great deal of promise.  The easing up on its memory requirements makes this updated a milestone release.  Now is truly the best time to take a look at the software if you are downloading for the first time.  If you’ve used Democracy in the past, it might be time to take another look.  Download it and try it for your self today at

Seagate to Offer Encrypted Hard Drives

Seagate has announce plans to release a new generation of mobile hard drives.  The drives will offer a hardware encryption mechanism built into the mechanism.  Every bit of data that is written to the drive will be secure.  This maybe the best means by which mobile users can truly secure their data.

Mobile computer users are most vulnerable to equipment theft.  And when a computer is stolen, the computers data is ultimately compromised.  Seagate’s plan is to keep the computer data secure, even if the computer falls into the wrong hands.  The would be thief would have possession of the computer terminal, but without the requisite password, the con would have no way to access the data stored on the drive.

The idea is that a computer user would have to enter a password before the machine would even boot from the drive.  Some might see it as another step or a potential hassle, but many believe Seagate has the right idea.  In recent months, tech sites have reported massive problems with data theft due to stolen portables.  Recently the theft of a laptop computer resulted in the exposure of thousands of veterans social security numbers.  Mobile computers using Seagate’s DriveTrust line of hard drives would not be susceptible to such information disclosure.

It sounds like Seagate has a great thing going.  As long as the implementation is solid, secure, and unobtrusive, other manufacturers will likely follow suit.  It will also be important to note whether or not the new encrypted mechanisms are capable of the same access speeds found in current conventional drives.  As of yet, there is no word on performance.  If there is a serious performance hit due to the encryption overhead, DriveTrust will be doomed to failure.


Mac Application Removes iTunes DRM

Mac users being held hostage by Apple’s iTunes DRM (digital rights management) might have something the cheer about.  A possible reprieve is being offered by  The tool is called FairGame and it aims to free users from Apple’s DRM known as FairPlay.

FairGame is a Mac application that essentially uses scripting to automate a process of re-encoding iTunes music using iMovie and iTunes.  The benefit of this particular process is that the music’s metadata, lyrics, and artwork remain intact.  Quite creative, all things considered.

In my testing, I was unable to get FairGame to function.  It kept breaking part of the way through the script.  The first issue I had was the result of Default Folder.  Disabling the Default Folder for iMovie got me even further through the process before the script simply failed.

What I found most interesting about FairGame is the way that the scripting was setup.  I’ve never seen anything like it on the Mac (without the user of a 3rd party runtime tool).  Rather than running a series of invisible AppleScript events to automate the conversion process, FairGame seems to be a scripted set of mouse based evens provided by the author.  When running FairGame, the user can literally watch all of the screen based events take place.  The mouse moves across the screen, menu are selected, options are changed, and files are manipulated.  I’ve never seen this done before.  Impressed as I am with the DRM removal tool, I’m even more curious how this script was generated.

As is always the case with files that are transcoded, a quality loss will invariably result.  The results of this are generally more reliant on the quality of the codecs used along the way.  At one point, FairGame transcodes the original iTunes file to WAV format.  Once in WAV format, the file should have every bit the audio quality as the original as WAV is lossless.  The only real hit will occur when FairGame converts the file back to AAC for MP3.  The same sort of loss would occur when users burn protected music to a CD, and then convert back to AAC to remove the DRM.  FairGame simply streamlines the process and saves CD media and time.

Posts around the web seem to indicate that I’m not the only one who has had trouble getting FairGame to work.  This post on shows a great deal of user feedback.  I encourage users to give FairGame a shot.  Your mileage may vary, but the concept is sound.


How Universal is Your Mac?

Apple did the Mac community proud when it released the first round of Intel based Macintosh systems.  The new machines perform brilliantly, and provide the speed increases that users have been clamoring for.  Unfortunately that performance increase has become something of a double edged sword.  The applications that really let the new systems flex their muscles are referred to as Universal Binary.  The term indicates that the software has been compiled to run natively on older PowerPC based systems as well as new Intel based hardware.  And while Universal Binary applications shine on the new machines, older PowerPC optimized applications run in emulation and their performance suffers greatly as a result.

For the average user, telling the difference between Universal and non-Universal software can be less than intuitive.  The most direct way to find out its to simply use the Finder’s Get Info command on the application’s icon.  The info window clearly lists the application as either Universal, or PowerPC (or in rare cases, as Intel).  See the icons below.
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What Does the Future Hold for Hamachi?

It’s confirmed.  Hamachi, the killer free P2P VPN software solution has been purchased by  Given LogMeIn’s current market aimed at business support solutions, the future of Hamachi is in question.  The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.  For now we can only hope that the product will remain a free solution.

LogMeIn’s intention seems to be the same as many current Hamachi users.  They intend to integrate the software into current products that allow easy and intuitive offsite tech support.  Checkout the press release here and tune in later for more news as it develops.


Hamachi: Peer to Peer VPN Connections

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are the safest way to connect computers or computer networks over the internet.  Once a VPN connection is established, the data between the systems on either side of the VPN tunnel exchange data that has been wrapped in encryption.  This prevents evil doers from accessing the data while it’s in transit.

Unfortunately, while VPNs are an extremely secure way to connect computers, configuring the VPN connection often borders on rocket science.  The routing, IP protocols, and assortment of encryption options often keep even the advanced computer users needlessly spinning their wheels for days.  In many cases, people simply give up on the concept of security and fall back to more conventional and much less secure means of transferring data.

In a previous post on this site, I detailed how to configure the VPN service built-in to OS X Server.  The article explained how to configure the VPN server so that remote clients (telecommuters or portable computer users) could access a secure LAN over the internet using a VPN client.  And while the story was very well received, it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one stumbling to get a VPN server working correctly.

A conventional VPN connects a remote user to a secure network, be it home or corporate.  Once the VPN connection is in place, all data between the remote client and the VPN server is wrapped in a tunnel of encryption.  It’s impervious to anyone trying to eavesdrop as the data is transmitted over the internet.  This is what makes it a virtual private network.  The VPN allows the remote user access to all of the network resources of the home or corporate network as if the remote user where plugged into a network port right on the LAN.
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Multiple Simultaneous VPN Connections in OS X

The VPN client built into OS X 10.4 is nothing short of amazing.  As expected, it can connect to the VPN server built into 10.4 Server.  It can also connect to almost any L2TP or PPTP server such as those built into Linksys and Cisco routers.  To anyone who has used OS X’s VPN client, this is probably old news.  But few people actually realize that the client is actually capable of connecting to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.

Consider the situation I ran into last week.  My office is in northern Illinois.  I was setting up a network at my company’s new facility in Florida.  One night I was working late from my hotel room and needed to connect to my network back in Illinois as well as access data on the network at the new office location on the other side of town.  I had already set up VPN access to both locations but I was stuck when I needed to access both networks at the same time.  I starting to explore the VPN connection options of the Internet Connect application on my laptop and discovered that it was actually possible to connect to multiple VPN servers simultaneously.  Though not immediately obvious, the ability actually does exist.

First, it is necessary to understand that there are really two ways to add a new VPN connection to the Internet Connect application.  One allows for multiple simultaneous connections while the other does not.  If there are no VPN configurations set in Internet Connect it is first necessary to create a new one by selecting New VPN Connection from the File menu.  Next, select the VPN type— either L2TP or PPTP.  The following screen will ask for the Server Address, Account Name, and Password.  There is also a Configuration menu.  Pull down the menu and select Edit Configurations.  This provides full access to all of the settings needed to configure a VPN connection.  It is worth noting that is good practice to always select Edit Configurations rather than simply input the settings into the first screen that asks for Server Address, Account Name, and Password.  In the case of L2TP connections, it is not possible to establish a connection to a VPN server without specifying the Secret.  This can only be done from the extended information screen available under Edit Configurations.
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Why Should a Remote User Route All Traffic Over a VPN?

This post is a follow-up to the article posted last week detailing how to setup OS X’s built-in VPN Server.

One of the cool new features in 10.4’s VPN client is the ability to send all traffic over the VPN.  As one reader noted, this is great for people using public access, like a wireless network at the upcoming MacWorld Expo.

Setting the VPN client to send all traffic over the VPN has several advantages, and two possible disadvantages.  First, the down side.

Consider the bandwidth available to your VPN server.  If you are on a corporate network, odds are you have a synchronous internet connection, meaning that the internet connections upstream bandwidth is equal to its down stream.  This is the case with the T1 at my office.  If your VPN server is using a consumer level broadband provider, odds are your connection is asynchronous.  This is often the case with DSL or cable modem connections.  The downstream might be a high as 8Mb, while the upstream is limited to 384Kb.  That is the case with my cable modem at home.
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Setup Mac OS X VPN Server for Mac & XP Clients

Mac OS X Server has included VPN support for some time.  And, in true Apple fashion, it brings simplicity to a very complicated and technical server function.  Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are used to securely connect two networks over the internet.  This is done by creating an encrypted tunnel between the two networks.  The tunnel wraps around all data that is passed in either direction.  This keeps the information safe from prying eyes as it crosses the insecure internet.  The tunnel endpoints take care of all the encryption and decryption so that, once the tunnel is established, the network communication is seamless to users.

In many cases, VPNs connect two routers and effectively bridges two networks.  In the case of a telecommuter, the home router might establish a tunnel with a corporate router in order to allow the home user access to services on the company network.  In this scenario, the two routers are the endpoints for the VPN.  Router to router based VPNs are often very difficult to configure, especially when one of the endpoints is a high powered enterprise class device like those provided by companies like Cisco.  Router to router VPNs are often hardware based because the routers on either end have hardware built into them that is dedicated to processing VPN traffic.

Mac OS X Server has the ability to create software based VPN tunnels.  Combine that with the VPN client software built into the client version of Mac OS X and you have a very powerful and easy to configure VPN solution.

Consider this scenario.  A corporation runs Mac OS X server on their network.  A number of mobile users need to connect to the corporate network in order to access internal systems.  Once the Mac server is properly configured, the remote users can establish a secure VPN tunnel between their desktop machine and the corporate network using nothing more that software already built into their operating system.  And, once the VPN tunnel is established, all of the information exchanged between the remote user and the office network is fully encrypted and secure.
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