AppleTalk on your Synology NAS

A few years ago, I picked up a Synology NAS for network backups here in the ol’ home.

My model (a DiskStation DS218j) in particular was on sale. It has space for two internal desktop SATA hard drives and runs them in RAID1, so the two hard drives mirror each’s data. Ideally, if you had a hardware failure, one drive is still good, and data is not lost.

The NAS has a mature and stable interface accessible through a website as well as ssh. It has a lot of different features, including setting up your own Dropbox-clone, internal mail servers, development environments, and even web hosting. Most users will want it just for the backup options, and it’s plenty fast over the local network doing Time Machine. You can even expand its capabilities through community packages that add functionality and cool software. All in all, my model is a fairly inexpensive entry level model one, and there are others that are more expensive and have more drive capacity.

One feature that it has is AppleTalk, running a newer version of Netatalk (~3.3). Netatalk is an open source implementation of the AppleTalk protocol that can help bridge networking divides among older and newer Macs. While it was fairly easy to turn on AppleTalk, it took a little bit more work to get the thing doing what I wanted to do.

For one, I prefer guest access (internally again) to make it less painful for older Macs to connect and share files. I don’t necessarily want to create different users for each vintage Mac and have to memorize a different set of passwords. You can apparently do this on the Synology, creating individual home folders for each vintage Mac. That’s overkill for me.

I want a folder to share vintage MacOS software and updates to make it easier to save files and upgrade old machines.

So, in addition to making sure AppleTalk was enabled under File Services in the main Control Panel, I also had to do three things, two of which you probably shouldn’t do.

First, I made sure to utilize Advanced Permissions under the Folder Sharing options for the particular folder I wanted to share with the Macs. This makes sure I could enable guest access, so my vintage Macs don’t need to enter any passwords.

Second, I needed to enable the guest account. It comes with a password for security purposes, which makes sense, but I didn’t want a password.

So, I did the third thing. Under Users -> Advanced, you can check off enforcing password rules which lets anyone have an account without a password. You shouldn’t do this really, but since this is only internally accessed, it’s fine for me.

Now, I can access, at least initially, a shared folder from a Performa 5215CD on OS 8.1 and an iMac G4 running OS 9.2.2.

However, to get it working on my Color Classic, which I hope to recap soon, I had to get the system software up to 7.5.3 and then move the “AppleShare” file from the AppleShare client 3.7.4 into the Extensions folder. (Being away from System 7 so long, I forgot how kind of painful it was to do updates back in the day.) The weird quirk was that AppleShare client would not install, so I just manually copied the file. At that point, with Open Transport 1.1.2 also installed, it gave me an option to connect to an IP address for AppleTalk in Chooser. The Synology does not automatically show up. I may explore that quirk later, but I hear it’s not possible in later versions of netatalk.

Anyway, at least for now, with OS 7.5.3 and up, I can share files among ancient and newer Macs.

Cool, right?

— Nathan

Restoring an (ancient) Simple Touch Nook

Now for a quick digression, because I love getting more use out of old tech.

Years ago, I picked up a Simple Touch Nook e-reader, a competitor/alternative to the Amazon kindle, for under $20 refurbished. Barnes & Noble, I believe, have gone through bankruptcies and changes since then so these older devices have been mostly abandoned in favor of newer options. While I could get it to connect to wifi, the Setup process cannot connect to the Nook servers for some reason (probably because they do not exist any longer). Other than that though, the device works and has a solid e-ink screen and included Adobe technology.

If you happen to find one for nothing and want a way to read some e-books, follow the guide from this webpage to skip registration. You can then easily side load ebooks onto a microSD card loaded into the slot on the side. Just drag files into the Books subfolder. I believe the reader will even view PDFs, albeit in gray scale.

Here are the steps from the website. They worked for me.

Hold down the top right button on the front of the device and slide your finger from left to right across the top of the E Ink screen. (It’s a little hard to see, but it’s the Nook’s default next page button if you were using your right hand. For past Kindle owners, it’s the one in the same spot as the previous page button on a Kindle.)

Turn on the device, but do NOT start setting it up. B&N devilishly waits until the last step to ask you to create an account, at which point the following instructions don’t work. If you do start setting it up, just turn it off and back on again.

A ‘Factory’ button should appear in the top left corner of the screen. Press it.

Once in the Factory menu, hold down the top right button on the front of the device and tap the bottom right corner of the screen.

You should now see a ‘Skip Oobe’ button. Tap that and the Nook should finally load the home screen.

My son now has his own simple e-reader, and I’ve gotten more use out of old tech. Many classic novels are online free, like Call of the Wild and Huck Finn. And we didn’t feed the Amazon beast. Good stuff.

— Nathan

When a Dead Mac IIci Is a Gift

My father died this month, and one of the gifts he left my brother and I with was a love for tinkering, especially on Apple hardware.

We grew up in a household when our first computer was a TRS-80 Model 4P. Yes, it was portable, in a sense, but my dad was able to upgrade the machine with a hi-res display (or one like it). We wrote stories and played games and even dived into programming. Good times. (The TRS-80 gave me my first taste for text adventure games, which are still the best.)

When the local school system where my dad worked as a counselor began to get computers, especially during a time when you could turn in receipts at local grocery stories, he was the one who was brave enough to figure them out. He brought them home, so we could try our hands at Apple II software and a beautiful little computer called a Mac Classic. We played Dark Castle on that one. So cool. (I learned years later that my friends were jealous, while it was just the norm for us.)

As time went on, my dad started taking us to surplus auctions to pick up piles of old Apple II stuff, various IBM PC equipment, and highly desired Mac gear. Some, he rebuilt and put into classrooms so his little rural Oklahoma school could give every kid access to a computer. Others, he kept to tinker or repair or find some use. A few items ended up being sold.

So, when he died, my brother and I went up on a Sunday morning to begin digging through piles of various old systems, including a couple of rare pieces that might be highly desired, that we helped him store at the old house. Like most vintage Macs, the capacitors are at the end of life. Layers of dust seeped into the motherboards, although a few of the machines ran well. I wished I could have brought more home, but I limited myself to just three or four items for the road trip back to the east coast.

One of the items was this Mac IIci. On initial inspection, it didn’t look too bad. I wasn’t able to test it, so I loaded it up, excited to see if the Daystar card and other expansion slots would make for a really speed vintage Mac to fiddle with. I got it home, plugged it in, and discovered that it wasn’t working. Opening it up more, the battery and cage fell out, and I was greeted with the horror of what happens when one of those little PRAM batteries explode. It ain’t good.

The question is – is the motherboard worth rehabbing? Should I bother replacing the caps and trying to pull more grime and corrosion off the motherboard? Will it run without a battery? If you have answers, please post them in the comments below.

Alternately, the gift my dad gave me – a passion to rehab these old machines – does it matter? Why not try to fix it up for a few bucks? If it doesn’t work, you learned something. (For starters, take out those batteries if you need to store your old computer parts.) You had some fun. You developed some skills that may come in handy down the road. (I really need to get decent at soldering things.)

So, yeah, thanks, dad, for another project.

Intel -> Arm Transition Is Official

I suppose I am old enough to have endured two big transitions in the Apple world. The first, of course, was Apple jumping ship from the PowerPC line of chips, ending with the G5 as its last hurrah in that space, to more competitive Intel chips. Today, at WWDC, Apple announced its next transition, promising to release the first Apple Silicone powered Macs by the end of the year.

A Mac Mini style developer’s kit is already being primed and made available to developers to take a look at what this new era will look like.

Already, we are being shown glimpses of new Apple Universal Binaries. (Blast from the past!)

I am always in a wait and see mode, but with the advances that its own chips have given it in the phone and tablet world, this makes sense for Apple. Their chips are excellent and are probably especially ideal for laptops. A MacBook with an Apple chip is going to be fast, efficient, and small, truly fanless without settling for an underpowered mobile Intel chip. It’s kind of exciting. Right now, you can mock up your own experience if you pair a decent iPad with an Apple Keyboard.

What will be especially interesting is the desktop end of it. Will someone really use a Mac desktop with an Apple chip to do their video editing? How will it stack up against the more serious and beefy options in the Intel/AMD world? Is this Apple giving up after recently redesigning the Mac Pro? Apple has committed to continue to support and develop future Intel Macs, and I could see a scenario where Apple’s ARM chips go into the consumer side of things like Mac Minis, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros but everything else remains in the Intel world. However, it’s probably unlikely. We’ll just have to see.

On the other hand, is this the end of any customizability in future Apple Silicone chip-based machines? Will we see, for example, a future Mac mini with upgradable RAM slots? I doubt it. Maybe these future Macs won’t need upgradeability, being far more efficient than current hardware. Maybe their form factors will be simpler, and their price tag a bit cheaper too. Who knows?

Once again, Apple is taking some risks, but in this case, it’s proven. They aren’t dependent on IBM to design and push the limits of its chips. They aren’t going to be tied to Intel either. Their chips are in their hands now. Of course, this could put pressure on Intel to step up and make a case for Apple to remain a customer, working hard to develop processors to fit future products. We’ll see.

Already, Mac users with long memories are wondering when their Intel Macs will be excluded from future Mac updates. Will it be a fast transition like Leopard to Snow Leopard? Or will it take a few cycles?

What a day for the Mac.

— Nathan

Disappearing RAM

Back when I gave the Snow Leopard development build a test run, I noticed something weird that I chocked up to running beta software.

My G5’s RAM was wrong, listing as 6GB when it is actually 10GB.

I didn’t think much of it and went on working on other projects.

Booting back into Leopard, I wasn’t happy to see the RAM size remained incorrect. On top of it, I ordered a cheap 2x2GB set of sticks to further boost my G5. It was time to figure out what was going on, keeping in mind that I had not messed with my RAM at all. The only thing I had done was replace the thermal paste on the CPU.

Here’s my troubleshooting process:

1 – Open up the G5 and reseat the RAM. No fix on the first go.

2 – Reset the NVRAM. No fix either.

3 – Use a tiny bit of thermal surface cleaning solution that I use on CPUs when I put fresh thermal paste on to gently clean the edges of the sticks. Again, no fix.

4 – Spray a little canned air at the empty RAM slots. Again, no fix.

4 – In frustration, I reseated the RAM with a little more firmness. All is well. For now.

My Power Mac is showing 12GB of RAM now (which is what I have in it). Another 4GB is on the way, so I will max this ancient machine out shortly. The answer is… there is no answer. Maybe this G5 is old and near death. We’ll see.

— Nathan