How to connect to a serial device on a Mac

My mobile device of choice at work is a 13″ MacBook Air. It’s a great system that is extremely lightweight (see: portable). Unfortunately, I need the ability to console into switches to make configuration changes and this computer does not have a serial port. Thankfully, I have a USB to Serial Adapter that I keep in my “go bag.” It doesn’t work out-of-the-box in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, but it isn’t too difficult to configure.

I followed a few articles I found online (primarily, this one: http://plugable.com/2011/07/12/installing-a-usb-serial-adapter-on-mac-os-x).

  • Plug in the USB to Serial Adapter.
  • Click Apple menu > About This Mac > More Info … > System Report …
  • Click on Hardware > USB > verify you see USB-Serial Controller D on the right.
  • Download the driver here: http://plugable.com/drivers/prolific (I downloaded the PL2303 MacOSX10.6 dmg v1.4.0.zip file).
  • Install the driver, then reboot the computer.
  • Click on System Preferences > Network > “+” > Interface. If it was installed properly, you will see something like “USB-Serial Controller D.”
  • Click cancel.

Now that the device and driver are installed properly, you can download a terminal emulator like ZTerm to make a connection to the serial device.

Apple and Google Service Status

I love service status webpages – there are so many services users rely on every day that are in the cloud and it’s nice to be able to determine whether a particular service is having issues or not.

I’ve known about Google’s status page for a while: http://www.google.com/appsstatus

But more recently I came across a link to Apple’s “cloud services” (aka iCloud-related): http://www.apple.com/support/systemstatus/ I found the website when there was an iMessage outage a month or more ago. Granted I already knew about the iMessage problem, but it was nice to know Apple could confirm an issue.

Microsoft has one for Office 365 too, but you need an account to view it, so I won’t post a link.

Time Machine via AirDisk and CrashPlan+

I’ve been struggling with my personal backups for a while. I use a MacBook (white 13″ mid-2007, OS X 10.7.5 Lion) at home as my primary computer and have always used Time Machine. How I use Time Machine has changed over the last few years:

  • I started using Time Machine with a locally connected external portable USB Western Digital hard drive. This always worked well, but required me to remember to plug in the external HDD to run a backup.
  • I bought an AirPort Extreme Base Station (AEBS) for Christmas 2011 and connected my USB printer, my wife’s backup HDD, and my backup HDD via a powered USB hub. In doing this, I was able to share out each hard drive independently and re-seed our Time Machine backups. This worked great and automatically backed up our data hourly – no physical connections required!
  • I found a Good Friday deal this past year (2012) and bought a 1-year subscription to CrashPlan+ for 98% off (something like $2.40 for unlimited data and up to 10 computers for the year). I always liked Time Machine, but figured I should have an off-site backup too and for under $5 for the year I couldn’t pass it up.

My local wireless Time Machine backup combined with my offsite wireless CrashPlan backup seemed like the ultimate solution, and it was for about 10 days.

Starting about a week before Christmas, my Time Machine backup stopped working. After much troubleshooting, I realized that I couldn’t even connect to the AirDisk shares on my AEBS. Rebooting the base station fixed this problem temporarily. Reformatting my HDD and re-seeding my backup only worked as long as it took to finish the initial backup, then continued to fail. Again, I couldn’t connect to the AirDisk shares without rebooting the base station. I did more research and tested more theories, but Time Machine would never continue to run for long. I finally shut off Time Machine and left it off for a few days. During this time, I could connect to the AirDisk shares anytime I tried. Once enabling Time Machine again, it ran for a few backups, then failed again.

Eventually it dawned on me that Time Machine stopped working around the time I started using CrashPlan+. I disabled CrashPlan+ and Time Machine has been running successfully for about 4 days now, no hiccups whatsoever!

It seems that much like having more than 1 antivirus solution running on the same system isn’t good/recommended, multiple backup solutions running on the same system also doesn’t appear to be the best idea. Unfortunate too, CrashPlan+ has an article about how their product compliments Time Machine. Personally, I will rely more on Time Machine since I have it set to backup everything on my hard drive. I only used CrashPlan+ to backup certain areas of my hard drive that I wanted offsite. So, If i can keep Time Machine working I’ll be happy.

Some additional ideas I wrote down for troubleshooting that I haven’t gotten to try yet include:

  1. Wipe AEBS settings/configuration – I already downgraded firmware to 7.6 and then re-applied 7.6.1 when the downgrade didn’t work.
  2. Test wireless Time Machine backup without USB hub and enable CrashPlan+ again.
  3. Test directly connecting my portable HDD to my laptop and running the Time Machine backup again with CrashPlan+ enabled.

If I ever find out exactly why the two technologies don’t work together or if I ever discover a workaround, I’ll post again. One theory I had was that there could be an issue if they’re trying to backup the same file at the same time. I couldn’t find a way to schedule either (for example, running them every other hour), though I’ll admit I didn’t look too hard yet.