Monday, December 17, 2012

Be In Touch With Your Home Mac System Like An IT Professional

I have a pretty sophisticated set-up at home.  Being an IT professional, I kind of have to because a) I wouldn't be able to live with myself otherwise, and b) we can do a lot of cool stuff.  I'd like to talk about one cool thing I have done, which is set up a notification system so that if something goes wrong at home, I get notified on my phone.  This is crucial as I travel often enough, I need to be able to remotely help out.  This was for very low cost (important to me!), most of the components were free.

First, a brief overview of my home setup.  We have 3 laptops and 2 desktops, plus our iPhones, iPad, Apple TV's, Wii, X-Box, WiFi-connected BluRay players, etc.  I also obtained an older Mac desktop to use as a server; with this, I have a 1TB RAID mirror that we do backups to, a VPN so I can connect to my home network from anywhere, and running network services (like Open Directory authentication, DHCP, DNS, and AirPrint to my older printers that are not AirPrint compatible).

So, what can we do with all this stuff?

  • Time Machine keeps all 6 of our Macs backed up hourly, automatically, so I don't have to worry about localized crashes or data loss (and since our iPhones, iPods and iPads are backed up on the Mac, we have a complete solution).
  • iTunes running on the server, and Home Sharing, means we can play our iTunes library from any mobile device, or right on the big screen with Apple TV.
  • Connect while traveling on the road, and work just like I am at home - remote control any screen on any computer on my network, print to a printer in my house, etc.
  • And more
So you can see that the server is very important.  Many things need to be kept watch - like when it is getting low on disk space, or since it is an older Mac, it is prone to overheating.  To do this, I use a variety of solutions stitched together with a VERY neat framework.  There is an app called Growl in the Mac App Store for $3.99, that provides a notification framework for the Mac.

Using Growl, in combination with a host of other Growl-compatible applets and scripts, you can monitor any aspect of your system and submit events as Growl notifications.  These notifications can be handled through notification services - some built into Growl, but I use a free notification distribution platform called Boxcar.

Boxcar ties notifications into a unified messaging platform, and delivers the messages using the method you want.  You can push them as notices to your smart phone, send them as e-mail messages, SMS text messages, you name it.  So I configured it, and downloaded the app, to notify my iPhone.

Meanwhile, the temperature problem.  I found an app that monitors the temperature of the major components of the Mac, called Temperature Gage.  It integrates with Growl, so I set up alerts at a temperature threshold where I noticed it fails (in fact, the app didn't allow me to set the right temperature, so I e-mailed the developer, and within a couple of weeks they had the new version out).  $8.89 total cost, now when the machine gets too hot, my phone buzzes.

Next, drive space.  That can be managed with the Growl command line and a simple shell script, which I schedule to run every so often using the Unix cron facility.  Cost?  Free, I found a guy who had a script written on a web post, and grabbed it, modified it a bit, and here we are.  When the space gets low, I will get a buzz on my phone.  I added the test parameter, to ensure the message reached my phone.

Now is that cool or what?  Very inexpensive, and a very sophisticated and flexible setup.

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