January 20, 2009

Day in the life of a Geek

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I am working from home today using a virtual private network (VPN) connection. I can then connect to my desktop Windows work machine using remote access. All of these connections are done through browsers so it’s pretty straightforward.

Unfortunately, the VPN system we use is primarily setup for Windows and not Macs. Once I had heard about the weather forecast yesterday evening, I grabbed one of the IT guys to help me get my Mac laptop working on the VPN. We were (mostly) successful, enough so that I felt I could reproduce the results on my Mac desktop at home.

I tried for quite a while to get the VPN to work using Firefox and Safari and failed. Even though the VPN works through my portable, I wanted the monitor real-estate of my desktop.

I installed Parallels 3.0 so I could create a virtual machine with Windows XP. Unfortunately, Parallels doesn’t recognize the external USB DVD drive. (The internal DVD-RW causes system issues when it’s used other than for booting the machine. This is being worked on.) I tried several Windows installation disks, and each time, Parallels did not recognize that a disk was in the drive. I verified that the virtual machine’s settings said to use the external drive and to boot from it.

And then I saw the option to use an ISO image instead of a drive. Using Disk Utility, I made a DMG image of the Windows XP Pro Upgrade disk. I then used the command line utility, hdiutil, to convert the DMG image to an ISO image that Parallels could use:
hdiutil convert /path/to/filename.dmg -format UDTO -o /path/to/savefile.iso

I started a new virtual machine and used the new ISO image as the DVD drive. And you know what? It worked.

Once XP was running, Internet Explorer connected to the VPN without any hitches. Except I still got an error message when trying to access my desktop system. After a lot of instant messages, I tracked down a friend who was at work. He checked my machine — and discovered that remote desktop access was turned off. He turned it back on and I was good to go.

This work from home day could not have happened without the help and support of the gaming group at work. These guys are programmers, IT/IS, and tech support. They checked my machine’s IP address, provided suggestions, and helped me resolve the VPN-related issues. I owe them brownies!

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