Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fixed: My iMac was losing net access – but only for one account …

Some days, I feel like the aging Sheriff in a bad western. The bad bugs been walkin’ into my town for years, and I’ve been shooting ‘em down.

‘Cept I’m not as fast on the draw as I used to be, and the bugs are getting meaner. Sooner or later the bad guys are gonna take this town – unless a new Sheriff comes along.

Not today though. I dropped the latest bastard. It took a few shots though. Not a clean kill.

I’ll tell the story, but first some background. I’ve been weeding my network for months, dealing with a slew of problems that seemed to be software related but were probably more hardware.

I’ve replaced the NIC on my old XP box and an ancient AirPort Extreme. I worked my way through way too many AirPort Time Capsule issues with cobbling together 802.11b,n,g across multiple devices, but it seemed I had things fairly stable.

Wrong. I’d be working away happily, and my browser sessions would hang. Sort of. Well, actually, Safari would first give me weird error messages about being unable to obtain a secure connection “Safari can’t establish a secure connection to the server...”. Firefox said something similar, though sometimes it would work when Safari wouldn’t.

A little bit later though, I’d lose all browser access.

At first I wanted to blame my DSL provider (Qwest), but I’d given them a hard time when the truth was my AirPort was dying. So I decided to be a bit methodical. It took a while but I found …

  • Other machines were fine.
  • Other accounts on my iMac were fine.
  • I could ping things, I could do email, I just couldn’t use my browser.
  • When Safari died completely, no other browser worked (Firefox, Camino).
  • Sometimes logging out and in again would fix things, sometimes restarting the machine, sometimes restarting the Time Capsule …

So it was something to do with my user account and maybe with Time Capsule. My next step was to enable logging on the Time Capsule and to learn to use the OS X Console (equivalent of XP Event Viewer).

That was a revelation. There were lots of little system problems showing up in Console. As it turned out, I had to clean them out before I could find the real problem. So I fixed a MobileMe related bug, removed 2-3 Widgets [2] and learned about MenuCracker and cleaning that out [1], but I was still getting locked out.

Once I’d cleaned up the other Console messages though, I found the sweet one ..

7/22/09 10:50:13 PM 7470 failed to send kill to 7714. Err:3 No such process

Ahh, yes. Parental Controls, the bane of Apple. Of course my standard user account shouldn’t have Parental Controls, but this made sense. I use Parental Controls and the kids machine and I know how they work, they could cut off my browser access – though there’s supposed to be a UI notice.

I checked the PreferencePane for the problem account from my Admin account, but there seemed to be no Parental Controls set. On the other hand, when I viewed the Parental Controls Preference Pane I wasn’t seeing the big yellow icon and the notice that “Parental controls are turned off for this account”.

So here’s where things get even more obscure. Let’s say you have a User Account and you want to remove Parental Controls. Just enabling everything isn’t enough, there’s another mysterious step.

Here’s what you do

  1. Log out of all accounts.
  2. Go to an Admin account
  3. Go to Parental Controls
  4. Click on the (problem) User Name.
  5. Look carefully for a small gear icon above the lock icon, window bottom\
  6. Click on the gear and choose “Disable Parental Controls …”

It’s been several days now without browser failure, so it looks like I got another bad guy.

If only I knew this one was the last …


[1] It’s a hack that allows apps to put an icon in the Finder title bar; it’s not a separate app, it’s a “.menu” resource in the Application Package. If you decide you want to get rid of it, you have to find and uninstall every app that uses it, such as, in my case, MenuMeter. I don’t think MenuCracker was causing me serious problems, but it was producing Console error messages and it has caused grief to some in the past. I not only removed it, I removed Perian and a “Better Finder” Preference Pane. Trying to get simple …

[2] I was surprised by this. Looks like non-Apple widgets are problem prone, I’m sticking the Apple ones – don’t really use them anyway. In particular, I was surprised how many were active in the background – putting error messages on the Console …

No comments: