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Review: Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway

Sometime after I reviewed the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite, Ubiquiti contacted me and offered me a few products to test and review. One of the products they sent me was the UniFi Security Gateway. At the time, I set the box aside as it didn’t have all the features of the EdgeRouter Lite. In January when my father was having trouble with his Internet, I put the USG into service. For that application, it was ideal as it integrated with the rest of the components and was simple to manage.

After the success of that install, I was kind of jealous and decided to purchase a USG and see what it would take to replace my EdgeRouter Lite; the UniFi team has done a lot of work on the controller (the GUI to manage the device) since I was originally sent the device. Replacing a router should not be rocket science. Unfortunately for me, my network is a little bit customized. Going from the EdgeRouter Lite, I had to move over the following:

  • Dynamic DNS (for my external IP address)
  • IPv6
  • VLANs
  • Firewall rules for the VLANs
  • OpenVPN server
  • Static DHCP entries
  • Static DNS host entries

Some of this is available in the controller, some of it isn’t.

The first step was to adopt the USG into my controller. I followed the instructions on how to integrate the USG into an existing network. Unfortunately, I was unable to adopt (meaning the controller can manage the device) the USG. I tried a few times with no success. Next I looked at an article that allows me to configure the USG to find the controller (instead of the controller finding it). I followed the SSH instructions and issued the commands:

    mca-cli
    set-inform http://ip-of-controller:8080/inform

This worked and I started getting somewhere. (After reading some more posts on Ubiquiti’s extremely helpful forum, it appears that an old firmware may have had issues adopting and that upgrading the firmware before adopting may have helped.)

After the USG was adopted into the controller, I plugged in the WAN connection, rebooted the cable modem (so that it would pick up the new MAC address) and was able to connect to the Internet. If I had a simple network, I’d be done, but nothing is ever easy for me.

Next up was setting static DHCP entries. While the current controller doesn’t let you assign DHCP entries until after a device has been seen, all my devices were online and showed up in the controller (I have UniFi switches which makes the controller populate with all devices it sees) using the addresses I had assigned from the EdgeRouter Lite. It was a simple matter of selecting each device, clicking the “Use fixed IP address” checkbox and clicking Apply. (Note there is a bug in the UI where the checkbox doesn’t stay checked even after applying.)

Screen Shot 2017 03 06 at 11 08 48 AM

Perfect, so now that was out of the way (tedious, but reasonable), I could move on or so I thought. The controller lets me assign static IP addresses for clients; switches and access points are not considered clients. I needed static IP addresses for the switches and access points so that I could use SNMP monitoring on them; the package I’m using, Observium uses host names to address the devices; in order to use host names, I had to first give devices static IP addresses. This is where the messiness begins. Ubiquiti has an article on how to customize the USG and have the changes persist across reboots. (The EdgeRouter Lite just lets you configure it using the command line and the changes persist.)

You start the process by doing something like this:

    configure
    set service dhcp-server shared-network-name LAN_10.0.1.0-24 subnet 10.0.1.0/24 static-mapping UniFi-LR ip-address 10.0.1.131
    commit
    save
    exit

and then

    mca-ctrl -t dump-cfg

At this point, you have to pick through what was dumped and only choose what you entered manually as the json file you create gets merged in with what is produced from the controller. This isn’t necessary if you have a standard config and the controller has all the options you need.

I then repeated this process for IPv6, static DNS entries and my OpenVPN server configuration.

There is a GUI for configuring the firewall and I setup rules that prevent IoT devices from talking to my LAN, my cameras from talking to anything except 1 device, and a few other rules. This was straightforward, but a little different than on the EdgeRouter Lite.

Screen Shot 2017 03 09 at 2 13 16 PM

Now that I had the USG setup like my EdgeRouter Lite, what did I get? The hardware is virtually identical, so I didn’t gain performance. The main thing I gained was being able to look at my entire network in 1 place. In addition, I get the ability to remotely manage/monitor my network through the UniFi cloud. Did I mention the pretty picture with the circles?

Screen Shot 2017 03 06 at 10 59 55 AM

People are going to ask, why go with a USG over an EdgeRouter Lite. Here’s my rundown:

USG

  • Easily integrates with other UniFi equipment.
  • Simplified configuration.
  • Remote access via UniFi mobile app.
  • Firewall configuration is slightly easier than on ERL, I think.

EdgeRouter Lite

  • UI has some more advanced configurations like being able to change any option using the configuration tree.
  • Firewall configuration in UI allows you to apply rules directly to VLANs.
  • Configuration via command line is a one step process; make change and save it vs USG which has multiple steps.
  • Core operating system is newer than USG.
  • Static DHCP reservations can be made prior to a device being on the network.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Easy setup for simple networks.
  • Full view of entire network in one spot.
  • Remote access to router from UniFi mobile app (using the UniFi cloud).
  • Easy configuration of firewall entries.

Cons

  • No IPv6 DPI (deep packet inspection).
  • DPI works across all interfaces and may not give you an accurate representation of WAN traffic (which is what interests me).
  • Not all configuration options are available via the GUI.
  • Initial setup into a non-trivial existing network is painful.
  • WAN speed test is only useful for up to 150 – 200 Mbps (according to a forum post; I have 300 Mbps down and can only get about 130 Mbps shown).
  • JSON configuration for command line options is a bit awkward as you have to use the command line first, export the options and then pair down the result to put in the JSON config so that settings persist.

Summary

As I’ve written about in the past, the UniFi line of networking products is easy to use and everything works well together. The USG fits in well and despite my rough start with it, I’m pleased with it. While there wasn’t a huge leap from the EdgeRouter Lite to the USG, being able to see my entire network configuration in one place makes it easier for me to manage. In the future, I plan on adding more firewall rules and possibly more VLANs to separate out more IoT traffic (a day doesn’t go by where you don’t here about some IoT device doing something shady).

If you already own an EdgeRouter Lite, moving to a USG is a tough decision. You gain no new functionality or performance, but an interface that works with other UniFi hardware. If you don’t already own an EdgeRouter Lite and either plan on getting UniFi access points or switches, I think it is a no brainer to get a USG. If you aren’t using other UniFi gear, a USG itself won’t buy you a whole lot. With the USG, I’m able to define VLANs once and have it apply to the WiFi access points and the switch ports; with the EdgeRouter Lite, I had to define VLANs in both places for proper routing.

UniFi employees are quite active on their forums and have posted their roadmap. I really like some of the features and their openness is refreshing. The features won’t really change how I use the device, but will help reduce the number of command line changes I have to make.

Channels DVR – A change in my TV viewing

I’ve written in the past about different systems that I’ve tried out to find the perfect system for recording and watching TV. The last system I wrote about was MythTV and it was working pretty well. However, it was a bit fragile. When Plex announced their DVR, I decided to give it a try. Once I found scripts to skip commercials and transcode the video to play well on my Apple TV, I thought I had found the system for us. Unfortuantely there were a few pieces that annoyed me to no end. It basically boiled down to the system would sometimes strip too much of a show when it removed commercials and the audio kept becoming out of sync with the video. If you’ever ever watched a show this way, you know that it degrades the viewing experience.

Last year when Channels released their Apple TV app, I was hooked. The app let us watch TV on the Apple TV; while this sounds almost useless, the Apple TV became the only device we used and the remote could control the TV, sound bar, and Apple TV. The folks behind Channels said that they were working on a DVR. If they could combine the Apple TV app with a DVR, it could be the next great solution for me.

About a month ago, Channels released their DVR into a public beta. At first, the $8 per month fee seemed a bit high as TiVo is around $13 per month and could Channels be as good as the gold standard? Breaking down the fee, there is about $2 per month for the guide data (based on what I’ve paid for the data in the past) and $6 for the application; that made it more palatable to me. I decided to give it a try. The DVR portion runs on my Mac Pro and does all the recording pieces and commercial detection (the fact that it has ComSkip built in for detection is a huge win for it). The Apple TV app has a decent interface and makes it easy to play back videos. When videos are playing, double clicking the right side of the remote skips the commercials that ComSkip marked. While my old system didn’t require me to manually skip commercials, this system means that if the commercial detection isn’t perfect, I can rewind and see what I missed.

The playback is excellent and we haven’t experienced any audio sync issues. The Channels team wrote their own player to playback the MPEG transport streams that come off the HDHomeRun. One downside of this is that you don’t get the built in Siri controls like “what did he say” that rewinds, turns on closed captioning, and then plays the video. However, by playing back the raw video instead of transcoding like I had before, I can turn on subtitles and read what I missed; not as convenient, but it works.

The team behind the app is constantly working on the app and making nice enhancements and fixing bugs. There have been some hiccups with some releases, but they have been quickly fixed.

WIth all the different systems I’ve tried, people may ask why I just don’t spend the money and get a TiVo with one of the best interfaces around. I really don’t want another box and I like the flexibility of running a DVR on my media center.

I obviously can’t say that this is the be all, end all system for my TV viewing, but at the moment, it is the best option for me.

Curing home Internet problems with UniFi gear

For as many years as I can remember, I’ve been the goto person for my family when they have tech problems. Anyone that is in this situation knows that this gets old pretty fast! At the beginning of January, my father started having problems with his Internet connection where he said it kept going out. I told him to call the cable company and get them to come out. He wasn’t quite convinced that it was the cable company, so he spent about a week testing out his router/access point (Apple TimeCapsule) and my sister’s router (similar device). (My dad and sister live in separate houses on the same property.)

After no real change in the stability of the connection, my dad started the game of contacting his provider. He also told me that he wanted the same router and access points that I have. Initially I said absolutely not as I didn’t want to have to walk him through configuring the UniFi devices. While the UniFi controller is pretty easy to use, it isn’t aimed at consumers. I thought about this for a day and told my dad that I’d set him up with a new router and access points on the condition that I managed all of it remotely. Once the UniFi gear is setup, there is very little management needed.

I purchased 2 UniFi UAP AC LR Access Points, a UniFi CloudKey, and a UniFi USG. I had an old Netgear PoE switch that I threw into the mix.

Setup of the pieces was pretty easy. I put all the pieces on my floor, connected them, and then hooked my MacBook Pro up to the USG to create a separate network. In addition to configuring the devices, I labeled everything and put “DO NOT UNPLUG” on the devices as power cycling seems to be a popular way to “troubleshoot” Internet connections. As I hadn’t used the CloudKey before, I was slightly confused that I had to goto the web interface of the CloudKey as well as the web interface for the USG for initial setup. I don’t remember the exact steps, but it only took a few minutes to get things running.

UniFi Setup

I setup the UniFi Controller on the CloudKey to use my UniFi login so that I could remotely manage it.

My dad and I installed the USG, switch and 1 access point next to the cable modem which took a little while to make everything look neat. The USG and the switch have those dumb slots for screws that I can never get right on the first or second try. The access point, however, has a removable base that made it a snap to install in the closet where all the equipment lives.

Once I powered everything on, it just worked as I setup the wireless networks with the same SSIDs and passwords that were already used. The only slight problem was that I had to turn off WiFi on the Time Capsules as devices were connecting to the wrong access point.

The UniFi iOS app has come a long way since Ubiquiti started it. The app now has everything I need to remotely monitor and manage the network. Ubiquiti uses a protocol for remote management that works in Chrome (on the desktop), but currently not Safari, so using the iOS app is the only way to look at the remote setup from my iPad.

UniFi iPad App

While my dad’s Internet connection has been up and down over the last 12 days, the USG and access points have been rock solid. The cable modem has been rebooted a number of times, but none of the UniFi gear has been touched.

This type of setup isn’t cheap, but it seems to be on par with some of the newer mesh systems.

Pros

  • USG, CloudKey, and UAP AC LR are easy to setup for networking savvy people.
  • Mobile app can handle most of the monitoring and configuration.
  • UniFi Controller with the USG shows traffic statistics in pretty pictures!
  • Remote access works well.
  • Very stable.
  • Access points provide good coverage.

Cons

  • UAP AC LR uses passive 24V PoE. The PoE switch I installed is 802.3af which means that I had to use a power injector to power the access point (I could have bought an adapter from Ubiquiti to conver the 24V to 802.3af).
  • Average consumer cannot easily setup the equipment.
  • USG is missing some features such as GUI configuration for IPv6, static DNS entries, DHCP reservations (before device is seen on network).
  • Default guest network configuration uses client isolation such that guests can’t connect to other devices on the network, but the guests can scan for other devices. I changed the configuration to use a separate VLAN and give out IP addresses in a separate range for guests. I think that this may be a better setup for an out of the box configuration when the wizard asks if you want a guest network.
  • When I inserted the micro SD card into the CloudKey, it got stuck. I basically had to destroy the card to get it out. I’m not sure if this was a design issue or a manufacturing issue, but I put a new micro SD card in there and everything works fine.

Summary

While I was hesitant to set my dad up with the same networking equipment I have. I now believe that this will be the best long term strategy to supporting him. If he or my sister blame the router and access points for Internet problems, I can show them that it isn’t. Being able to remotely monitor and configure the devices (including performing upgrades) is a great benefit to anyone having to deal with someone’s Internet issues.

I hadn’t played much with the USG prior to this install as I use the EdgeRouter Lite. However, based on this and the periodic updates to the firmware and controller, I’m definitely going to be switching over to the USG in the near future (there are a few items on Ubiquiti’s roadmap that I want).

With Apple exiting the router market, people are looking for alternate solutions. If you are savvy with networking, I think the USG, UniFi Access Points, and CloudKey (unless you have an always on machine to run the controller) are a great combination. For a home setup, it may seem like a lot of money, but how much is my time worth?

Note: The USG was sent to me by Ubiquiti as a review unit. It has been sitting on my shelf for a year now simply because the controller software wasn’t exactly what I wanted at the time. The controller software has come a long way and if I had to choose between the Edge Router Lite and the USG, the USG would now be my choice.

CarPlay, a month later

Now that I’ve been using CarPlay in my Subaru Impreza for about a month, here’s a mini review.

After waiting years to get a new car, the number one feature for me was a nice infotainment system, in particular CarPlay. Until using CarPlay, I didn’t realize how bad the interfaces for many car infotainment systems were. Apple’s minimalist design is exactly what is needed in a car; too much information and it is just a distraction.

While some may say that CarPlay is a gimmick, it has really become second nature to me to use it. When I get in the car, I plug in my phone and see Maps. This may seem like a minor thing as I usually know where I’m going, but it also shows traffic and ETA to my destination which are very convenient. I’m not a huge user of the phone or listening to my own music (I mostly just listen to the radio), but both of those can easily be controlled using the touchscreen or Siri. Sending and receiving text messages is virtually identical to other systems using Siri except that you can start a conversation from the touchscreen; I don’t find that this is helpful. CarPlay will not show you the text messages on the screen; it only reads them.

Pros

  • Seamless integration; I start the car and my next destination appears on the screen ready to navigate or at least just tell me the ETA.
  • Clean user interface; there is very little clutter to take my eyes off the road.
  • Everything you can do with Siri Eyes Free, you can do with CarPlay with visual feedback.

Cons

  • There are some quirks either with CarPlay or the Subaru integration. For example, I’ve had to factory reset the head unit twice to get it working again (it wouldn’t show up as an option).
  • Limited number of apps available for CarPlay. In particular, I’m looking for Navigon for the times when I don’t have cellular coverage or to reduce my data usage.
  • I have to remember to plug in my phone each time I get in the car. The car has all the components to do wireless CarPlay (Bluetooth and WiFi), but it hasn’t been implemented.

Summary

The infotainment system apparently is a gateway for car manufacturers to get people to buy more services. I’ve been reading a number of articles lately about companies not wanting Apple and Google to monopolize the system as they are losing revenue and are banding together on an alternative. While that may sound great to them, as long as CarPlay (and possibly Android Auto) is an option, I think it will win out over whatever is developed mainly due to the integration with the phone.

To me, CarPlay is not a game changer, but a really, really nice feature to have in a car. Going forward, my future cars will have tight integration with whatever phone I’m using. If I had to use some other infotainment system, I’m sure I’d be really disappointed. It is unfortunate that the rollout of CarPlay by car manufacturers is so slow; it should be an option on every car not only for convenience, but I believe that if people are accustomed to using Siri for communication, it may help with some distracted driving (yes, even Siri is a distraction).

First Impressions: 2017 Subaru Impreza

For the last year and half, I’ve been looking for a new car. My 2003 Toyota Highlander has been starting to show its age. It has low mileage, but I’ve had to do some maintenance on it. In addition, the only tech I have on it is a radio I installed about 2 years ago with Bluetooth. One of the features I’ve really wanted is Apple’s CarPlay as it would allow me to have a familiar interface in the car for navigation, media, and phone. While the number of cars with CarPlay available has been increasing, most haven’t been cars that I’d want to own.

In July, I happened to look at Apple’s CarPlay site and saw that the 2017 Subaru Impreza would have CarPlay. I looked online at the car and it looked like it could fit the bill. However, it wasn’t going to be available until the end of the year, so I’d have to wait. In the last few weeks, I started looking at inventory at the local dealers and saw that cars were in transit. I picked the color and options and used a car buying service to negotiate the price for me. Last Thursday was the day for me to test drive it and see if it really was the car.

Going from an SUV to a small car was definitely going to be a change, but I don’t really need an SUV (helpful a few times a year). Fuel economy was going to improve and a smaller car might be more fun to drive.

When I first got in the car, besides being much lower than my Highlander, I found that the side and rearview mirrors were larger than I expected. Last year I test drove an Audi A3 e-tron and the mirrors on that thing were tiny. I was worried that the smaller car wasn’t going to be able to accelerate on the freeway, but was pleasantly surprised how well it did. The tech, at first, was a bit distracting. There are 3 displays! One is behind the steering wheel, one is the center display for radio, maps, phone, and the third is an info display that can be used for radio info, weather, MPG, etc.

After the test drive, I was ready to buy; I promised my wife that I wouldn’t buy a car without her seeing it. We went back the next day and I left with a new car.

I’ve driven it for 3 days now on city streets and highways and have gotten a pretty good feel for the car. While I’ve tried to go through the manuals, there is far too much information in them for me to consume right now. I chose the Impreza 5 Door Limited with EyeSight. I’m a tech guy and not a car guy, so I picked the car based on the tech and specifications. The fact that it was pleasant to drive was almost a bonus!

My impressions are in no particular order.

Pros

  • Backup camera has lines showing where the car will go.
  • Blind spot detection; can be annoying at times as it lights up almost constantly on the freeway as people are passing.
  • Rear cross traffic alert. Getting out of a parking space at SeaWorld is a nightmare. This and the backup camera (and of course looking with my eyes), got me out of a space safely.
  • Impressive turning radius. Specs say less than 18′; my Highlander appears to have been about 38′!
  • CarPlay. Enough can’t be said about this. When I’ve gotten in the car, it knows where I’m going (based on my calendar) and offers to navigate. Phone integration is great and so is music. Controlling everything with Siri works well (better than Siri on my Bluetooth radio in my old car). One thing to be cautious about is if you use maps all the time, you’re going to use up some of your cellular data. After a few hours of driving, I used almost 12 MB of data for Maps alone. I’m going to keep an eye on this; even at 10 MB of data per day on maps, that won’t be a problem on my current plan. (I pay for 2 GB, buy AT&T has given me 2 GB bonus per month plus I have rollover. At a minimum I have 4 GB per month and the most I’ve used is 3 GB.) If someone streams music and uses Maps all the time, this could be costly.

IMG 5915

  • Speed adjusted volume. There is a setting to make the sound louder when the car is going faster. This is great for freeway driving. I’m still playing with the setting as I think the max setting is a little high as the volume increases even at lower speeds.
  • While not documented, it appears that there is a separate volume level for the radio, for navigation (using CarPlay), and for phone. If you adjust the volume while the navigation is speaking, there is a different icon on the display. This is great as I don’t need it really loud.
  • The keyless entry allows me to leave the key in my pocket. This is really neat and convenient. In addition, since the key uses proximity for unlocking, you have to be pretty close to the car to unlock it. While I can still push the button on the remote, I think the proximity is more convenient and potentially safer due to a potential replay attack.
  • Handling is good; while I haven’t gone zipping around that many curves, I like how it handles.
  • Acceleration is much better than I expected. Coming from a larger engine, I was worried about being able to get up to speed in traffic. I haven’t found that to be a problem.
  • Quiet. I know this is subjective, but it seems like the ride is quieter.
  • Lane departure warning; this feature is one that I hope to never use, but have already heard it beep when I was driving due to 2 lanes merging and I was slightly over the line. The system that actually keeps the car in the lane has to be turned on separately (it isn’t automatic).
  • While not specific to this car, Subaru put all the manuals in PDF on their website. Unfortunately they separated the manuals into 20 parts. It took me awhile to grab all the pieces and put it back together; I’d rather a 50 MB PDF than 20 smaller ones that are harder to search.

Cons

  • The STARLINK multimedia apps (not the system that gets help in an emergency) is a bit outdated for a system that supports CarPlay. With CarPlay, there is no reason (that I can think of) to use Subaru’s app. The whole system is truly a piece of crap. The iPhone app looks like iOS 3 or 4; the display in the car isn’t much better. The apps take forever to load (we’re talking 30 seconds) and the second time I tried the system, I couldn’t get the apps to come up (tried for about 20 minutes). Frankly I wish there was an option to completely hide it. This is NOT a selling point for the car. If the navigation system is anywhere near as bad as this, I’d steer clear of it. It appears that this system was designed by Clarion. I’ll be removing the app from my phone (it is required for the head unit piece to work). Even though CarPlay is limited (I’d like to see Navigon on it), the interface is well thought out and looks good.

IMG 5912IMG 5913IMG 5917IMG 5918

  • No lumbar support in seat.
  • Too many settings in too many places. Each of the 3 displays has a way to change settings.
  • It’s low to the ground. I’m not used to this and right now I’ll call it a con.
  • There are all kinds of warnings about cleaning the inside of the windshield to protect the cameras for the EyeSight system. The instructions say to use a piece of copy printer taped over the cameras when cleaning. Subaru should have provided a rubber boot that fits the system; this would have been less error prone and would have protected the camera better.
  • No good place to put my phone in the car. In order to use CarPlay, I have to plug in my phone to USB; the USB plugs are in the center console and allow me to route the cord outside of the console. For now, I leave my phone upside down in the cup holder. I’d love a dock (with Lightning connector) like I have on my desk (it would have to be a bit more secure, though).
  • Less cargo space. This is pretty obvious as I came from a larger vehicle. I think the only time I’ll have a problem is when we go camping. I’ll have to get a roof box for those few times a year.
  • No ability to remove some options from the multimedia menu. I just want CarPlay, radio, and settings to show up.
  • The button to lock all the doors is hard to find by touch. This could have been mitigated by an option to lock all the doors when the car is put in drive, but that doesn’t appear to exist.
  • Too much information can be distracting. I’m trying to find the settings I like that keep distractions down.
  • One of the information displays is right behind the steering wheel causing the analog speedometer to be moved to the right; this is partially obscured and I have found that I have to use the digital speedometer in the display in order to easily see my speed.
  • Not specific to the car, the mysubaru.com app and site don’t let you do an initial login on a phone as the page is too long to fit an iPhone 6s screen and it doesn’t screen. Also the app appears to just be the mobile website.

Things that would have been nice

  • Dual front climate control (manual talks about this, but didn’t appear to be an option).

Summary

I’m truly amazed at how many things this car got right. It has all the safety features I want, all the tech I want, and the price didn’t break the bank. In fact, I read an article that indicates the average selling price for a car is over $34,000! I’m not sure how people afford these cars or what they get for more money, but my Subaru came in at under this. I’m enjoying driving the car and I hope the fun continues.

Feel free to ask questions!

Scott and his car

Review: ShimoVPN

Ever since I started working, I’ve had to connect back to an office network either occasionally or full time. First there was AppleTalk Remote Access and then there were a variety of VPN solutions that different companies employed. While macOS has gotten better at supporting VPNs natively, it really only handles Cisco and IPSec VPNs. This has worked for some of my connections, but for others, I’ve had to have a separate VPN client. Those VPN clients have ranged from bad to worse in terms of quality. Why they are so bad, I have no idea.

Several years ago, I tried out ShimoVPN to connect to my companies network as the native Mac client didn’t have a feature I wanted (I can’t remember what). Shimo worked, but the native client was good enough and I forgot about Shimo.

Now that I’m self-employed again with several clients, I decided to take another look at Shimo. In particular, I didn’t want to run all my traffic over a client’s VPN and I also wanted to be able to connect back to my own OpenVPN server (the native Mac client doesn’t handle OpenVPN and the free OpenVPN client didn’t work). After I installed ShimoVPN, it imported my configurations and I was quickly able to get things setup. At that point, it didn’t buy me anything for my clients over the native Mac client.

The power of ShimoVPN comes into play in how it can setup specific routing. I only want certain traffic to go over the VPN and Shimo lets me configure that on a per VPN basis.

Screen Shot 2016 12 18 at 7 47 57 AM

I set this up for 2 of my clients and am able to have both VPNs up at the same time and connect to sites on both without having to disconnect and connect to a particular VPN. This feature alone is worth the money for Shimo!

Shimo has one additional feature that make it a must use application for me. The first is that it automatically reconnects to the VPN when my machine wakes up. This, of course, works best when 2FA isn’t used as I’m not prompted. Another feature it has is the ability to setup triggers to connect and disconnects from certain VPNs based on WiFi SSID, location, and other conditions. I haven’t used this feature much, but the potential to simplify things is great.

Pros

  • Handles OpenVPN connections.
  • Allows custom routing.
  • Has triggers for certain events.
  • Reconnects automatically upon disconnect.

Cons

  • Cost (built in macOS client is free).
  • Powerful features require some networking knowledge to setup.

Summary

ShimoVPN is a utility that most people won’t need, but for those that do, it will pay for itself pretty quickly. VPNs are necessary and while ShimoVPN won’t me on anyone’s holiday wishlist, it is definitely going to remain a tool in my toolbelt.

Dependency Management

With most software projects these days, including open source components is almost a given. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel and some components are so customized that it would take months to mimic the behavior. There are many ways to integrate these components into an application. One of my mantra when working on projects is that I just want to be able to checkout the project from a repository and build it; there shouldn’t be several steps and I shouldn’t have to worry about something outside of my control breaking the build.

Years ago when I worked on a particular project, there was a several step process to just get the source code which integrated open source components. This was extremely fragile as the references to the open source components was for an external repository that could go away at any time. When I became in charge of the project, I changed things so that we only relied on repositories that were under the control of the company (we had shared components).

In iOS development, there are now 2 (or 3) main systems for managing these external dependencies. The first is CocoaPods which is very popular, but relies on the external repositories to always be there and requires modifications to how the project is built. The newer entrant into this arena is called Carthage. Carthage gives me more control on the dependencies. The system makes it easy to store the dependencies in my repo and easily update them. In particular, I use the following command to update

carthage update --platform iOS --no-build

Basically I just let Carthage update the components and I have my project setup to do all the builds. When I checkout the project, it has everything in it and I just build. I think that this setup, at least currently, strikes the best balance to handling dependencies.

The other day I was reminded of this problem when a developer was describing dependencies on one of my projects; the developer basically said that he used a dependency management system that didn’t store the components with the source code. I’ve been writing software for awhile now and while open source makes it easier to get things done, many developers don’t consider the entire build process or risks involved in not having control over all the components.