USPS Informed Delivery Daily Digest and Netflix DVDs

I use the USPS service Informed Delivery and highly recommend it. I get a daily email from USPS with a scanned picture of most of the mail that will arrive in my mailbox that day. Occasionally the email will say that there were items that could not be scanned, but it’s very useful since I don’t check my mailbox on a daily basis, but don’t want to have important items sit for extended times.

My mailbox is fairly secure, but I’ve also read that Informed Delivery has both good and bad features for people related to mail theft or identity theft.

I’ve been getting Netflix DVDs in the mail since 2000.  I’ve always been slightly fascinated with the efficiencies the post office and Netflix have worked out. If I take a DVD mailer to my local post office here in Seattle, Netflix recognizes it has been returned the next business day. If I drop a DVD at the local post office on Tuesday, Netflix acknowledges it on Wednesday, and I’ve usually got the next DVD delivered Thursday.

Until recently the Netflix DVDs were scanned like all other mail.

2019-09-13 (3)

It appears to have changed at the beginning of September. Now there’s a pair of fixed images arriving with a link that will take you directly to Netflix.

2019-09-13 (2)

The new behavior isn’t bad since all the Netflix disk scans look very similar, but are interesting to note. I wouldn’t be surprised that the new full color image reduces bandwidth over individual scans along with added benefit of the link to Netflix.

Advertisements

My new favorite WiFi Analysis Program

I recently came across WinFi Lite, and while it claims to be in beta and for professionals only, it’s currently my favorite WiFi analysis program.  The fact that it was in the Microsoft store gives me the idea that it will uninstall cleanly if I decide to get rid of it later.

2019-09-10

The default view shows details about both 2.4 and 5 GHz networks nearby. The first picture was what it looked like when I ran it in my local Starbucks on my Microsoft Surface 4 Pro.  The next picture was what it looked like when I ran it in my apartment. In my apartment I was connected to my network via wired ethernet, so the Surface WiFi adapter wasn’t being used for my active connection. At Starbucks, I was connected to the WiFi.

2019-09-11 (1)

While I was at Starbucks, the number of networks it could see was 188. That number is visible in the top right of the image. Just to the left of that number are a set of buttons that allow you to look at 2.4GHz, 5GHz, or All available networks.

My apartment showed only 161 networks by comparison, but that number was bouncing around as it rescanned in both locations. I was surprised that the Starbucks had so many visible networks. There are a lot of details available in this tool, and it’s current price makes it an interesting tool to work with. I used to like inSSIDer, but the developers choice to dumb down the free version led me to drift away from it.

Headless Raspberry Pi Setup

I’ve been using a raspberry pi as a ADSB data feeder for FlightAware and FlightRadar24 for a while and the micro sd card developed a bad sector. That meant I needed to rebuild the installation. I really didn’t want to deal with connecting a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to the Pi for the installation. I found https://core-electronics.com.au/tutorials/raspberry-pi-zerow-headless-wifi-setup.html giving me useful information on how to avoid all that. I’m documenting my steps here for my own memory.

Step 1. Download the most recent version of Raspian Buster Lite from https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/raspbian/

Step 2. Download balenaEtcher portable from https://www.balena.io/etcher/

Step 3. Use Etcher to overwrite an SD card with the Raspian image I downloaded earlier.

2019-09-09 (28)2019-09-09 (29)2019-09-09 (30)2019-09-09 (31)2019-09-09 (33)2019-09-09 (34)

Step 4. Eject the flash card and close Etcher, then insert the flash card again, rejecting the option to format the drive.  The flash card is now formatted with multiple partitions, only the first is easily read in windows.

Step 5. create two files on the sd card boot partition. ssh and wpa_supplicant.conf. ssh is an empty file. wpa_supplicant.conf should have the following contents, customized for your WiFi Network:

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
update_config=1
country=US

network={
       ssid="MyNetworkSSID"
       psk="MyNetworkPassword"
}

Step 6. Eject your micro sd card, put it in the Raspberry Pi and power on the raspberry. You’ll need to wait a couple of minutes for the raspberry to finish several steps before you can connect to it over the network. The Raspberry Pi is expanding the native filesystem to fill the available space on the flash card, then rebooting another time with the new filesystem. You’ll need to figure out what IP address the Raspberry retrieved on your network. If you have access to your router, you may be able to see the attached devices and find the new Raspberry that way. I like the NirSoft Wireless Network Watcher to find what’s on my network https://www.nirsoft.net/utils/wireless_network_watcher.html.

Step 7. Connect to the Raspberry Pi with ssh. You’ll be using the default user and password to connect: “pi” and “raspberry”. I used the new Microsoft Windows Terminal in Windows 10 for this example. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/windows-terminal-preview/9n0dx20hk701#activetab=pivot:overviewtab

2019-09-09 (35)

The Raspberry is up and running now. There are several steps I recommend to do immediately. Use sudo raspi-config to set the user password, the machine hostname, and the timezone you want the machine to use.

2019-09-09 (36)2019-09-09 (37)2019-09-09 (38)2019-09-09 (39)2019-09-09 (40)2019-09-09 (41)2019-09-09 (42)2019-09-09 (49)2019-09-09 (50)2019-09-09 (51)2019-09-09 (52)2019-09-09 (53)2019-09-09 (44)

After waiting for the raspberry to reboot and reconnecting via ssh, updating the software to the latest version is the next step.

sudo apt-get update -y
sudo apt-get upgrade -y
sudo shutdown -r now

2019-09-09 (47)

Then I install several tools that I like to have.

sudo apt-get install lighttpd mc mrtg lrzsz nmap dnsutils etherwake snmpd snmp arp-scan shairport-sync -y

My next steps are to get PiAware and FlightRadar up and running.

1970s Rain Jet Sprinkler Install Guide

Recently going through my parents old house documentation we came across this lawn sprinkler installation guide. I especially like the illustrations with Mr. Rain “Chet”.

This was all in a folder labeled Permanent Home Improvements Carrolton Texas. We moved out of this house in 1976. I’m quite happy that so much of my hording of history is purely digital, though it’s not filed as well as my parents paper files.

There was also a full color glossy brochure for Buckner 1972 Lawn and Garden Sprinkler Equipment

Annoying Flashing High Mount Stop Light on newer cars

I know that to some extent I’m yelling at the cloud. I’ve mostly seen this feature on new Toyotas, but I also recently saw it on a new BMW. 

Old Man Yells at Cloud

The CHMSL flashing feature seems to happen when a person first applies the brakes after a period of not using them. It blinks the lamp three times before leaving them on constantly. This feature might be useful when traveling at highway speeds and it’s been a long time since the person has put their foot on the brake, but when traveling in city traffic it seems that the light is just strobing constantly. With modern LEDs there is no warm up time, so it’s like a red strobe light is going off at eye level.

The last update I found on Wikipedia said that the lights were generally not permitted to flash, with a couple of linked rulings from 2010.

My searching for details found various forum questions and answers, including how to add blinkers as after market options, but no details as to where the rules may have changed, or if it’ll be a new requirement going forward.

I certainly hope that it’s a temporary trend that goes away.

iTunes, Microsoft Store, COM Interface Type Library

Several years ago I’d written a program to manipulate data in the iTunes library using the approved Apple COM API. Part of the way this works in a C program is to include a type library in the headers defining all of the function calls. When iTunes is installed in the traditional way, Apple embedded the type library in the executable, and the executable was installed in a traditional location.

#import "C:/Program Files (x86)/iTunes/iTunes.exe"
using namespace iTunesLib;

With the installation of iTunes from the Microsoft store, the iTunes executable no longer lives in that location. Today my application builds properly with the following import command, but it may change mysteriously with version changes and automatic updates via the store.

#import "C:/Program Files/WindowsApps/AppleInc.iTunes_12093.3.37141.0_x64__nzyj5cx40ttqa/iTunes.exe"
using namespace iTunesLib;

My program builds and runs more reliably than it used to, which I’m assuming is in part due to the fact that I appear to now be using a 64 bit version of iTunes, and all the extra work Apple put in to make iTunes more reliable on windows in general.

Finding the iTunes application itself was the hardest part of the transition. I’m happy the API still exists because Apple no longer hosts easy access to the documentation for the API, and http://www.joshkunz.com/iTunesControl/ seems to be the most complete and searchable information.

iTunes, Microsoft Store, Microsoft Surface

Last year, Apple finally worked enough with Microsoft to get the iTunes program for windows available in the Microsoft Online Store. I’d always had problems with upgrading iTunes in windows in the past, requiring me to completely uninstall, reboot, and install the new version each time I wanted to upgrade. Often I had to not just uninstall iTunes, but search for other helper programs that Apple might have installed and uninstall them before rebooting.  I did the complete uninstall before I installed the version from the Microsoft store. Since that time, iTunes has almost magically been up to date on my desktop computer. The Microsoft store updates seem to get installed in downtime on my computer and everything just works.

I’m stuck in my ways a bit as far as music goes. I’ve get a large ripped CD collection, that I keep the originals all in a set of binders including the original paper inserts. My iPhone has 256GB of storage, more than half of which is my music.

I’ve kept my iPhone synchronized with my desktop computer because of the storage requirements of all of the music in the past, but at times have wished I was synchronizing with my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet that I travel with, and use just as much as my desktop. My Surface has 256GB of storage in the internal SSD, and I’ve been using a 256GB micro sd card in the accessible storage slot for the past couple of years. That’s good for movies while traveling, but I didn’t want to allocate over half the space to iTunes.

2019-03-11

The falling price of flash cards recently convinced me to buy a new 512GB flash card to leave in the Surface. I was able to get all of my music transferred over to the SD card and iTunes installed from the Microsoft Store with very little impact on the internal storage on my Surface. I followed the Apple support ducument and had a few issues because my library had never been consolidated from my early MP3 ripping days.

I’ve been running my Surface SSD with between 50 and 70GB free, which from what I’ve read about SSD usage is good for both lifespan and performance. The iTunes directory on my micro SD card consists of 24,169 files and 137,859,861,360 bytes according to a simple dir /s command.

All was looking good until I got around to connecting my iPhone to the new machine and telling it to backup on the new machine. The backup completed correctly, but I then found out that it had used up all the free space on my internal SSD and I was now down to less than 3GB free space.

A quick search on the web led me to this page explaining how to relocate the backups to an external drive in windows. That seemed good, until I realized that the directory described does not exist on my machine. One more change that seems to have happened to iTunes locations in the Microsoft Store move. A search on my machine led me to find the MobileSync directory in my user profile directory. I used robocopy to move the backup directory to an appropriate directory on my flash card, which took a while because it consisted of 58,623 files and 77,743,703,474 bytes. I then created a directory junction from the SSD location to the flash location.

robocopy /COPYALL /E /MOVE C:\Users\Wim\Apple\MobileSync\Backup D:\Wim\Apple\MobileSync\Backup
mklink /J C:\Users\Wim\Apple\MobileSync\Backup D:\Wim\Apple\MobileSync\Backup

After all that had completed I started iTunes and connected my phone, initiating another backup. Everything now appears to be working properly, with iTunes storing both it’s library and device backups on my secondary storage device.

The only drawback I’ve currently run into is that I use Windows Server Essentials 2016 as a home server and it’s device backup feature to backup my machine for emergency file recovery. The microsd card is recognized as removable media, and the backup software doesn’t easily let me include it in the regular backup strategy.