Fun with electronics

If you would like to learn more about Linux, programming, networking or just playing around with leds you can purchase a number of books or online courses – the internet is full of them. I created a book to get my children interested in using computers for more than just games.

Getting started with Arduino and Raspberry pi

You can learn more about it here. Consider purchasing it to support the channel.

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Alternative facts to alternative reality

Over the last few years the world has become a bit topsy turvy but it feels like acquiesce to the truth is leading us more and more into a world where people’s fantasy replace everyone else’s facts.

Definition of Fact

A think that is known or proven to be true.

Definition of Alternative

Different from the usual or conventional

When I was growing up we didn’t have alternative facts and had I come up with anything like that, it would have been given another definition by my parents. That definition would have been probably called a lie.

It doesn’t really matter what my parents would have thought of any creative word play as a child but what does seem to be more concerning is moving further and further away from facts. This is true of a lot of issues that are currently taking place in the United States. It is embarrassing that the American politicians cannot keep their jobs without “coloring” the facts to kiss up to their constituents.

However, is it worse that simply repeating some falsehoods during a single presidency has convinced a relatively large number of people that they are true.

With enough repetition even questionable information becomes familiar. This is a pretty amazing feat to convert adults beliefs but just imagine what you could do if you were starting with a more malleable person with less overall knowledge – such as a child.

Nation State alternative facts

We will get a chance to see exactly how this plays out as China appears to have made the decision that Hong Kong was never a colony of Britain. This is actually a pretty bold change to erase approximately one hundred and fifty years of colonial rule from 1842 until 1997. This small bit of historical revisionism will be changed in the high school textbooks. Actually, it is pretty much the perfect age to introduce this type of information. Old enough to take the information seriously but not old enough with enough experience to critically question it. It is curious if all facts will be erased from history or just the main facts. Chinese President Jiang admitted in the handover speech that Hong Kong had been a colony.

It is possible that the Chinese government believes that white washing history might make the local population more controllable. Perhaps the idea that Hong Kong had more freedoms under British rule than they enjoy under their own government might not sit well with the population. I suspect that the old politicians in China are terrified that there could be another Tienanmen square style incident. The popular uprising that occurred from 2019 to 2020 were perhaps a canary in the coalmine of worse things to come if not dealt with.

1984 by George Orwell

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

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Stone age to cloud age

Back in the day when you needed a computer or a technical infrastructure you needed some money and you had to go and purchase actual computer equipment. With the wonders of the cloud technology it is possible to connect to one of the cloud vendors and allocate not only a virtual machine but all of the other networking pieces. From load balancers and fire wall rules to network address translation and actual internet access.

None of this is actually news, Amazon has been providing services since 2006. What is new, or relatively new, is the ability to declare how your IT environment should look and have it implemented on command. It is super cool for software development, you can create a test or development environment in the morning and shut it all down before going home.

Of course Amazon has their own tool for this – cloud formation. If you are planning on choosing AWS this might be the best choice. However, if the goal is to not be locked into one cloud vendor perhaps picking your own external tool is a good idea.

There are essentially two different ways to implement the infrastructure.

Declarative

The declarative approach only requires you define what infrastructure you wish to exist at the end. You can run a declarative solution multiple times. The first time the infastructure will be implemented, while the additional runs will verify what you need already exists. If there are no changes, then nothing new will be implemented.

Imperative

The other approach is a set of steps that when run will create their pieces of the infrastructure. These may need to be run in a specific order. Running these steps multiple times may create multiple sets of infrastructure.

My next blog will be about using Terraform

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Electronic system ESTA

National security is important, you don’t want to let sketchy people into your country. This is somewhat easy to determine for people applying for permanent visas. They have to provide a lot of information and the number of applicants are fairly small, well in comparison to the number of holiday visitors.

I imagine there is a process is a lot harder when the numbers skyrocket. I would think the process would be easier if all the information submitted was accurate. I guess the department of homeland security in the USA doesn’t feel the same way.

Most of the information you need to provide is fairly tame. Essentially the following.

  • who are you
  • where do you live
  • some personal details (passport #)
  • what do you do
  • where do you work

This information is entered and sometimes the character sets are the same as for the US, but in order to automate the process you would want computers to do all the work. There are at least 31 countries that have diacritics or special characters that are not representable by the Latin character set used by the US.

I know this because if you try and enter a German or French special character the US ESTA site points out that these are illegal names. You are then required to either misspell the name(s) so they are not rejected or the US needs to know all of the substitutions (ie ü = ue)

Either they like making things harder for themselves or perhaps they are not effectively checking out their tourist visitors.

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REST services – High tech easier than ever before

A few years ago I was doing some fooling around with creating my own RESTful services server.

Restful services in Java

Simple server example

Simple client example

Client and Server

360 Degree of restful server

360 Degree of Restful client

Granted these examples were written in Java and Java is a general-purpose, class-based, object-oriented programming language. Java programs can be a bit wordy. These examples were written 2017 and there were easier ways even back then but even since then more and more frameworks have been created to make life easier.

One such solution is using NodeJS and some of the supporting modules. NodeJS is a platform built on top of Chrome’s javascript runtime. NodeJS is both the runtime environment as well as the JavaScript libraries.

It is possible to create a service that you can connect to and transfer data to with only a few lines.

var http = require('http');
http.createServer(function (req, res) {
  res.writeHead(200, {'Content-Type': 'text/plain'});
  res.end('Hello World\n');
}).listen(3000, "127.0.0.1");
console.log('Server running at http://127.0.0.1:3000/');

This server is super simple. Ok, ok, it is not terribly functional. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. First lets install software on your machine.

Installing NodeJS on Linux Mint

Installing NodeJS on a Linux machine, just like most software Linux installations, tends to be just a few lines.

  • sudo apt-get install curl software-properties-common
  • curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_14.x | sudo bash –
  • sudo apt-get install nodejs

I chose the long term version 14 instead of the latest release. What you choose would depend on what features you need if you are a bit more flexible (or perhaps less dependent on new features).

Your version can be verified with the following command.

node -v 
> v14.18.2

Beyond the javascript that your programs are developed in it is possible to download additional modules which can be used to encapsulate functionality into little package. This can be done in a few different ways but one of the most common is to use the npm, formerly called Node Package Manager, to download new packages. Installing a single package is done simply by doing an “npm install” followed by the package name.

$ npm install express
npm WARN saveError ENOENT: no such file or directory, open '/home/chris/working/nodejs/simple-server/package.json'
npm notice created a lockfile as package-lock.json. You should commit this file.
npm WARN enoent ENOENT: no such file or directory, open '/home/chris/working/nodejs/simple-server/package.json'
npm WARN simple-server No description
npm WARN simple-server No repository field.
npm WARN simple-server No README data
npm WARN simple-server No license field.

+ express@4.17.1
added 50 packages from 37 contributors and audited 50 packages in 1.892s
found 0 vulnerabilities

Simple Server

The smallest functional server written in NodeJS would one that listens to a specific endpoint for any of the common HTTP messages (GET,PUT,POST,DELETE). This example program will listen to port 8181 on the server.

var express = require('express');
var app = express();

app.get('/', function (req, res) {
   res.send('Hello World');
})

var server = app.listen(8081, function () {
   let port = server.address().port
   
   console.log(`Example app listening on port ${port} `)
})

This can be tested by running the server on your local machine attaching to it from your web browser.

Running the server is super easy as well, simply run the NodeJS (node) with the name of the script to run.

> node server.js 
Server running at http://127.0.0.1:3000/

Looking at the code you would expect to see your classic Hello World to show up when your visit this endpoint.

It is important to install any modules that you will use. There is quite a bit of existing functionality but the express module needs to be installed before it can be used.

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REST services – the Node JS simple server

NodeJS has actually encapsulated all of the hard work. A simple server that will wait for HTTP GET statements.

This simple server program has a lot of functionality. It is an example of three different endpoints that can be called. The /hello and /goodbye are pretty obvious and simply return a json message to the caller.

const express = require('express')
let app = express()
app.use(express.json());



app.get('/hello', (request, response) => {
  response.json({ "message": "hello world" });
});

app.get('/goodbye', (request, response) => {
  response.status(200).send("goodbye world");
});

app.get('/x/:id', (request, response) => {
  response.status(200).send(request.params.id );
});

const port = process.env.PORT || 3000;
app.listen(port, () => console.log(`listing on port ${port}` ));

The third endpoint is a bit more interesting as it allows you to pass in a parameter and easily as part of the URL. This particular example might be good for retrieving a value (ie book) by the code that is passed in. Because this is a service and not a web server it is only returning a value and not a webpage. But this is pretty useful as a backend server for your website.

Just as important as the ability to get information it is important to be able to pass in a complex structure.

app.post('/newitem', (request, response) => {

  let body = request.body;
  console.log("body of post")
  console.log(body);


  var keys = Object.keys(body);
  for (i in keys)
    console.log(i,keys[i],body[keys[i]]);

  response.status(200).send(request.params.id );
});

This example post endpoint allows us to pass in any structure and print it out to the console.

In my next post I will expand on this for other features that might be useful.

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I want to support my local store

Don’t you hate it when you go to your local store to purchase their wares and they tell you nope we don’t want your money.

I might be paraphrasing my recent encounter at Conrad Electronics. I wanted to purchase one of the electronic SMD switches only to be told that that was for businesses only. You cannot become part of their program unless you have a company registered in Germany.

I did manage to find a very similar part on Ebay and there are other companies such as Mouser, Digikey and Reichelt.

I guess capitalism will out.

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Consumer DRM – pecked to death by ducks

It is difficult to where exactly we are on the spectrum. A few instances of creative companies using DRM and other protective designs preventing consumers from buying compatible consumables.

Previously, it seemed that companies were using Patent law to prevent their competitors from selling compatible consumable items to their customers. I am certain there are many examples but the one that I think sticks out is the Nespresso coffee machines. They had apparently a unique shaped capsule that was under Patent protection. This did a good job of keeping other companies from selling that profitable coffee to their consumers – alas all good things come to an end. Their original capsule patent expired in 2012 forcing them to compete with others.

I have seen other companies that have other protection mechanisms to prevent you from using compatible soap refills or air fresheners refills. Some of these methods can be easily circumvented with simple items or methods. ( felt tip marker circumvents Sony disc copy prevention )

Some of these companies do try to sell products as a loss leader with the goal of making their profit on the back end. It does seem that the printer industry seems to fall under that heading based on the costs of some of their low end printers. I am not sure I want to pay for overpriced ink or toner but I can understand that model.

I am a bit less understanding of General Electric and how they deal with water filters connected to their refrigerator.

Patents, protective mechanisms, as well as DRM to lock the consumer in are methods that could be used to try and guarantee future profits, but what makes these methods awesome for the company and less so for the consumer is the DRMC passed in the US in 2004.

The DRMC has a provision that prevents makes it illegal to circumvent technical measures in copyrighted materials. It didn’t take the companies too longer to see this as a cudgel that could be used against competitors as well as people who circumvent this on their own legally purchased devices. What could be better, protection from competition with the power of law.

It is difficult to know at this time if this is the top of the slippery slope or if we are further down. It doesn’t really matter but there is a dystopian future where this type of DRM will prevent virtually all competition.

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/01/unauthorized-bread-a-near-future-tale-of-refugees-and-sinister-iot-appliances/

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Unanticipated consequences from BREXIT to climate change

Who would have thought that BREXIT or perhaps Covid 19 could have such an effect. I try to actually shop in stores to ensure there is competition to Amazon and Alibaba. However, from time to time I will purchase something online or get something from Ebay.

Imagine my surprise the other day when I did purchase something from Ebay to have to pay some customs charges. It did not take long to realize that this is probably to be expected as the UK has left the European Union – no more free ride I guess. The customs fees were actually not so amazing 2.28 EUR for purchasing an item valued at 10 GBP or about 12 Euros.

Rules are rules and I suppose that the the EU is trying to protect itself from people cleaning out their basement and selling it abroad. This cost doesn’t really bother me but what does is was the additional 6 EUR Auslagepauschale (storage fee) I was charged. It does rather change some of the economics of purchasing used things from the basements of UK sellers.

Used brass tag10 GBP
Postage3.05 GBP
Customs tax2.28 EUR
Storage fee6.00 EUR
Total24.05 EUR

This might really be a chart that suggests I visit flea markets close to where I live. I wish my car was brand new but as an older car it probably does contribute to greenhouse gases (or pollution if you prefer).

However, apparently the playing field is not quite level. Either Germany or the EU is concerned about commerce and gifts flowing in. This seems to be true for gifts/packages from the United States and from the UK. If other sources are to be believed this is true for quite a number of non-EU countries.

What does not seem to be the case is receiving new items from China. I did actually order a few printed circuit boards from China and if you are in no hurry it is a cost effect way to import project boards.

circuit boards2.00 USD
postage3.90 USD
Customs0.00
Storage fee0.00
Total5.39 EUR

It is not clear what the cost to the environment is to ship items from the other side of the world but intuitively it should be greater than something shipped from an EU adjoining country.

It is not often that I do this, but this does pretty much offer an interesting precedent. If you need some thing reasonably small or affordable why reuse / recycle an existing item when you can get a brand new one shipped from China for cheaper.

These two examples are not actually completely comparable but especially now during (essentially) pandemic conditions getting electronics is difficult. I have been forced to purchase items from the US in the past which really didn’t make all that much sense because of the shipping costs, but now with these extra little taxes* and fees it makes more financial sense to take the anti-climate choice.

I guess that either BREXIT, the fear of BREXIT competition or attempts to squeeze extra fees from the postal consumers is creating a situation of unexpected consequences** that seems anti-climate to me.

* Customs tax is not new but recent changes for items starting at 0 EUR instead of 22 EUR along with the stories that gift package (45 EUR or less) also seems to be no longer be exempt. It is possible that this 45 EUR level is being applied inconsistently.

** Who would have thought that Economics class would still be in my head after all these years.

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Making a fortune in 2022

The amount of IT that is at your finger tips in the year 2022 (or really since 2015) is amazing. It is possible to research how to make vegetarian chili or get help in selling your old computer monitor.

From the comfort of your own home you can sell new or old items on ebay, ebay kleinanzeigen (Germany), Amazon, ETSY, Facebook marketplace just to name a few. This makes it easy to sell your old playstation or perhaps an old laptop.

You would think selling that item should be easy, just take a few pictures, and create an auction or a sale. Bingo you are rich.

Well, it turns out that the world is a large place and a lot of people have old or broken laptops in their basement. Just try and sell one to discover how many items are for offer. I thought I could sell an old slimline dvd drive only to discover what appears to be dozens of similar items that can be had for not much more then the cost of shipping.

This is great if you are looking to build some Frankenstein computer with 10 slimdrive dvd’s but less interesting if you are trying to sell your old 512 mb laptop ram module or old laptop keyboard.

As always, your mileage may vary.

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A bit of (excessive) advertising

I am actually glad that I do not see how many minutes per week I spend at YouTube. It is a convenient place to get some news, see some how to video and if you need to relax there are a lot of funny animal or children videos.

It has been long known that the internet is actually watching us and selling us to their advertisers. What the heck, why not watch a few of the commercials or use that as an opportunity to get a sandwich from the fridge.

What I don’t understand is what advertiser thinks I would like to stop watching cat videos to see their 6 – 52 minute long infomercial. Not only that, the infomercials don’t seem to even remotely match up with my video history.

Perhaps Google believes that everyone wants to purchase mystery supplements or the belief we can become some sort of work from home and earn 250 dollars by tomorrow morning and perhaps 150k by the end of the year.

It is difficult to know who is getting the better deal, some company whose video is streamed for the first minute or two or Google who gets them to pay for this. I guess there is one born every minute …

Oh, what is the record for an add? Just under 3 1/2 hours.

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