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Just Wondering…

California wildfires? Must be a consequence of “bad forest management”.

Storms and hurricanes in the Mexican Gulf? That must be a consequence of “bad ocean management”, no?

I did not look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus for a few weeks, but when I started it up yesterday there was a new update waiting for me – including the September 1, 2020 security patches for Android. The update introduces the possibility to use Samsung DeX without a cable, at least if you have a Samsung smart TV (which I don’t have :-( ).

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And now we wait for Android 11, I guess?

Yes, August 2020 was hot, very hot even, certainly for Belgium. But hot does not equal sunny, and high temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius have a negative impact on the efficiency of solar panels. Still, for our installation a production equal to 98% of the estimate is not that bad.

You might think that I’m using a biblical reference to write about how special these Corona times are (technically, we should call that SARS-CoV-2 times, but it’s too late to change what we hear and read more than once every day in 2020). The opposite is true: this is not the first pandemic in human history, and it may not be the last one either, unless humanity finally smartens up and decides to figure out how to avoid them in the future.

In the seventeenth century, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe. In those days, Tuscany’s wine merchants used “sportelle“, or “buchette del vino” as they were named later, to sell wine in a manner that protected as best as possible from contagion: through a small window in the wall or a door, separate from the normal shop. Merchants collected the payment for the wine in metal recipients, so that they could disinfect the coins with vinegar…

A picture from the buchettedelvino.org website: “A cup of ice cream is passed through the Wine Window of the Vivoli ice cream parlor in Via delle Stinche” (Click on the image to go to the website)

Some of the remaining buchette are put to good use again in 2020, in order to sell ice cream, coffee and drinks!

The website of the cultural association “Buchette del Vino” has more to tell about these little windows, and I will admit that it is quite intriguing to learn about such a tangible remnant of the cultural changes caused by a pandemic. I wonder: will the year 2020 also produce  tangible cultural changes lasting centuries?

A few days ago, my Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus could already install the August 1, 2020 Android security patches. If only Samsung (and other phone manufacturers) were always so quick to support more devices for many more years: the latest Samsung Galaxy S7 security patch is dated March 1, 2020…

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time.

John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020), in the New York Times of July 30, 2020

Ignoring the history you don’t like is not a victimless act, and a history of America that ignores white supremacy is a white supremacist’s history of America. Which matters, because while it might seem obvious history isn’t over yet. It’s still being written.

John Oliver, on in the video “Last Week Tonight” of August 2, 2020 on YouTube

It had been a while, many years actually, since I needed the Windows equivalent of “touch“. You don’t know that command? All it does is change to modification date and time of a file (or a series of files) to the current date and time of the computer. I used to turn to the Cygwin toolkit to get things done, in the days when corporate Windows PC’s weren’t so closed off and you could install your own tools.

Luckily for me there is an equivalent in Windows, on the command line. You can use this somewhat strange command to get the same result:

copy /b filename.ext +,,

Yes, that’s a plus sign followed by two commas at the end. I’m writing it up here because I know I won’t remember that correctly in a few days!

92% would be a good exam result for any student, but when it comes to solar electricity production I like to see numbers above 100% – especially in what are supposed to be the sunniest months of the year. But the Royal Meteorological Institute (in Dutch) tells us that July 2020 was a bit less warm than normal, had a bit less sunshine than normal, and had less rain than normal (normal being defined as the average since 1981). In fact, July 2020 only had a single day with non-stop clear blue skies. Since we’re going to have a real heat wave the coming days, I hope we’ll see some more “perfectly sunny days” in August.

Composer James Beckwith has been at work with the COVID-19 infection and mortality numbers. You could say that he lets the virus play a tune – and it’s not a pretty melody. Let this be a warning to all those who think that the epidemic is gone, or the virus weakened: the numbers are not getting better after June (even if that might seem to be the case in your little corner of the world)!

I hope James can provide one or more updated versions in the future.

Charlie Arehart is a well-known ColdFusion specialist. Two days ago, he wrote a blog post explaining why one should be careful about securing ColdFusion Archive (CAR) files. The Adobe ColdFusion team isn’t very explicit about the issue, telling us in small print that we should delete those files after using them – but does not explain why we should do so. So Charlie explains it in great detail – if you work with Adobe ColdFusion, you should check out his blog.

Now Charlie only mentions versions 2016 and 2018 of ColdFusion, and I know that there are still developers around that work with older versions – actually, I’m one of those: ColdFusion 11 is what I support (and occasionally develop for) since 2015. I have been using  .car files for installing CF servers, and I had already been looking at what they contained. But I had never seen the ‘seed’ and ‘algorithm’ strings Charlie writes about, but I could have overlooked them. So I went in again today, to verify things.

I can confirm that .car files created in CF11 do NOT contain those strings. But before you start celebrating, I must warn you that this probably means that the situation is even worse than for more recent versions. Because CF11 will write (encrypted) passwords into a .car file, and yes: those files can be used to reconfigure another server, passwords included ! Which probably means that all CF11 runtimes use the same seed and algorithm, rendering  CF11.car files containing passwords even more insecure than later versions

I did not know about all this until yesterday, but I seem to have circumvented the problem: I wrote an application to install datasource definitions on the servers rather than use CAR files. That offers multiple advantages: the code  (and hence the definitions) is under version control, and can only be accessed by authorized users; we have different definitions for different environments; etc. And the.car files I do use have no passwords in them – whew!

But it’s clear that it pays take this issue into account as a ColdFusion developer or administrator, whatever solution you choose (and Charlie has a few propositions).

Strong words, but there’s more than a grain of truth in them: “Why Kubernetes is The New Application Server“. “Classic” application servers like those for Java are no longer sufficient by themselves to build a platform that can serve big internet-applications with a large, world-wide audience. And in the world of “containers” Kubernetes seems to be king, as far as I can tell.

Container ship at sea

(Photo by GPA Photo Archive – Original on Flickr)

In order for containerisation to work, applications must be properly “documented” – in fact, the bulk of the “configuration documentation” will somehow be part of what is needed to get those containers up and running. Around the time I read up on Kubernetes I stumbled onto something called “The Twelve-Factor App” – can’t remember who pointed me there. This methodology (it’s not an app!) describes a well-documented way to build, configure and run a cloud application – a laudable objective.

At work, we have tried to describe our applications in order to migrate them to another (Windows) domain with new (better) rules about access control, database access, etc. But things aren’t working out as they should. We do have documentation, although I’m not sure how useful it is outside of the context of passing relevant information from the developers to an external partner that will implement parts of the configuration. Additionally, we have described lots of “what“s, but almost no “why“s – which might be essential in the coming months and years as the applications continue to evolve…

Ideally, I would have loved to have a decent ‘methodology’ for documenting application essentials when we were building our applications. Trying to figure out what has to be done to get things up and running again on new servers has become something of a nightmare. That is even more so when the application you’re handling was developed by someone who’s no longer available for questioning!

The Twelve-Factor app may turn out to be very useful, although I suspect it is incomplete. I don’t think there is a single method for completely describing and documenting applications and systems that extend beyond the most simple cases. Any ‘methodology’ to build software is bound to need more or less tweaking to fit your (or your company’s) way of working. Getting to know methodologies other than the one you’re using is a good way of discovering what you need to get better!

There are many reasons to do away a with cash money in modern society. One of those reasons has been reinforced in these Corona times: paper bills and metal coins can be a transmission vector for infectious diseases. The discussion about pros and cons is certainly not yet over, as evidenced on Wikipedia.

Let me add another reason not to throw out coins right away. Many older photo cameras will demand that you use a coin to open and close their battery compartment:

So yes, cash – even those small almost worthless coins – can be more than just money: they are a very useful tool ;-)

I have finally found some time to play with the Raspberry Pi. Nothing spectacular; I have great things in mind for it, but for the moment I would just like it to take over the “solar” duties of the Asus EeePc that is running permanently (and hence providing a small heat source in the winter, right on my desk).

One of the first things I tried is prepping the Pi to run all that old Python USB stuff the SMA Sunny Boy requires me to use. My habit of trying to document my experiences as much as possible paid off: I just had to follow the instructions I wrote down myself in 2017 how to install an old pyusb package on Ubuntu – much to my surprise, they work flawlessly on the Raspbian 10 running on the Pi. Onwards to further testing!

It does not rain that often on July 1st here in Belgium, but it did in 2020 ;-)

Our solar electricity production numbers for June are not influenced by the latest rainy days, luckily: the panels generated just a bit more than the average of the past 10 months of June. In total, we have now surpassed the 22 MWh mark in ten and a half years.

In 2017, I was looking for a wrist-based device that would do three things:

  • keep an eye on my heart rate at all times;
  • serve as a subtle alarm clock;
  • last longer than 24 hours on a single battery charge.

I was lucky to find a refurbished Huawei Fit with standard warranty for little money, and I must admit that it did exactly what I wanted. The heart rate numbers registered by the device were pretty close to those that appeared on the cardiologists monitor. I only overslept when I really wanted to, ignoring the gentle buzz of the Fit. Just having a black and white screen was good enough for me, and that screen clearly helped to realise my third requirement: it would easily last for 5 to 6 days on a single charge without being too big and bulky. The Huawei Health app was (is) not ideal but certainly sufficient for my purposes.

Since a few months however, the Fit slowly started to degrade. Not by failing, no, but the battery performance started to get worse. And energetic physical exercise, like working in the garden, resulted in water vapour (sweat!) on the inside of the glass, rendering the screen unreadable for many hours. Time to look out for a replacement.

I surveyed the large field of activity trackers, sport watches and smart watches (if only because it is hard to distinguish those categories and the devices in them). I have no need to add applications to my watch, but I do want a measure of interaction between the watch and my phone – hence a certain measure of “smarts” is required in the watch.

Finding a replacement turned out to hard: the number of available smartwatches and activity trackers has grown, as have their features. But when you look at the battery life, the manufacturers seem to have problems extending the battery life of those new devices substantially. The Apple Watch hardly lasts a day. Android Wear devices can get you through two days if you’re lucky. Garmin has a few devices that do (much) better – if you are an athlete, you can do worse than pick one of their watches.

In the end, it turned out that the real champion of battery life is still Huawei, with the GT 2 series devices. By the way: the Honor MagicWatch 2 is almost identical to them. I saw the Huawei GT 2 on the wrist of a colleague, who spoke very favourably of it. My wrist is rather thin, so I chose the GT 2e for a better fit. 46mm is large, but I wanted to maximise the battery capacity.

I had to wait a few weeks to get it delivered (so much for webshops that promise stock availability and overnight delivery!) but I will say that so far I am quite happy with it.

The Huawei GT 2e is a large device, but it just fits my wrist and is quite comfortable. The sporty strap is a lot better and less sweaty than the one on the Fit. There is currently no real choice in alternative straps, and that is one thing I look forward to: for a more formal occasion I would like to be able to change the strap, but it would have to be a strap that closely fits to the watch’s body, like the original.

Old and new on the same arm ;-)

The screen is very nice, although not as bright as I expected: in bright sunlight some effort is needed to read all details. Functionally, it does more than what I want or need, so I have no complaints there. Did I mention that it is a relatively cheap device, compared to similar sport watches? I hope this one will last at least 3 years as well, and possibly more.

I do have a wish, though: Huawei should work on the iOS version of its Health app. Compared to the Android version, the iPhone version is missing more than a few things that I would like to use. Being able to tune the app notifications in more detail is my most important request. So there you have it, Huawei: the watch is good enough, but it will take an extra effort on the iOS app to make it even better!