2018-07-15

EasyN WiFi Camera Firmware Upgrade

I wanted to upgrade the firmware of my EasyN WiFi camera.  I just like to keep my firmware up to date.  I am sure it is a security sieve no matter what firmware I have on it.

Of course, the EasyN web site is apparently dead.  EasyN was just a brand slapped on many devices.  So I went to another brand that looked like it once sold the same camera - Foscam.  And their lame, broken, and apparently deprecated web site seemed to offer firmware that might be compatible.

In general, these anonymously made cheap internet devices are an unholy mixture of cheap manufacturing and abysmal, dangerously insecure software with no promises of any kind of quality.  Still, they have been extraordinarily inexpensive. The manufacturers would sell a lot more cameras if they merely open-sourced the entire software side of it.  But I digress.

So Internet lore told me that I could jam the Foscam firmware on this thing, as long as the middle two numbers of the version number were the same.  So my version number of my EasyN was 4.37.2.43, and so as long as I found wifi cam firmware with a version number in the form of X.37.2.Y, where Y is greater than 43, I'd be upgrading.  Nice!  That same Internet myth said that the first digit was the vendor (with "4" being, apparently, EasyN, and "11" being Foscam).

I went to the Foscam web site and managed to find nothing, but a deeper digging through Google helped me find firmware called "11.37.2.65", which is evidently 22 versions newer than what I had on my camera.  And then I proceeded to follow the upgrade docs.

There are two firmware components: the system and the UI.  You update them independently.  So I followed the procedure and upgrade the system firmware first.  That seemed to work, but when I'm done it is clear that the old UI firmware doesn't work with the new system.  Hm.  So I get this "firmware error" message and I think I've just pretty much ruined the camera.  After all, I'm going to throw it out before going through any laborious process to de-brick it.

It turns out that the upgrade process is an unholy mess.   You can't mix and match the System and UI firmware or else you could brick things.  But there is no way to upgrade without a little mix and match.

Then I get the great idea that maybe I can get the UI firmware update page to reload.  After all, the camera is apparently booting and connecting to my WiFi network, so something is really working there.  And so then I manage to rediscover the UI update page in all it's mis-spelled glory:     http://192.168.x.x/maintance.htm

So I update the UI firmware, and get more errors: "NaN" and other weirdness appears on a sparse page.  Bummer.  But I am smart enough to wait, assuming that a firmware update it actually cranking away in the background.  And a few minutes later, the Foscam UI appears.  I guess I was right.

But then the camera still seems totally broken, with lots of errors and crashing of the UI.  So the final smart idea was to do a hard reset via that magic push button on the bottom of the camera.  After that, a newer and likely just as insecure and unstable UI appears, and my dangerous risky-cam is back in action, ready for network compromise.

And there you have it.  That's how you waste an hour updating a junky wifi cam with anonymously produced firmware.

2018-06-23

Shipping Service Quality

I buy a lot of computer parts to support my hobby of repairing computers.  I buy several hundred items a year, enough that I need to keep track of each order and shipment to ensure that it makes it to me.  Otherwise I forget.

Given the 100+ shipments this year, this is what I've found:
  • All items "lost in the mail" are due to bad US-based eBay seller practices.  Items get lost due to lousy label printing and poor label attachment.  These items have all eventually showed up, but it is definitely the seller's fault, and not the shippers.
  • For domestic shipping, USPS is the most reliable and predictable.  UPS Ground and FedEx Smartpost are very slow. FedEx Smartpost uses ground trucks to move items thousands of miles, and then they hand it to USPS for delivery.   I guess it is cheap.
  • Items from overseas (mostly China) normally makes it to me within 3 weeks, but it can be as quick as 7 days, or take as long as 8 weeks.  So I can't bank on timing when ordering items from China.
  • LaserShip is getting better.  They're still sloppy, but not as horrid as my previous experience with them.  I speculate that they have a lot of driver turn-over, which results in inexperienced delivery people.
  • USPS's "informed delivery" is pretty awesome.
  • Amazon's real-time delivery tracking is very awesome - when it's available.
 Other Thoughts: None!

2018-06-05

WWDC 2018 Keynote: The Good, The Sad, The Ugly

I watched the Keynote.

My overall rating:
  • iOS: A+ effort!
  • tvOS: D.  Very little new here.  Where is the out-of-the-box innovation?
  • Watch: B-.  It's good, despite killing off the 1st generation watch.
  • MacOS: F.  Clearly an afterthought, and kills off a bunch of good Macs too.
  • Other: F.  Absolutely nothing new in the decaying Apple ecosystem.

Here are my detailed thoughts

iOS 12

iOS 12 retains support for iPhone 5S.  This is important.  Instead of throwing these excellent devices into the Security Trash bin, iOS 12 lets the 5S remain in secure, active service for another year.   Furthermore, these devices are fully considered for performance improvements.

iOS 12 is a very bold move by Apple, and shows that iOS has taken on more "green" principles, and that it supports the ecosystem used by its customers.

Compare this to iOS 11, where Apple completely abandoned the relatively new and capable iPhone 5 and 5C, making them a dangerous security risk.

Good: Phone Addiction Tracking

The new features that help users track how much time they use with their device.  This is impressive.  A lot of people use their phones way too much - myself included.  This addresses that, even though most manufacturers would rather allow people to get hooked.

Sad: No Time Capsule Replacement

With the death of Time Capsule hardware, Apple should add Cloud-centric backup capabilities to TimeMachine so that it can work with S3, or BackBlaze, Mozy, or one of a dozen other modern Internet backup services.  Instead, MacOS users get a decaying backup ecosystem.  Clearly Apple just wants to sell more iCloud subscriptions instead of advancing MacOS backup services.   Sad.

Sad: tvOS updates.

Apple TV.  Still no new features that make it extraordinarily enticing.  It's just an amp'd up ROKU.  It's time for Apple to add WiFi router, Airport, Time Machine, and VPN capabilities to this impressive piece of hardware.  Instead, it remains a ROKU.  It sells only because of proprietary but pedestrian capabilities.

Sad: MacOS Mojave

The idea that Apple has to state that they still care about the Mac shows that they don't really care about the Mac.  MacOS and its Apps are quite static, with only minor improvements for exceedingly expensive hardware.

Ugly: MacOS Mojave Kills Millions of Macs

Mojave kills off millions of excellent Macs, sending them to the security waste bin:  Any Mac that was initially released before 2012 is going to go into the security waste bin in 2 years.  Apple could address this by committing to make security updates to High Sierra for the next 5 years, but Apple would rather push you to upgrade for security fears instead of encouraging you to dream of their new (overpriced, under-performing and inflexible) Mac hardware.  SJ, we Apple customers miss your product strategy.

Apple was clearly so utterly embarrassed by this Mac mass murder that they didn't mention it in the keynote at all.


2018-05-31

On Localism.

I spend tens of thousands of dollars a year.  I spend it on all sorts of things to live my life - on my house, my car, healthcare, food, clothing, energy, and so forth.

Much of the money I spend immediately goes away to some distant corporation - a quick glance at my credit card statement shows that 90%+ of my spending goes far, far away.  Sure, a portion of it might stay local.  But the majority of it certainly does not.

Instead, maybe its better to try to get more of my money to stick around town a little longer.
 Imagine spending $20,000 to buy a new car.  The vast majority of that money goes away to some international corporation owned primarily by foreign investors.  Instead, maybe it's better for me to give $1,000 to my local mechanic to fix my car.  Then he can spend that money on his family... local folks who need to live their life.

Imagine spending $2,500 a year on household energy.  Instead of giving 100% of that money to OPEC and its industrial partners, maybe it is much better for me to give a portion of it to the local guy who can make my house much more energy efficient.  Then he can spend that money on his family... local folks who need to live their life.

The same thing goes for food, insurance, and everything else: All things being equal, I've decided to spend my money locally. That means spending on local labor instead of new stuff made in some giant factory far way. That means spending at locally-owned businesses instead of the "national" businesses at the strip mall. 

I can't prevent my money from leaving the local economy.  But I can help get it to stick around a little bit longer.

Electricity Use Update - the Final Frontier.

I did it again.  I cut my lighting electric bill by yet another third.

Now I'm using a photocell to automatically switch lights on and off that used to be on 24x365.  This last move reduces my lighting bill by about 35%. 

It would seem that a photocell would save about 50% in lighting costs, as the average 24 hour period is about 50% daylight.  But it isn't that simple:  For safety reasons, I want the lights to come on before it gets dark, and I want the lights to turn off after it gets bright out side.  Furthermore, not every day is loaded with full sunshine.  After chugging through the numbers, I pessimistically calculate the my lights will be on about 65% of the time.

When I started this lighting efficiency effort, I was already considered efficient: I was using CFL bulbs in all my fixtures.  Yet I was still able to reduce my lighting costs by about 85%.

Further savings are going to be a significant challenge as I already use low-wattage LEDs, and they've been extremely reliable.  Considering that my current bulbs have been extremely reliable (zero failures), it is a good bet that I won't have a bulb failure over the next 5+ years.  Perhaps by then, more efficient bulbs will be available.

2018-05-26

K4221C Photo Cell Adjustment

I just replaced a K4221 Photocell with a new one.

The old photo cell failed in the "on" position, which is actually a great failure mode - I use the photocell to control indoor and outdoor lighting, and for safety reasons its important that it works.  So the lights being stuck "on" is a decent failure mode.

But the photocell was stuck on for, um, many years.  I didn't really notice that there was a photocell, and was just accepting that the lights were on 24x365.

Now with the photocell, my lights will be on roughly 16 hours a day. That saves a third off of my lighting bill.  In the scheme of things it will only save me a couple hundred bucks, but hey, rather I get it than OPEC.

My photocell has a tough job.  It is to turn on necessary indoor and outdoor lighting when it starts to get dark outside.  But the challenge is that the photocell is positioned so it receives a lot of artificial light from the urban street, and it is unreasonably complex for me to move it.

My goal is to get it to trigger the lights acceptably, and that means have it be "on" when it needs to be "on".

In the worst case, I can just disable it.  I can just leave the lights on 24x365 and be done with it.  And that might be the solution I go with.  But for now, I'll fiddle with it.

I oriented the sensor so it faces away from direct lights, in hope that will help.  I also used the metal shutter and some handy electrical tape in order to shield the sensor as much as possible.

The fortunate part of it all is that I can adjust the sensor from the ground.  There is no need for me to climb ladders or other nonsense.

I figure it will take a few weeks to get it just right.

2018-04-27

The Good and Bad of Apple.

This article is my roster of good and bad product moves by Apple.  I only mention things that I think are important. Feel free to let me know your opinion and I will consider it.

2018

  • [Bad] Apple has dropped its excellent "Airport" WiFi router line, and tells customers to buy other vendors' junk. Apple promotes the WiFi marketing gimmick called "mesh". The pundits that promote mesh are either profiteering, or idiots.
  • [Bad] Apple completely fails to make headway making the Apple TV an awesome, must-have device.  It is shackled by how Apple lets developers use the OS.  Instead it is sold as a glorified Homekit hub integrated with a $30 Roku.  Why the fuck doesn't Apple get the excellent Apple TV hardware to play an important role in home WiFi?  Idiocy.
  •  [Good] Apple updates the "entry level" iPad without increasing its price.  The new iPad even retains the useful "legacy" headphone port, which has really only evaporated from the iPhone line.

2017

  • [Bad] The iPhone X is released at $1000+. It's impossible for Apple to excuse the price point, despite their feeble attempts. The iPhone 4 was an even bigger step up from the iPhone 3GS, yet Apple managed to control its pricing.  I am not going to buy an iPhone X.
  • [Good] Apple updates the software of the long-discontinued Apple TV v3 with Amazon Prime support.
  • [Bad] The new MacBook Pro was delivered with another proprietary SSD, as if the industry standard PCI.e interface wasn't "good enough".  If it wasn't good enough, why doesn't Apple develop a new industry standard like they did for USB-C, nano SIM, Firewire, etc?  And on some MBPs, Apple resorts to soldering in some SSDs to prevent device upgrades.
  • [Good] The replacement for the iPad Air 2 is a better, and significantly more affordable iPad. The pundits that complain about it are idiots.
  • [Bad]  Apple stops releasing security patches for iOS 10 - the version of iOS that is required for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. Some of these devices were sold as new less than 3 years old. Customers of these products can no longer securely use them.  Shameful.
  • [Good] The Apple Watch product line is clearly becoming more compelling.
  • [Bad] The iPod line is completely abandoned - the shuffle and the nano are dead.  Customers are advised to use an iPhone or Watch with bluetooth during their workouts - which, of course, costs at least 5x more than the iPod Shuffle.   Instead, many people go to eBay to buy used iPods.

2016

  • [Bad] Apple states during the 2016 October Special Event that the MacBook Air is basically not a great machine, yet Apple fails to improve the MBA in any important way.  Apple offers the low-end MacBook Pro, at a 30% premium, as an alternative. WTF?
  • [Bad] With the release of the new MacBook Pros, it is clear that Apple is eliminating their use of the excellent MagSafe connector.  Apple fails to provide any compelling alternative.  Happily, MagSafe continues to be used on the MacBook Air, but only because Apple *never* updates the MacBook Air.
  • [Bad] For the first time in 4 years, Apple releases an operating system, Sierra, that refuses to be installed on Macs that Apple no longer wants to support - despite the fact that there are literally zero technical reasons why Sierra can't work with the older hardware.  Apple couldn't even be bothered to fake a technology excuse.  Thuggish behavior: buy new hardware or risk your security.
  • [Bad] The iPhone 7 loses the headphone port for no particular reason other than "it's legacy", with comparisons to the Mac's elimination of the DVD drive, Floppy drive, and dial-up modem. The difference is that those legacy devices were bulky, unreliable, poor performing, rarely used, and long displaced by other technology. Now we get a dongle and need to balance using a headset and charging.  Very dumb "form over function".  No matter how Apple spins it, it is not a bold or logical move except if you want to sell bluetooth headsets.

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EasyN WiFi Camera Firmware Upgrade

I wanted to upgrade the firmware of my EasyN WiFi camera.  I just like to keep my firmware up to date.  I am sure it is a security sieve no...