Apple Carplay Autoplay Automation

| posted in: apple  Carplay  Auto-play  Automation 

While Apple CarPlay is a wonderful feature to have in our car, there is one annoying aspect that has been bothersome. When you plug your phone in and start the car, it automatically starts playing what you were last listening to—music, audiobook, or podcast. Having to wait for the sound to start so that you can push the button to turn the audio off is annoying.

Searching online I found any number of articles with a variety of solutions. Everything from removing Music from the allowed apps in CarPlay, to buying a 99¢ blank track that you name so it is the first item in your music list, and so on. The best solution, and the one I implemented, was to use a personal automation.

Search for the “Shortcuts” app on your iPhone, and select the “Automation” tab. Create a new personal automation that is triggered by “When CarPlay Connects”. For the action search for “Play/Pause”. Tap on the Play/Pause option and select “Pause”. You will have the option to be asked to allow the automation each time. I opted for no, but I did opt to get a notification when the automation ran.

After setting this up, when I plug my phone in to the car there is a split second of sound and then the sound stops. It would be better if Apple would add an autoplay on/off option, but in the meantime being able to automate silence is acceptable.

Apple Carplay for the Win

| posted in: apple  Carplay 

My wife and I are on a two-week driving vacation. From our home in Manhattan Kansas we are driving to Worcester MA, with stops along the way in West Lafayette IN, State College and Scranton PA.

Our new (to us) Honda CR-V has Apple Car play, something I have wanted to have in a car since it was announced. The first two days of driving were over ground I’ve covered many times before, so I had the map displayed but didn’t really use it or need it. Leaving Tipp City (north of Dayton OH) this morning I wanted directions to get around Columbus, So I put in Wheeling WV as a destination, just to get the map pointed in the right direction.

The first thing I noticed was that, when the map is in give-you-directions mode, it shows the current posted speed limit. When you just have the map displayed but aren’t using it for navigation you don’t see that. (I guess you could tap on the map to bring up the information overlays, even without a destination.)

The second thing was that Siri would announce upcoming speed traps, apparently crowd sourced from other drivers who used the built in report feature to pass on that information.

The third thing, and by far the most impressive to us, was getting an announcement that I-70 East was closed ahead of us, with an estimated delay of 45 minutes (This estimate was at least an hour before we arrived at the start of the alternate route, by then the delay had grown considerably). We took the suggested alternate route, which put us on a 4-lane state road parallel to the Interstate. Several other cars took the same route, and several semis did as well. Most of the traffic continued on past the alternate route exit. From that exit you couldn’t see any sign of a road closure. My guess is the other cars were also using CarPlay and decided to follow the suggested alternate route. Not all the semis took the alternate, so maybe some trucks have CarPlay and some don’t? Is CB still a thing in the age of cell phones?

Part way along the detour, we could see the Interstate, and the east bound lanes were a massive parking lot. Miles of cars and trucks standing on the highway. Having CarPlay saved us hours of time and frustration today. This evening I did a Google search and learned that a semi and crashed against a barrier, caught fire, and dumped its load on the highway. It took several hours to clean up and reopen the highway.

This one event makes CarPlay worth it. I don’t ever want to travel long distance by car again without it.

Not So Special Apple Special Offer

| posted in: apple  life 

Ever since the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air was released, I’ve wanted a new laptop. When the 24-inch iMac was released both my with and I bought one for ourselves. The iMac is a stunningly beautiful machine, thin, elegant, colorful. A home run. Except that it is a desktop, and I do a majority of my personal computer from the living room couch, or dining room table, or on the treadmill desk. In order to use the iMac I had to go into my home office (a pleasant, comfortable space) and be apart from the rest of the house.

The new MacBook Air looked like the perfect replacement for the iMac. Then rumors of a new 15-inch MacBook Air started to circulate. I decided to wait until WWDC to see what Apple might announce then. As anticipated they announced a new M2 powered 15-inch MacBook Air. I was sold.

Working at a university allows me to take advantage of the educational discount. Trading in my 24-inch iMac knocked another $490 from the price. When I went to review the bag, there was a “special offer.” A $150 Apple Gift card. This lowered the monthly installment for the laptop from $135.75 to $123.25 - a $12.50 savings per month. I pressed the buy button and started counting the days until delivery.

I’ve had my new MacBook Air for a couple of weeks now. It is everything I hoped it would be. I am extremely pleased with it.

Today is July 1st, so any Apple purchases using my Apple Card, and the free installment plans Apple offers are due on the 1st each month. Opening my wallet I saw the installment for my iPhone, the new installment for my MacBook Air, and a $12.50 installment, 1 of 12, for the Apple Gift Card.

While Apple lowered the cost of the laptop $150, they didn’t lower my monthly installment cost at all. In my excitement to order the new laptop I didn’t pay close enough attention to the invoice. I verified that the laptop specification were what I wanted, and accepted that Apple was knocking another $150 from the price.

I would rather they had given me a pair of AirPods–at least those I could sell. After calling Apple Support, I learned there really wasn’t anything that could be done. Between the time I got the gift card email, and today, I renewed an app subscription and that cost was deducted from the gift card. Had that even not occurred they would have credited the $150 toward the laptop, actually bringing my monthly installment cost down to $123.25. Since there was already activity, even inadvertent activity, on the gift card, they were unable to do anything except listen to my complaint. To the representative’s credit, she did hear my complaint, acknowledged that I wasn’t the only person who was unhappy about this outcome, and agreed to pass it up the line.

I opened up the Apple store and recreated my order. When I got to the “review your bag” step of the process, I looked more carefully at everything there. The special offer did show that it would be a $12.50 installment for 12 months. Apple didn’t bait-and-switch me, but they also didn’t call out that you were not saving any money, you were just getting the chance to spend some of the money on other purchases.

I’ve been buying Apple products for over twenty years. I still have my PowerBook G4, and a 17-inch iMac G4. I am an Apple fan. I wish the checkout process had thrown up a separate page that detailed the special offer and its terms. Having it on the same page as the shiny new laptop is a bit of a dark pattern. I still would have purchased the laptop, but I would have avoided the surprise today of seeing two new installment payments, rather than the one new one I expected.

Adventures in Technical Debt

| posted in: technical debt  refactoring 

Almost five years ago the University where I work suffered a fire in the main library building on campus. This building also houses, in the basement, the (then) primary data center. Two holes in the ceiling of the data center, which had been made to allow conduit runs, had not been properly sealed. We had a major water intrusion.

In the months that followed, as we worked to restore services and find ways to move out of the now compromised data center, we used VMware Cloud on AWS. Most of our production servers were virtual machines running in vSphere in our vBlock. With VMC we could “lift and shift” workloads from on-premises to AWS relatively quickly.

This spring we are working to upgrade all our Ubuntu servers to version 22.04. This required some adjustments to our mod_cluster configuration and our Apache configuration. Fortunately we have a test environment and an infrastructure automation tool to help make test and prod the same.

Our infrastructure automation tool is Chef. One of the features of Chef is the ability to “pin” the version of resources through the environment. All the nodes (Chef parlance for server) exist within an environment, with clever names like “test”, or “prod”. When we set out to migrate to VMC a new environment was created, called “prodvmc”. Catchy.

At about the same time, some version pinning occurred in the “prod” environment. Pinning that was never revisited. Pinning that was committed to the repository with no meaningful comments as to why the versions were pinned.

All of our Ubuntu 22 testing occurred, naturally enough, in the “test” environment. We never exercised the pinned versions. Also, apparently to reduce setup time in Vagrant, some resource definitions had code that said, “don’t do this if the environment is ’test’”.

Both of these decisions have produced some technical debt we now have to pay. The infrastructure automation code that is stepped around for the test environment hasn’t proved to be hard to overcome. Frustrating perhaps, but not insurmountable.

Unwinding the version pinning is a much larger debt. Our applications are Java-based web applications running in Wildfly application server. One of the resources that was pinned is the primary definition for our Wildfly clusters. A definition used by all of our major applications.

Not all of the servers belong to the “prod” environment. Slightly more than half belong to the “prodvmc” environment, where there was no pinning. For the rest, we now need to revisit four years of commits to determine what will happen to these production resources, when we remove the pinning constraint and update to the latest version of the infrastructure definition.

One measurement of an organization’s maturity, is how well things are documented. In our haste to move to VMC we made a decision to pin some versions, most likely thinking, “This is temporary for reason “x”, we’ll come back and address this once the move is completed.” And then we never went back. Not going back apparently hasn’t had too large an impact since all our applications are working. But not documenting the reason for the decision is going to cost us some time.

Lessons to learn:

  • Document even seemingly small decisions
  • Documentation should exist as close to the object being documented as possible, i.e., in the commit comment or in the pull request description.
  • Have a review process that doesn’t allow poorly documented decisions, code, whatever, to move forward

Mob Programming

| posted in: programming  pair 

I spent the better part of two work days this week mob programming. Solo programming is easy, you and a computer, and your favorite text editor. Pair programming (which I have never done) sounds like it would be interesting. Two minds, two differing approaches, one problem. Done right, it could be very empowering. Mob programming is what happens when there are three, four, and even five people on the Zoom call, watching one person “drive” and offering ideas, suggestions, and feedback.

I found it exhausting. It was very easy to lose track of the current thread, of the current approach to solving the problem. Depending on who was driving at the time it was very difficult to keep up with what they were doing. (Imagine an editor with 5 open tabs, each titled “UNNAMED” that the person is jumping back and forth between.)

We ultimately resolved the issue, but not efficiently, and not in a reproducible way. Maybe not reproducing it is actually a plus. I think with two, or maybe three people, you can focus on a problem and make steady progress. If one member of the group gets too close to the tree, at least one other person and pull them back to see the forest. Somehow with four people, and also with five, you end up with scattered approach. Two or three forests aren’t being seen for two or three trees.

If I find myself headed into a similar situation-two of us working and deciding to bring in another for assistance-I think the designated driver needs to be very up-front about directing what is going on. I also think it would help if the driver narrated what they were doing, even to the point of saying things like, “I’m going to open a new tab to pull up this code …”.

No more mob programming for me.

How to Split a Subfolder Into a New Repository

| posted in: github  git  howto 

Recently at work I had to split a sub-folder in a repository into its own repository. I wanted to keep the commit history. My search online led me to Splitting a subfolder out into a new repository on the GitHub Dos site.

The instructions there are very good. In a nutshell what I did was this.

  • Installed the git-filter-repo tool.
  • Cloned the original repository to a working directory with the name I wanted for the new repository.
  • From inside the root of the new clone, ran the git filter-repo --path FOLDER-NAME/ command.
  • Created a new repository with the desired name on GitHub.
  • Used the commands provided to add the appropriate remotes to the new repository and pushed it to GitHub.

In all the process took about 5 minutes. Not something I’ll do every day, but it is nice to know it is possible.

Can Water Solve a Maze

| posted in: mazes 

Software Defined Behavior

| posted in: iterm  habits  behavior 

For the past ten years or so, my primary terminal emulator has been iTerm2. Recently I have been experimenting with other terminal emulators. The current test subject is Alacritty. Switching to a different piece of software has exposed a learned behavior that I’m not sure I’m willing to give up.

iTerm2 employs what I think of as a document model. You open the software once, but can have multiple “documents” open simultaneously. In this case each document is another terminal session. Since they are all children of the application you can cycle through them using the CMD-` keyboard shortcut.

On the desktop where I keep my terminal windows (multiple desktops is another topic for another day), I typically have three terminal windows open. In the upper left quadrant I have a window where I keep my daily log open in a text editor. The lower left quadrant has a window where my ICR client (Weechat) and Mutt email live, each in their own tmux window. Both Mutt and Weechat run on a small server in my home, so I ssh into that machine and attach to a tmux session which holds those two applications. The right side of my screen is a single terminal window where I do most of my work. I usually have several tmux session defined, each centered around either a long running task, or some recurring administration function I want to return to again and again.

Since iTerm2 uses a document model I can use the CMD-` shortcut to hop from terminal to terminal. Alacritty does not employ a document model. Each of the three terminal windows described above is a unique instance of Alacritty. In order to switch from one to another I need to use CMD-Tab. CMD-Tab brings up the application switcher, and sometimes there are several applications I have to tab past to get to the next Alacritty window. Furthermore, from the application switcher you can’t tell which Alacritty window you are about to open. When you CMD-` you are taken to the window so you know immediately which window you are at.

For now, I’m going to return to iTerm2 so I can keep my in-application window switching ability.

Checklists and Procedures

| posted in: nerdliness  processes 

As a programmer / site reliability engineer / cloud infrastructure administrator I am very familiar with processes and procedures. Some are anecdotal and others are formalized. The best ones are automated, so that they are precisely repeatable.

My wife is having hip replacement surgery today. As with her first hip replacement last year, there are a number of processes and procedures at play, and a few checklists. We both appreciate the thoroughness of the preparation. Having each stage mapped out, knowing what to expect, and having people verify and explain as they go, all make the experience better.

One of the procedures requires no food or drink within six hours of the surgery. Usually they tell you nothing after midnight, regardless of the procedure time, as it is a definite, unambiguous time.

As a part of the pre-op preparation, there were several pills my wife needed to take. She is unable to swallow pills using water alone. We explained this prior to the first surgery to the hospital intake nurse, to the anesthesiologist who called the day before, and to the nurses preparing her for surgery. In order to swallow pills my wife use a small bite of soft food: a cracker chewed up, or a bite of banana.

On the morning of the first surgery the nurse presented her with a little cup full of pills and a small cup of water. We explained once again the inabilty to swallow with only water. So the pills didn’t happen.

We explained this requirement again during all of the pre-op visits and calls. During the pre-op anesthesiologist phone call yesterday, we again explained about the need for a small bite of soften food to swallow pills. This morning we explained that to the nurse. She offered a saltine cracker, which did all the pills to be taken. An hour later, as we were waiting in the holding bay outside the operating room, we were told that due to the cracker surgery would have to be delayed. By six hours.

The procedure wasn’t followed. Had the nurse contacted the anesthesiologist for today’s surgery and asked, it might have been allowed, or they may have said, “Nope, no food”. Either way the surgery would have happened at the original 9 am time. Since there wasn’t any communication to verify the use of a cracker, the surgery was delayed.

I understand and appreciate the importance of procedures and checklists, and that there are consequences for not following them. That the surgeon and anesthesiologist are paying that much attention bolsters my confidence in their focus and dedication to my wife’s care.

The consequence of not following the no food edict is a six hour delay. The irony is that the efficacy of the medication taken at 7 am with a bite of cracker will have worn off by the start time of the delayed surgery.

Infinited Lego Domino Ring

| posted in: video  lego 

Whenever my wife or I sees something like this, we’ll say, “When do people think up stuff like this?”, to which the other will say, “Not between 9 and 5.”