Mon, 27 May 2019

Triberry Pie

— SjG @ 11:43 am

Made another pie along the lines of the Starberry. This time, though, I used a three berry blend: raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries — including a few berries from the garden!

Some of the garden’s bounty

I also revisited the crust recipe. After scouring the internet and reading a few dozen recipes, I decided to go with this cream-cheese crust recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen. Instead of heavy cream, I used half & half. It’s still a very rich recipe, and easy to make (the dough was a little too wet when making the crusts, so next time I’ll use less half & half). The wetness led to some crimping failure, but nothing too severe.

I was pleased with the way the pie came out. It was easier than my previous attempt, and had excellent flavor.

Baked triberry pie
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Mon, 13 May 2019

Starberry Pie

— SjG @ 8:12 pm

This is a recipe that I’ve cobbled together from various sources. Over time, I’ve adjusted it until I’m very happy with the flavor, although I have a long way to go to be proficient at good crusts or making it look acceptably attractive. But I think it’s a mighty tasty pie.

Ingredients (one 9-10 inch pie):

The Crust
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup shortening (e.g., Crisco)
1/2 teaspoon salt
~5 tablespoons ice water

Mix the dry ingredients, and cut in the shortening. Mix until it’s all a crumbly mixture.
One tablespoon at a time, mix in the cold water. Manipulate as little as possible, until you can ball up the dough. Shape into a flat disk, and refrigerate at least an hour.
Roll out the dough, and slump into your pie dish. Pinch around the edges. Optionally save a scrap, roll it out, and cut decorations for the top of the pie.
Refrigerate another 15 minutes, load with pie weights, bake 15 minutes at 400°F then another 15 minutes at 375°F.
Remove and let cool.

The Filling
1/2 cup white baker’s sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
24-38 oz mixed berries (you can get a bag of frozen “O Organics Mixed Berries” at many supermarkets, which contains strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, or you can make your own fresh blend.)
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoonccorn starch (especially if using frozen berries)

Mix the dry ingredients, and blend with the wet ingredients. Mix thoroughly. If using frozen fruit, let it thaw enough that moisture comes off the berries and the mixture is wet.
Pour into crust, add decorations (if any).
Bake in pre-heated oven at 425ºF for 45 minutes, then 350ºF for another half hour or thereabouts.
Place on cooling rack. Eat at room temperature.

Crust’s a little too dry, but I rolled it out anyway
Cracking’s visible while rolling
Slumped into the pie tin and edged
Lined with aluminum foil and filled with pie weights
A few decorations from the trimmings
Disaster! Crust cracked in the pre-bake!
Cracks spackled with a mix of flour and water as an emergency repair
Filling ready to deploy
Filled and decorated pies, ready for the bake
Good god, did that come out ugly. But it was tasty nonetheless.
Bonus video: Click on the pie to see the happy burbling!
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Tue, 7 May 2019

The Maccabeam™

— SjG @ 5:43 pm

Back in 2017, I laser-cut a menorah out of poplar. When the family showed up for Hannukah, I mentioned my “laser menorah.” My nephew’s eyes lit up with excitement, but I could see his disappointment upon presentation of the actual product.

Subsequently, I’ve been building something closer to what he probably envisioned in the first place.

I’m slow at building things, and have lots of other commitments taking up time. I spend maybe an hour or two a week on the project, and tend to forget a lot of important details between sessions. There is a whole lot of learning and re-learning. However, I thought that documenting the various processes here would be good for me (my external memory), and may be of interest to others.

The first step of any project, of course, is to give it a good name and maybe a logo. Since it’s a laser menorah, I’m calling it the Maccabeam™, and my initial version of the logo looks like this:

The Official Maccabeam™ logo

So there are a lot of things to talk about here. I’ll post a lot of circuit design ideas, physical design ideas, and details on the software that drives it. I’ll also probably post some ambivalent thoughts on the whole holiday of Hannukah1. But for now, I’ll start with the list the requirements I’ve been using for the project:

  1. Instead of candles, I’ll be using lasers!
  2. The lasers will probably be illuminating vials of olive oil rather than shining on the ceiling.
  3. There will be more lights, too. Color LEDs! NeoPixels!
  4. The whole thing will be driven by an embedded controller I can program. Since I like the Teensy and Paul & Robin seem like the kind of people I want to support, I’ll go with a Teensy LC.
  5. Since I have a microcontroller, it should take advantage of the smarts, and not just rely on an on/off switch.
  6. Hey, if it’s gonna be smart, it should use a GPS receiver to figure out the location and date, and automatically run itself on Hannukah.
  7. It will need some kind of display so you can tell what it’s doing, what time it is, how long until Hannukah, etc.
  8. It’ll be cool if it could play some music too.
  9. OK, maybe I don’t want an on/off switch, but I do need a switch to trigger a simulation mode. That way, I can to show it off to people at any time of year.
  10. [update 13 May 2019] Oh, I forgot an important one. The Maccabeam™ wants to be stand-alone. It doesn’t want any dependencies on the Interet, wireless networks, or the like. It should only depend on a source of electricity and a constellation of 20-some-odd highly sophisticated satellites and their groumd support network.

So with that set of requirements, I got started. I hope to write something here about each of those requirements as I complete the build.

1 I mean, it’s celebrating the victory of a family of intolerant religious fanatics over both their foreign imperial enemies and their more moderate coreligionists. Their victory established the shaky Hasmonean dynasty whose infighting and collapse resulted in Herod’s rise to power in the region, etc.

Thu, 28 Mar 2019

Using openssl for AES-CBC-PKCS5Padding rather than mcrypt in PHP

— SjG @ 2:34 pm

Yeah, that’s quite an acronym soup.

Background: the mcrypt library for PHP has been deprecated for a long time now. However, in PHP we still have to process lots encrypted strings coming from a format like MCRYPT_RIJNDAEL_128 or stuff coming from Java (Android, I’m looking at you!), that was encrypted with a AES with Cipher Blocker Chaining and PKCS5Padding. These cipher algorithms are not explicitly included in openssl as such, although you can find stray references all over the web pointing you in the general direction.

I frequently have to integrate with third-party sites or services that are written in Java, and which provide sample PHP code for implementing my end. Because the ciphers in mcrypt are easier to identify, this provided source usually uses the deprecated library rather than openssl.

So, to save some time, here’s the equivalent openssl encryption/decryption commands:

openssl_decrypt($encrypted, 'aes-128-cbc',$key, 0, $iv)

For a more verbose proof-of-concept, a longer test program is included below. But before you look at that, consider the following warnings:


// sooper-secret message
$src = array('don' => 'sleeper agent', 'mike' => 'coverup');
// ultra-seekrit key
$key = '1234567890123456';
// hard-coded initialization vector to prove we really know our stuff
$iv = '6543210987654321';

$original = json_encode($src);

// encrypt with mcrypt
$size = mcrypt_get_block_size(MCRYPT_RIJNDAEL_128, MCRYPT_MODE_CBC);
$pad = $size - (strlen($original) % $size);
$plain = $original . str_repeat(chr($pad), $pad);
$module = mcrypt_module_open(MCRYPT_RIJNDAEL_128, '', MCRYPT_MODE_CBC, '');
mcrypt_generic_init($module, $key, $iv);
$data = mcrypt_generic($module, $plain);
$mcrypted = base64_encode($data);

// encrypt with openssl
$ocrypted = openssl_encrypt($original, 'aes-128-cbc', $key, 0, $iv);

if (strcmp($mcrypted, $ocrypted))
echo "Uh-oh. Encrypted strings don't match up.\n";
echo "mcrypt encrypted string:\n$mcrypted\n";
echo "openssl encrypted string:\n$ocrypted\n";
// decrypt using mcrypt
$m_from_o_decrypt_padded = mcrypt_decrypt(MCRYPT_RIJNDAEL_128, $key, base64_decode($ocrypted), MCRYPT_MODE_CBC, $iv);
$dec_s = strlen($m_from_o_decrypt_padded);
$padding = ord($m_from_o_decrypt_padded[$dec_s - 1]);
$m_from_o_decrypt = substr($m_from_o_decrypt_padded, 0, -$padding);

// decrypt using openssl
$o_from_m_decrypt = openssl_decrypt($mcrypted, 'aes-128-cbc', $key, 0, $iv);

if (strcmp($o_from_m_decrypt, $m_from_o_decrypt))
echo "Uh-oh. Decrypted JSON strings don't match up.\n";
echo "openssl decrypting mcrypt encrypted string:\n$o_from_m_decrypt\n";
echo "mcrypt decrypting openssl encrypted string:\n$m_from_o_decrypt\n";
echo "Encrypted strings were the same, and each library decrypted the other's encrypted data\n.";

Wed, 13 Mar 2019

Replacing the battery in a mid-2012 Retina MBP

— SjG @ 8:17 pm

I bought my MBP back in September of 2012, and it’s been the best machine I’ve ever owned. Named Apotheosis, it’s quiet, powerful, good battery life, and all that. It’s been through four or five iterations of MacOS, and still runs fast. It’s got old-school USB 3 ports, an SD card reader, and the mag-safe connector. In short, the only thing I could hope to improve it would be more storage.

Of late, however, it’s been exhibiting power issues. It will log itself out, or spontaneously go to sleep and not wake up without external power. I reset the System Management Controller (SMC) by the arcane ritual of holding down Shift, Control, and Option on the left side of the keyboard, then holding down the power button for 10 seconds. No luck.

Then, there’s some minor issues with the screen; small areas that look almost like fungus in the display. From what I’ve read, this has affected a lot of older Retina displays, but in my case it’s more an annoyance than a serious problem. Still, given these two issues, I thought perhaps it’s time to upgrade. After all, the machine’s over six years old.

Looking at the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros, though, I can’t find anything that would be satisfactory. Certainly nothing at a price-point that I feel like paying. I’m not a big fan of the new keyboards, and if you want to put a lot of storage (i.e., 2TB) in a machine, Apple really makes you pay. Resolved, then, try to get more years out of Apotheosis. Apple no longer services this model, and the indy/Authorized dealers wanted $500 to replace the battery. That seemed high to me.

Other World Computing has a replacement battery kit for $85. I ordered it, and it arrived overnight! In big red letters, they warn that “Professional Installation Highly Recommended” but people like me don’t pay any attention to such things.

Back cover removed

The kit comes complete with Torx screwdrivers specifically for the MBP, including the (in)famous “pentalobe” driver.

They also supply a step-by-step video for the process. This is a really outstanding instructional video. It shows everything in perfect detail. Things which sound simple in words (e.g., “unclip the connector”) are often not so clear when staring at the physical object. But watching each step makes it very simple.

That being said, they estimated two hours to do the process, and it took me more like three. Part of that was my obsessive disassembly process which I’ve perfected over the years. It involves lots of post-it notes, with little drawings and sticky tape that I use to make sure I can reassemble things correctly. In this case, the video would have been sufficient, but old habits die hard. And, frankly, this is a good habit.

Even thought OWC makes this a straightforward process, Apple certainly didn’t intend it to be. You have to remove the speakers to really get at the battery. To get the speakers out, you basically have to remove all the guts:

Ready for battery removal
All The Innards… haruspices take note

The kit includes a gnarly solvent that helps dissove the adhesive holding the battery in place. This is the worst part of the process, although they provide gloves and eye protection to make it a safer process.

Once the machine was back together, I went through a full charge/discharge cycle, and it’s seemed quite stable. There are some weird minor discrepancies. For example, while writing this post and doing some other odd chores, I’ve been unplugged. The menu bar battery gauge tells me I’m at 81%, while CoconutBattery tells me I’m at 77.6%.

With any luck, this repair will help me keep Apotheosis up and running for a few more years!