Thursday, October 12, 2017

NetTeirs and Reflection

By now NetTiers is a rather aging templating system.  Many people have complained that it is not being actively maintained and that there are a lot of errors in it, and to some degree they are correct.

NetTiers gets random updates from those using it, but not very frequently.  The code is definitely not bug free, however it is not chalk full of bugs either.  It does rely on Microsoft's EnterpriseLibrary sweet, which is no longer maintained; although the documentation claims this is not a requirement.

But NetTiers has several key features and functionality that had me pick it up after testing multiple data access layer solutions.

  • It generates a direct copy of your database into C# code with just the click of a button.  Very few other data access layers can claim that, and their solutions do not feel as smooth as the Codesmith platform that NetTiers runs on.
  •  During the generation process NetTiers standardizes the table and column names found in your database, so they all start capitalized, words it identifies are capitalized, and table prefixes can be optionally stripped off.
  • It uses meta data from sql regarding indexes and foreign keys to auto generate methods to get data out of the database.
  • That meta data also allows links to be made between objects in the generated c# code so you can load and reference foreign key relationships easily.
  • Stored Procedures can be auto generated for those who want the added security and to avoid dynamic sql.
  • It has a reasonably powerful parameterized sql engine when required.
  • A caching layer allows the developer to cash most result sets that come back from the database without additional work.  Which can be useful for small static tables.
  • It picks up custom stored procedures and adds methods onto the generated objects to allow the developer to call them without any additional effort.
  • There are quite a few template options to allow the developer to customize the resulting code to their environment.
Many data access layers claim features similar to these, although oftentimes with less control over them.  However, there are three features that make NetTiers unique and keep it valuable and relevant:

The direct copy of the database into standard c# code takes a huge load off of the developer who no longer has to write all that plumbing code.  The generated code is in the form of normal C# objects that match the names in your database.  This means there is no guesswork as to what an object name is going to be.  It also means full object oriented and intellisense capable access to every object in the database.

Generated code is compile time safe; so most errors in the database will show up right away and not allow the code to compile.  This code has been used by many people lots of times, so most major bugs have been worked out already.  Having it all generated the same way every time nearly eliminates the ability for a random error to sneak into the data access layer.

One of my favorite features is actually a byproduct of having the data access layer so standardized.  The ability to use reflection heavily.  Because there are so many standards built into nettiers, you can always find the correct get or save methods or primary keys regardless of the object you are working with.  The generated code in these areas all follows the same pattern.

While not perfect ( I have submitted a few corrections back to the code base myself ), the ability to auto generate an entire DAL without effort, and the ability to rely heavily on reflection when using these objects, has made me a believer in NetTiers for many of the projects I work on.

It is not the only solution available.  But for server based C# projects it definitely does shine as a way to drastically reduce development time.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

WanCam wireless camera HW0036

I made a mistake in getting this camera.  Despite it having the features it advertised, this camera is missing an RJ45 jack.  For security reasons I never buy a camera without a wired connection.



This camera does work correctly, however they made a couple of annoying design decisions when making this model.  First, the http port by default is 81 rather than the standard 80.  Second they also deviated from the standard OnVif ports and choose to use 10080 for this service; and it is not configurable.

It does not support https, which I consider a negative, although not horrible as I rarely use the web interface once configured.

Fortunately you can change the http port, and you can change the default password.  The camera works very well with Milestone.  As long as you only want wireless then this is a good camera, however because of that reason I would never recommend, or purchase another one.

EDIT: Within a week of owning this camera it began to have issues turning on.  A few days later the problem was so bad the camera no longer functioned.  It is possible that I simply got a lemon, or this particular model has a bad design flaw.  I was able to get a partial refund, threw the camera away, and will never get another of this model.

Monday, May 15, 2017

KanKun Wireless Plug

I recently purchased  a wireless KanKun plug, specifically because I heard that it was running a version of OpenWRT and could easily be modified.

I found the primary directions here.

There were a couple of challenges.  The first was getting the plug on the wireless network.  The Chinese directions and app did not function at all, and I tried them multiple times.

The good news is that the plug successfully resets all failed attempts very well with its reset process.  Eventually I was successful following these steps:

- Use a laptop to connect to the wireless network the plug defaults to creating.
- Lookup the Plugs IP based on the DHCP address assigned to the laptop because it did not create the network that most examples were claiming it would.
- Use Putty to SSH into the plug with a username of 'root'.  My default password was p9z34c, however others have claimed it might be admin or 1234.
- Edit the following file with 'vi': /etc/config/wireless

config wifi-device 'radio0'
        option type 'mac80211'
        option channel '9'
        option hwmode '11ng'
        option path 'platform/ar933x_wmac'
        list ht_capab 'SHORT-GI-20'
        list ht_capab 'SHORT-GI-40'
        list ht_capab 'RX-STBC1'
        list ht_capab 'DSSS_CCK-40'
        option htmode 'HT20'
        option disabled '0'
        option country 'CN'

config wifi-iface
        option device 'radio0'
        option network 'wwan'
        option ssid 'MyWirelessSID'
        option encryption 'psk2'
        option mode 'sta'
        option key 'MyWirelessPassword'

I made sure the channel was set correctly since I run my wireless network on 9 rather than the standard 11.  I also struggled a bit with the encryption since I run WPA2 Personal; I finally got the very logical instructions to set encryption to 'psk2'.

- The second critical file to edit is: /etc/config/network

config interface 'loopback'
        option ifname 'lo'
        option proto 'static'
        option ipaddr '127.0.0.1'
        option netmask '255.0.0.0'

config globals 'globals'
        option ula_prefix 'fd59:45ed:8ead:0000:/48'

config interface 'lan'
        option ifname 'eth0'
        option force_link '1'
        option type 'bridge'
        option proto 'static'
        option ipaddr '192.168.145.253'
        option netmask '255.255.255.0'
        option ip6assign '60'

config interface 'wan'
        option proto 'dhcp'
        option ifname 'eth1'

config interface 'wwan'
        option proto 'static'
        option ipaddr '192.168.1.32'
        option gateway '192.168.1.1'
        option netmask '255.255.255.0'

I modified the MAC address in this file, adding the '0000', however leaving it empty would probably have been fine as well from what others have said; and considering it was working prior.  Adding the last 'config interface wwan' section is the most critical.  It is used by the wireless file for interface settings and specifies the static IP network necessary to communicate on this network.

- 'reboot' the plug
- With the plug now successfully connecting to my network I was able to return to my main computer for further configuration.
- My next step was to copy in a simple CGI script someone created to allow me to remotely control the plug.  I did have to modify the following script slightly because my RELAY_CTRL was different from the ones they were using.
- I had to create the folder /www/cgi-bin
- And create the following file: /www/cgi-bin/relay.cgi

#!/bin/sh
echo "Content-Type: text/plain"
echo "Cache-Control: no-cache, must-revalidate"
echo "Expires: Sat, 26 Jul 1997 05:00:00 GMT"
echo

RELAY_CTRL=/sys/class/leds/i-konke\:red\:relay/brightness

case "$QUERY_STRING" in
state) 
case "`cat $RELAY_CTRL`" in
0) echo "OFF"
;;
1) echo "ON"
;;
esac
;;
on) 
echo 1 > $RELAY_CTRL
echo OK
;;
off) 
echo 0 > $RELAY_CTRL
echo OK
;;
esac

- Unfortunately I discovered that the uhttpd service did not exist on my plug.  I had to turn to a very helpful Internet community who was able to give me the required files.  You can download them here.
- Inside the rar file you should see a kkplug folder with the most likely folder structure and the files that go in each folder.  Use WinSCP to copy the files to the plug.
- Run the following command
/etc/init.d/uhttpd enable
- This creates a sym link that causes the plug to execute the startup file on boot.
- 'reboot' again to test and verify that the service will start correctly.

- When the plug comes up you should be able to use a web browser and control the plug in this way.
http://192.168.1.32/cgi-bin/relay.cgi?on

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Knewmart Indoor IP Camera

I am always on the lookout for inexpensive yet quality cameras to integrate with my security system.  If you buy a camera today from almost any store it is nearly a given that it will come with an app that you can use to view the camera remotely.  But aside from a few small motion detection perks that is usually about the end of it.  Many cameras do not play well with other cameras, or make it easy and cheap to actually record like a real security system.

For this reason I have come up with the following rules when buying cameras:
1. It must support OnVif.  This is a standards protocol that guarantees the camera will at least try and play nice with most of the security systems out there.
2. It must support H.264 encoding.  This is a compression algorithm that significantly reduces the amount of storage required when recording for long periods.
3. It must have an Ethernet jack.  Many people like the idea of going wireless for convenience, but even wireless cameras need a power cord.  However, wireless has the major downside of being insecure.
  - Not only is it much easier to hack into a wireless feed.
  - But if you put the camera next to your microwave and turn it on you will realize it is a piece of cake to simply overwhelm the camera with radiation, disabling the feed.
  - Also a nice quality camera will be sending so much data over the wireless network it can overwhelm a normal wireless router, effectively rendering your wireless network useless.
  - And even if you decided to give it its own wireless network, you are still cluttering the radio waves which could end up causing various problems for you in the future.
4. It really should allow for a Static IP to be set, it is just easier to manage networks that way.
5. If it is an outdoor camera it must support POE.  Power Over Ethernet allows me to run just one low voltage cable to the camera.  Trying to mess with high voltage extension cords and a power cable just is not worth the trouble.

As a Note.  For outdoor cheap cameras I have had better luck with the few large LED configuration over the numerous small LEDs for night vision.  Cheaper cameras are not made with the same care, and you can end up with the small LEDs not being positioned correctly and washing out your image at night.

Camera technology is moving fast, but after testing quite a few brands I had settled on a really nice outdoor camera that met all my requirements and worked very well indoors also.  But then two new brands came on the scene, Wancam and Knewmart.

Today I am looking at the Knewmart (no model).



Positives
- It fits all my requirements for an indoor camera (eg, it supports OnVif and H.264 and allows for a static IP to be set, and has an Ethernet jack)
- It has wireless built in in case I do ever need it, and the ability to disable it for security if I don't use it.
- For those of us who do not like installing more apps on our phone it has a built in web server so I can configure it from my computer, which I love.  It is the first web interface I have seen on a less than $50 camera that actually works well.
- The web configuration interface is very simple and easy to use and really started me falling in love with this camera immediately.
- The camera ships with DHCP enabled by default, so it auto connects to your wired network when you plug it in.  This is a much better design in my opinion than cameras that try and stand up their own wireless network for configuration.
- It has a default username/password of admin/admin.  It does have a user and guest account, which is nice, but it has no way to disable them, so make sure you change all the passwords.
- For those who are paranoid about configuring their own cameras, it does come with a QR code to auto configure basic connectivity in their native app.
- It has the ability for dual streams at different quality levels, which was unexpected although it is probably becoming more standard in the industry.
- For those who do not run separate NVR software, it has the built in ability to trigger alarms during a time span you schedule and send you an email with a picture of what caused the alarm. However, I did not test this.
- It has little motors so you can pan and tilt it, which is new for the less expensive cameras, and I absolutely love it.  This Knewmart has the widest range of motion I have experienced yet, it Pan: 355°, Tilt: 90°
- It does work with the E-View7 app, which I liked because I already use that app for other cameras.  They also made a special P2PIPC app according to the directions that came with it.
- For those who are not quite ready to built an NVR system, but still want to record some video locally, it does come with a MicroSD card slot.  While this does seem to be a popular feature, it is a feature I have never personally found a good use for.
- It also comes with the ability to talk out of it and hear through it, another set of features I absolutely love in this camera.
- There is port labeled as a headphone jack, although I think the picture is misleading, I believe it is a Microphone jack in case you want better audio reception.  The OnVif api supports this conclusion by listing two microphones.
- I use Milestone's XProtect software, and after enabling OnVif it had no issue connecting to the camera on the first try. Microphone and pan/tilt work great.
- As far as cameras go, this thing actually looks very nice.  I question whether it is a bit too big and bulky for an indoor camera that you typically want to be unobtrusive; but the smooth fluids lines on it help make it a more attractive decoration.  Plus there is the argument that being bigger means better quality.
- It has the built-in ability to contact time.windows.com to set it's own time and handle daylight savings time; you just have to choose the right time zone.  This is a very handy feature that is often overlooked.
- It has the standard Flip and Mirror options for the picture, which are really nice when you want to mount the camera in an odd place, like the ceiling.
- I will give this company credit for effort in support also, this is a nice in-expensive camera, and they respond to support requests.  It may not be American level support, but they also do not leave you hanging which is really nice.
- It does have a reset button, I mention this obvious feature only because I have actually seen cameras without one.
- It seamlessly switches between wireless and wired without requiring a hard reboot.
- And finally it takes a unique approach to wall and ceiling mounting.  Most cameras like this have holes in their bottom you just slide over screws.  This camera ships with a pretty configurable mounting arm.  While I am not sure the aesthetics of it are great, it certainly does allow for extreme flexibility in how and where you mount the camera.

Negatives
- The directions that came with the camera are very basic and intended for a user who only cares about getting the camera running.  If you want to do anything advanced with it you will probably need to use the web interface on your computer and do a little techie research if you do not already understand some of the terminology.
- It does have a small glitch/feature where you have to manually unplug it after making some change to the OnVif settings to actually make OnVif work, it comes enabled by default it just does not work by default.  I have experienced this with the wancam as well.
- I was disappointed that the speaker does not work over OnVif with my XProtect NVR system, but I expected that from other similar cameras I have had.  Hopefully some day they add that feature.
- It does not support POE.  But for an indoor camera that is not a deal breaker for me.
- Like other cameras of this type, when you first turn it on it tests its range of motion, likely to configure the limits in the software.  It has always concerned me that the camera trying to go past its limit during these tests will eventually burn out the motor, but so far that has not happened.
- It does not support Https, however for those who are that paranoid about security (like me) they are probably running their cameras on a closed internal secure network anyway, so it would not be much of an issue.
- If you tilt the camera too far down then its night vision LEDs reflect on itself causing the image to blur white.
- The default IRCut value seems to be too low, in low light the camera starts flickering the IR on and off.  You can either fiddle with the settings, or just switch it to manual mode.
- It is not very easy to unplug a network cable once plugged into it, especially with bigger fingers.
- When used via OnVif with the XProtect software, there is an error in the OnVif protocol when used over wireless that causes a lag in the image frames triggering XProtect to constantly report it as disconnected.  Oddly enough, you can get around this error by plugging it into a network cable, waiting for the transition, then unplugging the network cable.  It will then work correctly for awhile.

All in all, this is a great camera that can support a range of users from those starting out, to those who are quite a ways along in building a system.  If it were not for the larger size (roughly double it's WanCam counterpart) it would become my go-to indoor camera for home systems.  However, it beats out other inexpensive cameras in so many areas that it is still going to be at the top of my list for consideration when I recommend cameras to people