This post is about my setup of the popular MagicMirror2 application. I show the steps needed to set it up on a Raspberry Pi Zero W and connect it to a TV set. As a bonus, I share my thoughts on the Chuvash localization work.
MagicMirror2 is a DIY project and an open-source application, voted to number one of the best Raspberry Pi Projects. In essence, it shows information of your choice (weather, calendar, news) on a screen that is embedded in a mirror.
I was introduced to MagicMirror2 by my colleague, who uses it in another way: rather than having it in a mirror, he has it on his smart tv. The customisability is the beauty of the whole DIY and the Raspberry Pi.
I also decided to use it on my tv, through the built-in web browser. My raspberry pi zero w required some special steps due to its processor architecture. Fortunately, I found a guide for MagicMirror2 and Raspberry Pi Zero W which I used as a starting point.
After trying it, I found that I needed those steps for my server-only magic:
Every time I work with software I try to think: can I help to translate/localize it to Chuvash. Chuvash is a “little” language, it is only spoken by 1.5 million people. Almost in all cases, it is hard to even to register the Chuvash as such (like in Windows, or macOS), and it is even harder to localize applications, because they tend to have thousands or sometimes millions of strings to translate (and maintain!).
With MagicMirror I experienced how work from the past can help today, how small pieces can become connected parts of a bigger picture.
That was nice! I changed language to “cv” in the config/config.js and the most of the interface turned into Chuvash. (cv – is the iso code for Chuvash language). What a feeling of joy!
Why that excitement? Well, almost everything in the Chuvash IT (UX, localization, keyboard layouts, speech recognition, machine translation etc) is driven and sponsored by volunteers and a community. That’s why it is a special joy to see pieces come together, even though it is a small DIY project.
The MagicMirror2 itself does a minimal set of strings to translate. I translated it and submitted a Pull Request, which has been already merged to the develop branch.
Elio wrote his blog post in April this year – in the times of the lockdown in Belgium. In Sweden, we hadn’t a real lockdown, but it seems that it might come times when my children would need to be at home more while I work. In that case a superclear system that shows when I have important meetings is just awesome. Maybe, with that I am prepared for such times.
But to be really honest, the main driving factor is the fact that it is very satisfying to tinker around with this DIY stuff 😜😎
There is a python wrapper for MSGraph which is awesome, but it needs more contributors:
What if you put together Work From Home and Home Automation? Well, removing the common denominator (HOME) would mean Work Automation (sic!). I want to tell you about a tiny hobby project I have had at home, still related to work of mine: Whenever an Azure alert is triggered, my Trådfri smart light from IKEA flashes for a couple of seconds.
Summary (if you want to skip the long story below): The solution is a tiny web application. The publicly accessible url, exposed using ngrok, is registered as a webhook in an Azure Alert. It’s on Github, you’re welcome to use it as you please 😎:
When I was done setting up an alert, I thought: besides a notification in a Teams channel, I thought: what if I could show the alert visually using some LED or similar? Then I thought about Home Automation and a Trådfri RGB bulb I’ve got. That’s the beauty of the mentioned equation: Work From Home and Home Automation. We can pick the best parts of it and combine to something unique.
Since I have a kit from IKEA containing a gateway, a remote, and an RGB lamp, I wanted to do something with that. Unfortunately I didn’t find any routines (Google Home), applets (IFTTT) or automations (Home app in iOS) that could do it.
Luckily, there is a way of controlling the Trådfri lights, best described in this tutorial:
As in this tutorial I also used a Raspberry Pi Zero W, and it went very well, except one thing: Trådfri team introduced a change for the security code, I needed an additional step that was missing, more on that later.
The tutorial says: the world is your lobster. My “lobster” is a webhook that makes lights flash on an alert, so I needed to have a simple web server (http.server) and a tunnel to my network (ngrok). It was best to take one step at a time.
Step 1. Connect
First, I wanted to make sure I could have a simple web server that could host my webhook. I followed the advice from that tutorial and used http.server python module:
I opened that page, (192.168.0.193:8000), and I could see “hej”, time to go further.
Step 2. Connect World
Next step was to open up this “web app” for the world, to make it accessible from outside my local network. ngrok is the best solution for that. I followed that guide to install ngrok on my Raspberry Pi Zero W.
When I knew I could have a simple webhook service, locally (step 1) and on the WWW (step 2), and that I could control the smart light I’ve got from IKEA using code running on my raspberry pi, then connecting everything was easy. I created a repo for that and you can see that it is a very simple one:
The main part is in the server.py. When it gets invoked, it calls the flash function. It uses os.system to call the libcoap-client and time.sleep for delay parts needed in the flash action. The configuration is parsed using configparser and the server is a simple http.server.
In the end I registered the ngrok endpoint in my Azure Alert Rule Action Group:
Then I triggered my test logic app that failed reliably 🙂
This is a game changer: rather than wait for an alert to be triggered, you can just Replay it over and over again while you mickle-muckle your python code locally.
Keep running your server after logout
You just need to to have “nohup” when you start your server, ngrok has already what’s needed: nohup python3 server.py. With that the server will run even when you log out or, your ssh connection disappears.
I’d like to end this post also by saying: The world is your lobster. Try out the flashing lights on Azure Alerts, or why not to replace Azure Alerts with Exoprise Alarms, or some triggers in Power Automate, perhaps, when a new site has popped up 🙂 Or maybe you want to elaborate the flashing behaviour, why not to use Morse code to send a message? Or maybe color-code the different types of alarms/alerts. Once again, the world is your lobster 🦞(or oyster 🦪, well whatever) .
Azure Alerts are awesome for monitoring of solutions in Azure. If you are about to set up your first Alert Rules in Azure, then it’s a guide for you. Configuring alert rules can be quite intimidating at first, with all the options, metrics, evaluation times, etc.
Here is a very very simple setup that can serve as a teaser and help you get started with the Azure Alerts.
I’ll use Teams as an easy way to set up notifications.
The core solution (alert handler) will be an Azure Function, also because it’s fast and easy to set up.
A reliable failing resource
“Reliable failing”, huh? Yes, this oxymoron is the best description of what we are looking for: a resource in Azure that can fail reliably (“fail faster”), so that we can trigger our alerts while developing.
To do that an easy way, we’ll just create a logic app and let it fail all the time.
Run it, and you’ll see how it fails as intended.
When you’re done setting up the alerts, you can remove the failing logic app.
On the other end we need a reliable communication channel.
Let’s pick a channel in a team and create an incoming webhook. I call my webhook alert-hook. (Just to make it easier to follow this guide, it will appear here and there)
Why incoming webhook? Because it is easy to create and send messages to, and also with the right notifications on that channel and the Teams mobile you’ll get the smoothest way of setting up push notifications! Isn’t it great to get your custom alerts directly on you mobile in real time?
When you see the “hello world” from alert-hook in your Teams channel, then you’re ready to proceed with the next step.
Now it’s time to set up the core of that solution – a handler that will receive alerts and pass it to the Teams channel.
Why do we need an Alert Handler? Well, because you can’t send the alerts directly to a Teams channel (or whatever communication channel you choose), they have different schemas. But also, an Alert Handler is an opportunity to make an alert more readable (e.g. by formatting it as an adaptive card), and even filtering out some alerts or parts of them (e.g. in some scenarios only Fired Events (not Resolved) are relevant for notifications).
For the sake of simplicity, let’s just create PowerShell Azure Function in the Azure Portal. Just choose everything latest (in my case it was PowerShell Core 7.0, Consumption Plan, West Europe). If you uncertain, check this post:
We need those 4 steps. I created a simplified diagram of the properties that you need have in mind:
Alert Rule Scope
When you click on “New alert rule”, the Scope will be already defined, it will point to the “Failing Resource”.
Alert Rule Condition
There are so many signals and possibilities. In this guide, just choose “Runs Failed” as a Signal.
In the Alert Logic, select “Greater than or equal”, 1; 5 minutes Granularity Period and 1 minute Frequency of Evaluation. No comment on them right now. Just do it.
When we’re done, re-visit this page and try other things, right now we just want to have an alert directly when our failing resource fails.
Action Group is what gets triggered. It is billed and that’s why it is connected to a Resource Group (it might be another resource group, it does not need to be in the same place as our “Failing Resource”). Just create a new one:
Here is a simplified diagram of an action group:
Action Group Action – Webhook
There are a couple of options for Notifications and Actions to try out. Let’s focus on the Webhook in this guide. In the picture it is called GenericTolleAlertHook.
Copy the Uri from the your function (“Get function url”) and paste it into the Webhook URI.
Important: enable the common alert schema. That will save much of the pain.
Common Alert Schema
The payload in the alert may vary. To make it more predictable for parsing in the alert handler, we just need to enable the common schema, which will be crucial when we will extact and send some data to the Teams channel.
Action Group Bonus Tip: It might be not obvious when you set up it in the Azure Portal, but an alert rule can have 1 or multiple action groups (!). And the other way around: An action group can be used in multiple Alert Rules.
That makes it very flexible, we could create one generic Action Group that notifies Teams and reuse it across alert rules.
Alert Rule Details
The last step is to give the rule a name and description. Keep the Severity as it is right now.
Alert Handler Improvements
We need one more thing to call this guide complete: rather than saying Hello World, we need to have “Alert Fired” and what alert (alert rule name), to make it useful for real.
Let’s re-visit the alert-hook function and make some improvements. Remember the common alert schema? Make sure you enable it in the Alert Rule -> Action Group -> Action. When you do that you will get payloads like these I get:
When you look at them you can see some attributes that we can make use of:
We’ll use the alertRule and monitorCondition properties, that we’ll send in the body of the incoming webhook to Teams:
Let’s test and run. Copy and paste a sample alert payload (with the common alert schema). The links are above.
It should result in a new post in your Teams channel:
A simple alert rule is configured. Enjoy! Discover more and if you would like new challenges here are some tasks that you can try:
Try to update the payload in the Teams incoming webhook to make an adaptive card.
Fired vs. Resolved
It might be good to have different paths for Fired and Resolved. I find it confusing when Resolved Notifications appear alongside with Fired Events. It’s better to suppress the Resolved notifications, or at least format them differently, or maybe even post them as answers to an existing posts (the original Fired posts)?
Azure Alerts are great. Start with a simple set up, see it working and improve continously. An ActionGroup can be reused, you can have a generic Action Group. That makes it easy to set up new alert rules and and you only need to update the action in one place only. Of course, the alert rules can have their specific actions as well, you can connect more than one action group to an alert rule. Use Common Alert Schema to avoid parsing errors and to achieve a generic action group.
Teams is a good notifications destination, especially for your first Alert Rule, it’s easy to set up, does not mean additional costs and (best of all), you and your colleagues can enable notifications the destination channel (channel with your incoming webhook), that way you will be immediately notified when something fails in your Azure Applications, – both on Desktop and in your mobile! Good DevOps, isn’t it?
Sites in SharePoint are created all the time, not only for SharePoint, but also as storage for Yammer, Teams, Planner and other services in Microsoft 365. There are ways to keep track of them, but the ability to automatically detect a new site creation is quite appealing. Automatic detection means a trigger of a Power Automate (Flow) or a Logic App.
There are a few blog posts that exactly describe how you can detect when a new site is created in SharePoint Online:
The provided blog posts are great how-tos, I am not giving you a new how-to for that, I’d like to reason about that solution.
The solution for automatic detection of new sites
Power Automate and Logic Apps can listen to new items in SharePoint. There is a list in the admin site (tenant-admin.sharepoint.com) that has SharePoint Sites as list items, its name is DO_NOT_DELETE_SPLIST_TENANTADMIN_ALL_SITES_AGGREGATED_SITECOLLECTIONS.
That’s it, in essence, it’s just setting up a new flow with “When an item is created in SharePoint” as a trigger, and you have thousands business scenarios you could implement, but let’s dig a little bit deeper.
One List to rule them all
Honestly, I was not aware of that list before I started looking at that. What is that list, why is it called DO_NOT_DELETE_SPLIST_TENANTADMIN_ALL_SITES_AGGREGATED_SITECOLLECTIONS.
The name is hillarious. Why name something to “DO_NOT_DELETE…” and all capslock🤣. But I suppose, there were support cases.
Beware, that list is not documented, that means you’re on your own when Microsoft changes the name or moves the list to somewhere else. So don’t build business critical solutions with that.
From what I can see, that list keeps information about all sites (site collections) in SharePoint Online, even those that are deleted and permanently deleted (?). This might be a source for deeper troubleshooting in some scenarios. It is like an old card index in a library you might have seen long time ago. It is hidden nowadays, but it is still there.
First, that list is in the SharePoint Admin Site Collection, you need to be at least a SharePoint Administrator to access it. Okay, I’d like to know what’s more in its Site Contents (_layouts/15/viewlsts.aspx):
Well, the UI of that page has not been focused on, but nevermind, the lists are there. But you cannot navigate to that list in the browser directly:
It doesn’t matter since we can use it as a trigger but also the SharePoint REST API to get the items, e.g.:
You can see more examples of listing the sites in the linked posts. Unfortunately I bumped into an issue when trying to filter the results. If that list contains more than 5000 items (and it will, soon or later), you’ll have to deal with the ListView Threshold.
But this is a side note, this post is automatically detecting new sites, not listing them
Using this kind of a hidden list mentioned above is a bit of a hack. I’d say it’s okay as long as it works, and it serves an complementary function, e.g. notifying IT about new sites, and the work is backed up by documented and reliable alternatives:
SharePoint Online Admin
Visiting “Active Sites” in SharePoint Online Admin gives you all the sites, you can sort by Created and see all the new sites. You cannot set up an alert or a flow directly from that, but maybe there will be some built-in functionality for that.
Office 365 Usage Reports
You can get all the sites in an Usage Report, their created, size, last activity etc. It’s not real time, but if you’re fine with 1-2 days delay, you can get this report, extract the new ones and do whatever you wanted to do in your original scenario/need.
SharePoint PowerShell Module
It’s worth mentioning, too, although it’s “heavy”. In a tenant with many sites, the scripts for getting all the sites and connected groups may take hours. I am refering to those scripts that start with Connect-SPOService.
Permissions, Licenses, and Security
The SharePoint connection that listens to the DO_NOT_DELETE_SPLIST_TENANTADMIN_ALL_SITES_AGGREGATED_SITECOLLECTIONS list in the Admin Site Collection needs to be set up with a SharePoint Administrator role account. Beware of who has access to that solution (Power Automate or Logic App), this SPO Admin connection in wrong hands can be disastrous. Especially in Azure, pay attention to who has access to the resource, but also to the resource group and the azure subscription.
The account who sets up a Power Automate needs obviously an appropriate license and also Power Automate activated. In my scenario, I don’t need any premium connectors, but depending on your solution, you might need to license your account appopriately.
In “my” scenario, I want to be notified of all new sites in my business unit within a shared tenant, so that we can contact the site owners, provide guidance and also provision important parts (initial folder structure, some spfx solutions etc).
What is your sceanario?
When I am done developing my proof-of-concept, I’ll try to share more details on the actual implementation. It might be an idea to submit the template to the Microsoft Power Community, but I am not sure it will be accepted, given the fact that it uses undocumented and hidden parts of SharePoint Online that soon or later will be subject to change.
I also have drawed a simple chart while explaining for my colleagues, you can see it above. I hope this infographics can be useful to more people. By the way, we use the word “Hubber” (sv. Hubbare) for “People who can associate sites to hubs”