SES – SNS -Lamdba – Dynamodb – Alllll the AWS

I’ve been using SES for a while for sending email from servers.

A few months ago one of my servers was compromised and I discovered there is no such thing as good logging in SES…. whooops… Amazon suspended my account and this lead me to investigate how I could get some visibility of SES logging. This was considerably harder than I would have thought. There are no SMTP logs, not real recording of any information and no diagnostics. I nearly left SES for this, then I decided to use it as a learning opportunity to understand more about AWS & SES.

I used this guide to get it all working:

Hopefully this site never goes down, if so I will need to write my own guide! 

It’s easy to add extra fields to the database. These are all the objects available

Finally this docker image allows you to connect to dynamodb easily

The only thing I haven’t managed to do is find out which IAM user actually sent the email… I need to do more research on this to try and enhance my logging further.

Emergency Pi Zero

I have had a couple of requirements recently where I have needed to leave a device onsite for remote access. I initially thought that the best way to handle this would be to put a pi onsite that joined my VPN and then I could connect to all the machines on the remote network and do my troubleshooting like that…

I looked at my pi shelf and there looking all little and shiny was a Pi Zero… At this point I thought to myself… what do I actually need from this device.



I have a couple of Emergency Linux VMs on dedicated servers that run a lightweight GUI with pretty much just a web browser. These emergency VMs work with VNC, but VNC isn’t running all the time. You SSH into them and as part of the login it fires up a VNC session and when you log off it tears the connection down. So you SSH in with 2FA, this starts the VNC Server (with a password), when you finish you log out and it clears down the VNC session. I also installed a cron job that checks the devices external IP address and emails you when it changes (for when it goes into a residential setting).

Here’s how it’s setup

  • Install Raspberry OS (with desktop)
  • Enable SSH
  • Add to .bashrc

if [[ -n $SSH_CONNECTION ]] ;

  • Add to .bash_logout

 vncserver kill :1

When you arrive onsite, connect the pi zero to the network, add a port forward for port 22 and 5901 to the pi. Check the IP emailer works (see link above).

Migrations & Pi KVM

Over the last month I have migrated my home server from a Gen 8 HP Microserver to a Lenovo P500 workstation. There are many reasons for my migration the two biggest were that I was being constrained by the amount of RAM the Microserver could take (16Gb vs 512Gb), the processor was also becoming a bit of a bottle neck.

The second was that in my professional life I have moved from VMWare ESXi to Proxmox and my home lab was the only ESXi server that I was left managing, it also meant I wasn’t reflecting my professional install base so making it hard to test things.

Migrations are horrible, no matter how much planning you do, they take time and suck! No matter how many trials and tests you do there will always be something.

I used an old desktop PC with a 500Gb SATA drive and a 240Gb SSD to migrate all servers other than the Windows server (not enough space or grunt).

Although exceptionally boring and probably of no interest to anyone this was my migration plan..

  • Shutdown new host
  • NIC in new host
  • Check Second Network Card
  • Restore firewall
  • Copy all Proxmox machines from test proxmox host 
  • —–
  • Migration
  • Copy latest backup
  • Run Full backup c:\backups\backup.bat
  • Check USB disk on another PC
  • Close OneDrive
  • Restart PC
  • Check OneDrive is stopped
  • Shutdown VM
  • Convert System Disk
  • Check Proxmox Boot
  • —–
  • Move 2Tb disks to think station
  • Create new ZFS 2Tb for File Server
  • Boot File Server
  • Add 1.8Tb disk
  • Setup OneDrive if needed

20/02/2020 20:12 <JUNCTION> data [d:\data]
17/09/2020 08:48 <JUNCTION> media [D:\media]
17/09/2020 09:07 <JUNCTION> server backups [D:\backups]

  • Start OneDrive
  • Undisable Start with Windows OneDrive
  • Check shares
  • Remove “to watch” from backups
  • USB pass through
  • Setup Proxmox Backups (Exclude File Server d drive)
  • —–
  • Remove SSDs from Microserver and check
  • Rebuild Test Proxmox as Hobby PC with 240Gb SSD
  • —–
  • Take old Hobby PC
  • Check 120Gb SSDs
  • —–
  • 2FA for SSH and Proxmox on New Host
  • Add New Host to Nagios

This was all in a text file which I constantly updated and changed during the actual migration. It went well and there were only a couple of hiccups. The testing had paid off.


Hopper – New Host

Running proxmox with a number of Windows, Linux and BSD VMs.

  • Intel(R) Xeon(R) CPU E5-2609 v3 @ 1.90GHz (1 Socket)
  • 48Gb RAM
  • 2x 480Gb NAS SSD (ZFS), 2x 3Tb NAS SATA (ZFS), 1x 2Tb SATA (Backups)

The two USB cables – One going to an external HDD for file level backups, the second goes to the Pi KVM (for keyboard and mouse control)

The Pis

Tron – Pi 2
4Tb USB Drive
Backup Pi (Rsync and rclone)

IP KVM – Pi 4 (2Gb)
Power/Data Splitter at the back
USB to HDMI Capture Card

Both are cabled into the network. The Pi 2 only has 100Mbps network, so it’s likely to need replacing soon to keep up with my internet, but for now it works!


This part of the project nearly got it’s own page… However, I don’t have much to say! One of the biggest drawbacks of migrating to the workstation was that I lost iLO (intelligent lights out / IPMI). I use iLO rarely but it is an incredibly useful when you do need it!

I was looking at aftermarket cards and IP based KVMs and they are expensive! I couldn’t justify the cost for a single host or the amount of time I use it. 

Then I came across Pi KVM, it looked hugely daunting until I started reading about it. For simple KVM features (and a host of other features) it was incredibly easy to build a Pi 4 KVM (you can use other Pi generations but you will need to do more work). Just one cable and an HDMI capture card and it just works! 

They are also developing their own Pi HAT with all the features (including power management (i.e. remote reboot)), I’ll probably buy one when they are released as I can think of a number of locations where a sub £100 KVM would be a life saver, especially with the remote reboot abilities.

Pi KVM can be found here:

Another Pi KVM project can be found here:

Bits I bought to make my Pi KVM

That was it! I had a case, power supply and SD card knocking about any way… When the hat is released I will need to think about a different case.

Pi KVM (Currently only using KVM, power control to come later)

Cloudkey 2+ Let’s Encrypt

Let's Encrypt using DNS on Cloudkey 2+

Update: 22/12/2020 – Use this script instead:

Stolen from the UI community site, but copied here in case Unifi change their forums again or it gets lost to the mists of time (Original URL:

Uses the domain, one shortcoming is that my current external DNS provider doesn’t have an API, so I have to manually complete the challenge every 3 months, but the whole process takes just a few minutes so I’m not too concerned.

All steps are performed directly on the Cloud Key.

First, install Git and obtain the Let’s Encrypt code:

cd /home

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install git

git clone

Next, generate a certificate, specifying that you want to use a DNS challenge for proving ownership of the domain.

certbot certonly --manual --preferred-challenges dns --email --domains

In this example, is an internal hostname that resolves to my cloud key, and is an email address where I’d like Let’s Encrypt to send me a reminder when the certificate is about to expire.

Since we are using a DNS challenge, you will be prompted to create a TXT record with your DNS provider.  Let’s Encrypt will confirm that the DNS record is visible from their cloud infrastructure, thus proving you own the domain, and it will grant your certificate.

Next, stop unifi, since we’re about to mess with its certificates:

service unifi stop

Next, make a backup of the existing certificate data and remove it:

mkdir cert_backup

cp -r /etc/ssl/private/ cert_backup

rm /etc/ssl/private/cert.tarrm /etc/ssl/private/ssl-cert-snakeoil.key

Next, export your newly-granted Let’s Encrypt certificate into a format that Unifi understands:

cd /etc/letsencrypt/live/

openssl pkcs12 -export -in fullchain.pem -inkey privkey.pem -out cert.p12 -name unifi -password pass:your_certificate_password

Here, your_certificate_password is a temporary password of your choosing to protect the exported certificate.

Next, import the Let’s Encrypt certificate into the Unifi keystore:

keytool -importkeystore -deststorepass aircontrolenterprise -destkeypass aircontrolenterprise -destkeystore /usr/lib/unifi/data/keystore -srckeystore cert.p12 -srcstoretype PKCS12 -srcstorepass your_certificate_password -alias unifi

Note that aircontrolenterprise is the Unifi keystore password; it is not a password of your choosing.

In this command, /usr/lib/unifi/data/keystore is actually a symlink pointing to the /etc/ssl/private directory from earlier.

At this point, the Unifi Controller will work with your Let’s Encrypt certificate, but recall that the Cloud Key has a separate internal nginx-based webserver to handle OS configuration options.

Next, replace the default certificates in the location nginx is expecting them, and make sure the permissions are correct:

cp fullchain.pem /etc/ssl/private/cloudkey.crt

cp privkey.pem /etc/ssl/private/cloudkey.key

chown root:ssl-cert /etc/ssl/private/*

chmod 640 /etc/ssl/private/*

tar -cvf cert.tar *

chown root:ssl-cert cert.tar

chmod 640 cert.tar

Finally, restart nginx, protect and start the Unifi controller.

service nginx restart

service unifi-protect restart

service unifi start

At this point, they should come up and be using your Let’s Encrypt certificate.

Set a calendar reminder for ~2 months from now so you don’t forget to redo this before the certificate expires!

This guide simply re-arranges the hard work that others have done into a solution that fits my specific needs.  The author (pcoldren) used bits and pieces from the following resources while writing it:


Yummy, yummy Pis

Yummy, yummy Pi's - December Update

I’ve decided this will become a running update of the Pi’s I am using and what I am doing with them. Updates will be posted to the top of the page.

December 11th – Update

In addition to the Pi’s below, I now have two more in use

Pi 2 – Backup Pi – Using rsync and rclone to manage all my backups locally and to sync to OneDrive for Business. 
Pi 4 2Gb – Pi KVM – Find out more in this post 

I have also managed to purchase a Pi 2 v1.2 to go on the Pi versions board. This completes my collection of historical Pi Bs. When the next version of Pi’s come out the Pi 4’s will slowly be retired to the board!

I am also working on a project with Pi Zero WH’s to create a multizone audio system using Volumio, this project will make use of HifiBerry’s popular DAC Hats as well as some custom integration work. I currently have 3 Pi “audio zones” and am awaiting the hats to begin testing.

Spare Pi’s

    • Pi 2, Pi 3+, Pi 4 8Gb
    • Pi Zero WH
    • Pi 2 1.2 ready for mounting

Retired Pi’s

    • Pi 3+ – First home assistant server migrated to new proxmox host

Why no love for the Pi A or Compute module? Although I have a good collection of old Pi’s you may notice that I don’t have any Pi A or Pi Compute modules on the list. This is because I don’t use them! I’ve never had a use for the compute modules. I do have a Pi A in a wildlife camera, but this currently isn’t being used. I love the Pi B and Zero form factors which is why I use them the most, if I have a project that ever uses the other form factors, I may well collect the back catalogue of those too!

Original Post – November 5th

From the moment they were announced I knew that the way I did computing at home had changed. Ideal as test boxes, development, media players and now even mini ESX servers! I’ve used them for many things…

The Pi’s I currently have in use are:

    • Pi 4 1Gb – Kitchen LibreELEC 
    • Pi 4 2Gb – 2nd Device in Lego Room
    • Pi 4 4Gb – Bedroom LibreELEC
    • Pi 400 – 2nd Device in Study 
    • Pi 3+ – CCTV Viewer
    • Pi 3+ – Garage
    • Pi 3+ – Home Assistant 

I have used them for other projects in the past including getting started with Home Assistant, mini ESXi Server, custom automations, OSMC media player, Plex Server, learning things with Ali, Wildlife Cameras, the list goes on. I hope they are around for a long time to come!

In the gallery below you can see the latest Pi 400, my display of Pi’s from the original Pi to the Pi 3 B+ (with space for the Pi4 1, 2, 4Gb version… the 8Gb version will start a new board). Next are my Pi’s ready for use (Pi Zero WH, Pi 3 B+ and Pi 4 8Gb), I also have a Pi 2 in the cupboard should I need something older to play with and yes that is a ZX Spectrum +2 behind them. Finally my Pi Zero Board up to the latest Pi Zero WH. 

November 2020 Update

November 2020 - Update

The new echo has arrived it’s another decent iteration on the echo line up and has replaced the main echo in the living room. The old echo is now in a stereo pair in my daughter’s room and the sound is impressive! 

The switchbot curtain bots have arrived and the dining room now has Alexa powered curtains! I’ve added another provider, but… the unifi instant camera has shipped so it looks likely the NEOS cams will be gone by the end of the year.

I’ve moved home assistant to it’s own Proxmox VM, I did consider upgrading the Pi to a Pi 4, but found a great script to spin a new VM.

Plusnet are doing some maintainence this month so I am hoping to see an FTTP offering, if not I will be migrating to Zen early next year!

Alexa Curtains

Unifi Network

Unfi Network

My unifi setup as of November 2020. Access points and network are all on unifi hardware. The gateway / firewall is a OPNSense VM, having abandoned the USG in 2020 in readiness for FTTP.

Smart Home Hardware

Smart Home Hardware



Amazon Alexa, is a virtual assistant, first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers. She is the central "hub" to all my systems, start with an Echo Dot and build it from there! Just added an echo auto to my car and it's changed everything all over again!

OPNsense - Firewall

OPNsense is an open source, easy-to-use and easy-to-build HardenedBSD based firewall and routing platform. OPNsense includes most of the features available in expensive commercial firewalls, including IPS / IDS. I only really use OPNsense as a firewall, IPS/IDS and VPN server, but you can use it for almost all network scenarios.

Unifi - Networking

Although no the cheapest solution on the market. The centralised management and power over ethernet make them a worthwhile investment. They are ideal prosumer devices.

Unifi - Cameras

Unifi's CCTV solution is brilliant, the Flex is the bargain of the range and well worth the investment. Using the 3rd party monocle skill ( you can ask Alexa to bring up any of your cameras, with minimal setup.

Home Assistant

Open source home automation that puts local control and privacy first. Powered by a worldwide community of tinkerers and DIY enthusiasts. Perfect to run on a Raspberry Pi or a local server.



Using the Broadlink mini RM 3. You can control a number of IR devices using Alexa. Make sure you purchase an EU version or it won't work! Suited for the bedroom, kitchen or study, where the harmony hub is overkill. Be warned always setup devices as TVs for them to show up in Alexa.


My second smarthome heating system, the first a Salus didn't support Alexa. The wiser system does and the app is brilliant!


The cheapest and most flexible devices in my current smarthome. Using the ewelink app to create scenes and linking the solution with Alexa for voice control. The app recently got a much needed update!


By far the best control system for A/V equipment. The app is great the Alexa skill is one of the best I have. Full control of multiple devices and routines within the app are simple. A worthwhile investment!

Philips Hue

Everyone has heard of Hue, it is an expensive system, but by far my favourite lighting system out there. So far I have only used the bulbs and motion sensors, but am considering an outdoors project next Spring!

SwitchBot Curtain

Curtain bots are cool and at £60 per set of curtains, a lot cheaper than the £400 rails I was looking at before!


The only govee product I own is the ambilight which is great for watching films, I only really use this with Alexa to create scenes and automation routines.


An insurance company that sells incredibly cheap (and good) internal cameras that work with Alexa. The app is ok and includes geofencing for auto arming.


Possible replacement for Sonoff with a much more open approach to development and firmwares.



Total local control with quick setup and updates. Control using MQTT, Web UI, HTTP or serial. Automate using timers, rules or scripts. Integration with home automation solutions. Incredibly expandable and flexible.


The IoT hackers board of choice. They are cheap and easy to program. By 2 to start with just in case you smoke one (like I did).


AWS is amazon's cloud computing services. You can create amazing skills and routines for really customising your smarthome routines. AWS is also the infrastructure behind Alexa.


Often found on your phone NFC is the technology used in contactless payments. You can buy simple stickers that when you pass a phone near can trigger actions. Such as joining a wifi network, turning off a light, etc. I have linked to a starter pack which I would recommend.

Old Stuff

(Retired 2020)

The oldest component in my smarthome system. I still recommend lightwave for controlling devices like lamps, plug sockets and other plugin systems. The new generation support two way comms, but I haven't moved to gen 2.

Unifi - USG
(Retired 2020)

The unifi USG is the protector of the perimeter of my smarthome. Offering a robust firewall and some advanced features including VPN (remote access) and IDS / IPS (intrusion protection and dectection).

(Retired 2020)

IFTTT makes it easy to create simple actions that you want to trigger using something like an AWS IOT button, NFC sticker or an ESP8266 creation.
Removed due to subscription costs!

(Retired 2020)

TP-link make great networking kit, ideal if you are just starting out. My first tip would be to get rid of your ISP supplied router and go with a tp-link. They also make a range of Alexa compatible plugs that don't require a hub.

October 2020 Update

October 2020 Update

I have added home assistant to the mix, after years of watching from afar, the IFTTT subscription and eWeLink subscription finally pushed me to install it on a spare Pi, I want to reduce my reliance on 3rd party clouds, especially with some of the less well known manufacturers. It works with nearly all my smart home stuff (with the exception of the flic hub I am hoping the new API will fix this). There is now a plugin for sonoff which works without having to change the firmware so I can wait a bit longer for the Shelly UK plugs which should be coming soon. 

I have updated the garden TV to use a firestick, which gives me Alexa in the garden through the voice enabled remote. I have also purchased a Chromecast with Google TV, it’s impressive but not impressive enough to move away from Roku. Alexa in the garden has always been something I wanted to have, but I didn’t really want a device outside full time that would allow people to control my house!

In new smart home news, I have the new Echo on order and the curtain bots have shipped, I’m really looking forward to trying both these products! Unifi have announced a G3 instant camera which will be a great replacement for the NEOS cameras and consolidation is what this iteration of the smarthome is all about. FTTP is now available, so I am weighing up my options when it comes to providers as I will have to leave my current provider (Plusnet) as they have no FTTP offering. I am currently looking at the 900Mbps service from Zen. I am unlikely to change until after Christmas though! 

Lego Rack Server

Rack Mount Lego Server

Stolen from a LinkedIn post.

Parts List:

Element ID (BrickLink) Description Quantity
11211 Brick – Modified 1×2 with Studs on 1 Side 2
2412a Tile – Modified 1×2 Grille without bottom lip 9
2431 Tile – 1×4 4
26603 Tile – 2×3 1
3003 Brick – 2×2 1
3004 Brick – 1×2 1
3010 Brick – 1×4 8
3020 Plate – 2×4 2
3023 Plate – 1×2 4
3024 Plate – 1×1 6
3068a Tile – 2 x 2 without Groove 3
3069a Tile – 1 x 2 without Groove 6
3622 Brick – 1×3 2
63864 Tile – 1 x 3 2
69729 Tile – 2×6 (not many colour choices for this one) 1
87079 Tile – 2 x4 1
92438 Plate – 8×16 1
Total 54

Alternative for the front (avoiding 69729 – Tile – 2×6) for more colour options!

Element ID Description Quantity
3005 Brick – 1×1 2
3068a Tile – 2×2 1
26603 Tile – 2×3 1
87079 Tile – 2×4 1
87087 Brick – Modified 1×1 with stud on 1 side 4

Using the above list you don’t require – 69729, 11211, 3004 or 26603 – from the first list!