Please Don't Do This With Your Passwords

The school district we live in, like most around here, uses Skyward for their school management software. It is where we get class schedules, test scores, and grades.


I'm not sure if this is a Skyward thing or a District config thing, but I have to reset my Skyward password all the time (okay maybe a couple times a year). This is where the fun begins. I use a password manager to create long, complex, and random passwords and then store them for me. I never ever know what they are and rarely even see them. This works great just about everywhere but Skyward.

The process goes like this:

  1. I login to Skyward and get the notice to change my password.

  2. My password manager create a password which is always 20+ characters long.

  3. Skyward logs me in as if everything is hunky dory.

  4. I try to login to Skyward later and my login fails.

Here's why. In hidden step 2.5 Skyward is actually truncating my password to 16 characters before it submits it and stores it. This happens silently. There is no notification that it is just grabbing the first 16 characters. When I try to login I am of course sending the whole 20+ character password and so my password doesn't match.

I then groan, curse them a little, and remember this utterly stupid setup. Then I spend time truncating my password until it lets me in. Then I manually update my password manager.

This post serves two purposes:

  1. To beg everyone working as a web developer to never do something this stupid and anti-user.

  2. To remind myself that my password will only be the first 16 characters I entered.

Handcrafted Artisanal Star Wars Podcast Feed

I've been an audio storytelling fan for as long as I can remember. I used to love listening to Dick Estell read books in the early 1990's and then fall asleep listening to Old Time Radio episodes of Superman, Dragnet, or Gunsmoke. NPR and podcasts were an obvious match as I got older.

Today I listen to basically all of my spoken audio in my podcast app where I can download and listen offline while walking the dog or driving. I've often thought about building something to turn Old Time Radio shows into a feed I could play in my podcast app. You can download them (a hassle) or stream them (not for me) from the website, but I think getting them one at a time as they were originally broadcast would be fun. Maybe I'll build that in the future.

Recently I saw this post on Boing Boing about NPR produced radio dramas of the original three movies. And in one of the nerdier things I've done recently I followed the RSS 2.0 spec and cobbled together my own handcrafted artisanal podcast feeds for the episodes. It isn't like a podcast because all of the episodes are available immediately and it is entirely bare bones (no cover art, descriptions, etc), but it was a good first taste at creating a feed (although technically it seems like Atom is the better choice).

Feel free to grab the feeds for your own listening enjoyment. On my Android phone I just tap the link and tell it to open in my podcast app and it gets added and the first episode downloaded immediately.

Automatic Election Result Updates with Pushover

My fire department has a small levy on the ballot today. I wanted to get updated election results on my phone. It turns out doing this with Pushover is really easy. Pushover allows you to push notifications to your phone and other devices.

Setting Up Pushover

If you don't already have one, create a Pushover account, install the app, and buy a license for at least one device. Then, login and click the 'Create New Application/API Token' link. Fill in the basic info and click <Create Application>. Each app has a free 7500 message a month. More than enough for me.


Once your app is created you'll get an API Token/Key. You'll need this and your user key (which can be found in the top-right corner of your main account page) to push to your devices.

Getting The Election Results

The results are posted on my State's election website. Because I'd never used it before I decided to scrape the data with BeautifulSoup. The data is machine generated as a bunch of tables without useful IDs. I'm sure you could do it more gracefully than I did, but this worked and gave me some insight into the available tools in BeautifulSoup.

The data is also available for download via CSV or XML. Either of which would have been easier and more reliable. But again, I wanted an excuse to play with BS4.

Sending The Results

Sending the results is really easy. Pushover just needs a POST to its URL with the token, user, and message. Something like this:

data = {
    "token": PUSHOVER_APP_ID,
    "user": PUSHOVER_USER_KEY,
    "title": "Levy Results",
    "message": results
}, data=data)

There is more you can do with Pushover including HTML styling, sending links, and sending attachments including pictures which will be displayed in the notification. You can also set the priority and notification sound. Check out the API docs for details.

The Final Result

On my phone I get pushover notifications like this. There are still no results posted, once there are it will send both counts and percentages.


Because this is a throwaway script I'm just using a while loop and having it sleep every 5 minutes between checks.

import datetime
import time

import requests
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

PUSHOVER_APP_ID = "your_app_key"
PUSHOVER_USER_KEY = "your_user_key"

def get_current_page():
    return requests.get("")

def get_last_update(html_doc):
    soup = BeautifulSoup(html_doc, 'html.parser')
    lu_label = soup.find(string="Last Tabulated")
    lu_text = lu_label.next_element.string
        """Format: 11/05/2019 1:18 PM"""
        return datetime.datetime.strptime(lu_text, "%m/%d/%Y %I:%M %p")
        return None

def get_results(html_doc):
    soup = BeautifulSoup(html_doc, 'html.parser')
    race_title_tr = soup.find(string=" FIRE DISTRICT 11 Local Proposition No. 1 - Property Tax Levy for Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services").parent.parent.parent
    table_rows = race_title_tr.next_siblings
    results = "Measure | Votes | %"
    for row in table_rows:
        columns = row.findAll('td')
        for column in columns:
            results += column.get_text() + " "
        results += "\n"
    return results

def push_results(results):
    data = {
        "token": PUSHOVER_APP_ID,
        "user": PUSHOVER_USER_KEY,
        "title": "Levy Results",
        "message": results
    }, data=data)

if __name__ == "__main__":
    latest_results = datetime.datetime(1, 1, 1)
    last_tabulated = None
    while True:
        html = get_current_page()
        if html.status_code == 200:
            last_tabulated = get_last_update(html.text)
        if last_tabulated is not None and last_tabulated > latest_results:
            latest_results = last_tabulated
            results = get_results(html.text)

Using Active911's URL Integration (Webhook)

Due to changes in our County's dispatch system my fire department has begun using Active911 for phone-based dispatch and response. For the most part it has worked pretty well. There are a few issues, but their support has been responsive so I'm hopeful they'll all get sorted out eventually. For my part, I'm most excited that they offer both inbound API and outbound integration options.

At least I was excited about the integration options until I saw the documentation. It doesn't tell you basic things like what HTTP method will be used and what format the data will come in. When I asked Active911's support to answer these questions they told me they couldn't "disclose" the basic required information you'd need to use this feature. So I fired up ngrok and let it run for a while until it captured a few calls worth of data. This post is based on an email I sent to support with attached feature documentation in MediaWiki syntax with the hope that they'll post it on their site.

Once you log in to your Active911 in the Agency tab click 'New Integration'. You can see there are several pre-built integration options. I want the data to come to my app so select 'Other'. Give it a name and provide the URL you want contacted whenever a call comes in.


With that setup Active911 will make a POST request to your specified URL when a new alert is received.

Important to note is that you cannot trigger this webhook by creating your own alerts through the app or the web admin. It is only triggered via alerts that come from your dispatch system.

The Content-Type header is set to 'application/json' and the data is a valid JSON object that looks something like this:

 "agency": {
   "name": "Your agency's name",
   "id": 99999,
   "timezone": "America/Los_Angeles"
 "alert": {
   "id": "999999999",
   "city": "Corvalis",
   "coordinate_source": "google",
   "cross_street": "",
   "description": "",
   "details": "Alert details and notes.",
   "lat": -123.296392,
   "lon": 44.550964,
   "map_address": "4100 SW Research Way",
   "map_code": "",
   "place": "",
   "priority": "",
   "received": "1570054351",
   "source": "",
   "state": "OR",
   "unit": "",
   "units": "11",
   "pagegroups": ["0"],
   "stamp": 1570054351.43062

Keep in mind that I'm inferring based on what I got from the few calls that I collected. I'm not sure what some of the fields mean, what the range of possible options is for some fields, or even if this the superset of all possible fields.

A few things that seem true to me:

  • 'received' and 'stamp' are both Unix Epoch time stamps.
  • 'alert':'id' is the same value that can be found for the alarm in the Active911 admin page under 'Details' as 'Active911 #'.
  • 'pagegroups': The 'everyone' group has a value of "0".
  • 'details' uses 'rn' for new lines.

There are still things I don't know for sure, but I'm sure Active911 knows and could fill in the gaps:

  • Is 'unit' the unit number such as 'Apt B' or 'Unit 401'?
  • What are the possible values for 'coordinate_source'?
  • Is there a known set of values for 'priority' or is that agency/dispatch center specific?
  • Is there a known set of values for 'source'?
  • Is the array of 'pagegroups' always a string of integers represented as strings or will there be strings as well?
  • Are there other fields that might be included based on type of call or dispatch information?
  • Basically every field with an empty value I didn't get data for, so it isn't always clear what the field represents or what data might be included.

I plan to use the webook integration to trigger my app to query their API when we receive calls. The API appears to be much better documented, so I expect that part to go smoothly.

When Active911 updates their docs I'll update this post to link to the official docs. In the meantime hopefully this will be helpful to someone.

Setting Column Width with OpenPyXL

I am using OpenPyXL to generate some Excel downloads from one of my Django apps. In general, I'm pretty happy with how it works. Setting a column width is easy. Figuring out how to do that from the documentation is hard. So here it is, just in case someone else needs to know (or me a week from now when I forget).

Assuming you have OpenPyXL installed, to set the width of Column A to 50:

from openpyxl import Workbook

wb = Workbook()
worksheet =
worksheet.column_dimensions['A'].width = 50"col_width.xlsx")