Backup a Linux machine with LVM Snapshots and rdiff-backup

Here is the completed script I wrote on Episode 461. Make sure you check out the full episode for details on how to make this work for you.

And of course, here is the episode:

Drone Zone Skill Rating

With The Drone Zone about to take flight, I wanted a way to rate the skill level required (or rather, recommended) for each drone we review. The purpose is so viewers can gauge during a review, from the DZSR (Drone Zone Skill Rating) which drone(s) they should be looking at first.

I’m open to suggestions, so please post your comments and this will become a bit of a living list, updated as needed. I will also maintain a static copy on The Drone Zone web site.


DZSR Level A
This drone is perfect for a beginner pilot. It’s easy to learn, has a price point that won’t hurt your wallet too badly if you crash it, and is a good drone to start with. As you take on drone flight, it’s best to start at DZSR Level A so you can learn the controls, practice, and get ready for the next level.
Mature pilots will also enjoy drones in this level as they’re nice to be able to carry around so you can fly wherever you are just for fun, without much consideration, packing or planning.
Typical drones in this level: Nano quads.

DZSR Level B
If you’ve mastered drones at DZSR Level A, you’re ready to move on to DZSR Level B.
Typical drones in this level: Toy camera quads, Entry level FPV.

DZSR Level C
If you’ve mastered drones at DZSR Levels A and B, you’re ready to move on to DZSR Level C.
Typical Drones in this level: Video drones, drones with GPS, Racing drones.

DZSR Level D
If you’ve mastered drones at DZSR Levels A, B and C, you’re ready to move on to DZSR Level D.
Typical Drones in this level: High-end/custom quads/hexacopters, DIY quadcopters.

Plex Media Server on a Raspberry Pi 3

I wanted to document the instructions shared on Episode 459 to supplement the episode.

On the show, Jeff and I demonstrated how to turn a Raspberry Pi 3 with Raspbian Jessie into a Plex Media Server, giving you the chance to stream your entire video and music library to all your devices.

I won’t get into the full details here, since this is only a supplement to give you some copy-and-paste instructions, but I’d encourage you to watch the video.

What You Need

  1. A Raspberry Pi 3 Micro Computer. Please consider purchasing it through our store to support what we do: https://cat5.tv/pi
  2. Raspbian Jessie – A free download from raspberrypi.org
  3. Obvious stuff like a good MicroSD card, Ethernet cable (preferred as opposed to wifi), keyboard and mouse… etc.

How to Do The Do

  1. In terminal, upgrade your distro to the latest and greatest.
  2. Reboot the Pi.
  3. Add the ability for apt to use https repositories.
  4. Add the Plex Media Server repository provided by Universität Leipzig.

    Add this line:
  5. Add the GPG key for the repository.
    This is the “easy” method (which didn’t work for us because my keyboard was in some weird mode with no pipe character):

    Alternate method (which I had to use on the show since I didn’t have a pipe character… I’ve cleaned it up a bit since the live show so it is cleaner since it was an unexpected twist and I kinda made it seem more confusing than it should):
  6. Update apt.
  7. Install Plex Media Server.
  8. Create the default config file so Plex knows what user to operate under.

    (Thanks to Steve for submitting this additional step)
  9. Reboot one final time.

And there you have it! All the commands we used to get Plex Media Server installed on a Raspberry Pi 3 in a nice clean blog post  🙂

From there, we plugged in the USB flash drive (don’t do it! Use a proper external hard drive–this was only a demonstration) and after it mounted we used the following command to see its /dev assignment:

Since our drive was /dev/sda1, and of the filesystem type “fat32” this is what I did to make it work as the media library for Plex Media Server:

and add the following line:

I then created the mountpoint:

and made it so it can only be written to if mounted:

and finally, mounted the drive:

From there, I could easily add folders on my external drive to Plex using the web interface, which you’ll find on Port 32400 in the /web subfolder on your Pi.

To get my IP address, I brought up the terminal on the Pi and typed:

That showed the IP address of my Pi under “Ethernet”… 192.168.0.105

So to open Plex in my browser, from my computer I entered:

The IP address will most likely be different for yours, and you might even want to set it up as a static IP. Easiest way to do that would be to use your router’s DHCP reservations to hard-set the Pi to something outside your DHCP pool. For me, that’d be 192.168.0.5 or something like that, since the pool seemingly starts at 100.

Good luck, and if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Don’t forget, if this has helped you out, or if you just love supporting nice guys who wanna keep giving knowledge for free, please head over to our Patreon page, or throw a bit in the tip jar. Thanks!

NEMS – Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server for Raspberry Pi 3

NEMS – Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server for Raspberry Pi

NEMS is a modern pre-configured, customized and ready-to-deploy Nagios Core image designed to run on the Raspberry Pi 3 micro computer. At its core it is a lightweight Debian Stretch deployment optimized for performance, reliability and ease of use.

NEMS is free to download, deploy, and use. Its development however is supported by its community of users. Please consider contributing if you can.

Please Note: NEMS 1.2.x is my most ambitious NEMS release yet. Please consider throwing a little gift in my Tip Jar if you find NEMS saves you time or money. Thanks!

[NEMS Documentation]

Index

NEMS 1.1 Featured on Category5 Technology TV

What Is Nagios Core?

Nagios® Core™ is an Open Source system and network monitoring application. It watches hosts and services that you specify, alerting you when things go bad and when they get better.

Some of the many features of Nagios Core include:

  • Monitoring of network services (SMTP, POP3, HTTP, NNTP, PING, etc.)
  • Monitoring of host resources (processor load, disk usage, etc.)
  • Simple plugin design that allows users to easily develop their own service checks
  • Parallelized service checks
  • Ability to define network host hierarchy using “parent” hosts, allowing detection of and distinction between hosts that are down and those that are unreachable
  • Contact notifications when service or host problems occur and get resolved (via email, pager, or user-defined method)
  • Ability to define event handlers to be run during service or host events for proactive problem resolution
  • Automatic log file rotation
  • Support for implementing redundant monitoring hosts
  • Optional web interface for viewing current network status, notification and problem history, log file, etc.

Why NEMS?

Nagios doesn’t need a big fancy supercomputer to offer exceptional enterprise monitoring of network assets and resources, so our temptation is to re-purpose older servers to perform this reasonably lightweight task.

If you ask me, that’s not only overkill, but the attempt to save money by reusing older hardware will actually cost more due to higher electricity usage vs. a tiny Raspberry Pi 3 Microcomputer… which ironically may in fact have more modern system specifications than that old beast of a server you’ve been using.

It can be a wee bit daunting to setup a Raspberry Pi Nagios server from scratch, and there were no projects I found which were actively maintained at a level adequate for professional use. So I decided to start a new project–called NEMS: Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server (for Raspberry Pi).

This project uses freely available applications such as Debian Linux, Nagios Core and a variety of other goodies, and I too release a fully ready-to-use image for you to use within yours or your customer’s network environments.

About NEMS

The goal with NEMS is to provide a free, full-featured, up to date drop in Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server for Raspberry Pi 3. It has all the bells and whistles while being optimized for solid stability and fast performance.

The original NEMS release was based (with big thanks to Ryan Siegel) on NagiosPi, with many of the settings reflective of the NagiosPi Wheezy distro (which is now obsolete).

Here is what Ryan Siegel (the creator of NagiosPi) has to say about NEMS: “I’d love to upgrade NagiosPi, but i don’t have ability to make a GUI that can beat that of NEMS. I strongly feel that it has always been a necessary addition to NagiosPi and NEMS was able to deliver what is essentially an updated and improved version of NagiosPi. No reason not to start using NEMS for the time being. Nice work Robbie!” [source]

NEMS has since become a popular drop-in Nagios distro for Raspberry Pi, with a major release twice per year.

If you like NEMS, please donate: donate.category5.tv

The Out-Of-The-Box NEMS Experience:

System Requirements

  • Raspberry Pi 3 Micro Computer
  • 8GB+ Micro SD Card (Recommend 16GB+)
  • Network Connection (will obtain IP address via DHCP: create your reservation in the DHCP server for ease of access)
  • Internet Connection

Instructions

  • Purchase and assemble your Raspberry Pi 3.
  • Download the most current version of NEMS below.
  • Unzip and “Burn” the image to your Micro SD card.
  • Boot your NEMS server.
  • Login to NEMS console by either connecting a monitor and keyboard, or using ssh (Username: pi / Password: raspberry)
  • Type: sudo nems-init
  • After rebooting, reconnect and restore your backup.nems NEMS-Migrator file if you have one.
  • Edit /etc/nagios3/resource.cfg and add your SMTP information.
  • Login to NagVis and change the password (default is: admin/admin)
  • Reboot your Pi and enjoy NEMS when it comes online (see below for further details).

Buy The Needed Hardware

Raspberry Pi 3 Nagios ServerRaspberry Pi 3 are very affordable, and using our Micro SD image, you simply buy the device, “burn” the image to the Micro SD card, and boot it up.

Here’s our link to buy the device you’ll need, complete with the Micro SD card, a power adapter, a good solid case, and more: shop.category5.tv

Please buy it through that link, or let me know if you need a customized link to a different model. We get a small percentage of the sale, and it helps to make it possible to offer this as a free download.

Download NEMS 1.2.1

NEMS 1.2.1 Raspberry Pi Image

NEMS 1.2.1 Image File – 1.27 GB ZIP File (4.68 GB Uncompressed)

Released May 22, 2017. Fixes the problems with NEMS 1.2 release.

Unzip and “burn” to 8 GB+ Raspberry Pi 3 Micro SD Card (I recommend you use at least a 16 GB card so there’s plenty of room for logs, configs, data and so-on).

BitTorrent seed coming soon.

Upgrade to NEMS 1.2.1

  • Upgrade from NEMS 1.1+
    1. Connect to your existing NEMS dashboard from your computer and press Migrator->Backup. That will give you your backup.nems file.
    2. Deploy NEMS 1.2 on a new card (please use a new card so you can always revert back to your existing NEMS 1.1 if you have a problem).
    3. Boot your Pi into NEMS 1.2 and initialize it as normal (instructions are provided via your web browser when you connect)
    4. Once you get to the dashboard simply click Migrator->Restore to open the documentation which walks you through restoring your settings from your backup.nems file.
  • Upgrade from NEMS 1.0 or nagiospi
    See legacy upgrade documentation here: http://www.baldnerd.com/nems-migrator-legacy-upgrade/

NEMS 1.2.1 Changelog
NEMS 1.2 was released May 6, 2017. NEMS 1.2.1 was released May 22, 2017 to fix bugs with the migrator and improve the overall release following significant user feedback.

Here is a list of the changes I recorded during development.
– NEMS now requires you to run nems-init when you first deploy. This tool takes care of some of those “first boot” prerequisites like setting passwords and expanding your filesystem.
– Underlying OS upgraded to Raspbian Stretch.
– Kernel upgraded to 4.9.28.
– PHP upgraded to 7.0.19.
Reworking of nConf to make compatible with modern software (ie. PHP7.0, mySQLi).
– Maintenance and info scripts moved to /home/pi/nems-scripts.
– NEMS MOTD upon login now shows local IP address. Also improved how it determines some of the info (see info.sh in nems-scripts) and fixes a few bugs. Also set it up to rollover to wlan0 if no response on eth0, in case the user is on wifi.
– Temporary files and Monitorix image cache moved to RAM.
– Added RPi-Monitor as per Hesh’s comment. Reworked the Memory and CPU Frequency modules to correct the accuracy.
– Added nagios-api (JSON on Port 8090) as per Timothy Seibert’s request. [License]
– Added Webmin as per Hesh’s comment. Login as pi user with the password you created when initializing NEMS with the nems-init program.
– Added support for agentless Windows checks using WMI (big thanks to Ryan Siegel).
– Changed Apache log rotation to weekly (was previously daily).
– Upgraded nagvis to 1.9b16.
– Fixed sendemail paths in nConf to ease out-of-the-box email notifications (as they should just work now). Thanks so much to Jim for pointing this typo out!
– Enabled CPU governing (package cpufrequtils). On NEMS 1.0-1.1, NEMS was locked to 600MHz, but now it will automatically go up to 1200 MHz as needed.
– force resolver to generate new DNS resolv.conf at first boot (to ensure the detected DNS servers will be used rather than our development DNS servers which may not work for you).
– NEMS Migrator upgraded to allow direct migration from nagiospi to NEMS.
– Added Monitorix 3.9.0.
– Removed MySQL, replaced with MariaDB 10.1.22.
– Improve quality of Monitorix graphs used on NEMS Dashboard slideshow.
– Minor improvements to Monitorix page based on priority of service and image quality.
– Removed some old (obsolete) kernel modules, InnoDB logs and other bloat to reduce size of stock image.
– Added /var/www/nconf/temp to tmpfs. This way if someone breaks their nCONF (eg., pressing “Back” while generating config) they can just reboot to fix it 😀
nems-init and nems-migrator restore significantly reworked to correct initialization bugs from NEMS 1.2. Now, both initialization of a new NEMS deployment and an import from an old one should work without a hitch.
– nConf and NEMS-Migrator backups now require your password (as set with nems-init).
– NEMS-Migrator no longer replaces the MySQL database with backup. Instead, it now clears the database completely, reconciles your backup with the current set of available commands and services and then imports everything together into the fresh database and activates the hosts. This way, if you restore your NEMS 1.1 settings to NEMS 1.2.1, you don’t miss out on all the WMIC features (which your 1.1 backup would overwrite), for example.
– Documentation updated to reflect changes in commands and versioning.
– I built a quick but lovely interface for Monitorix to make it mobile responsive and a little more dynamic in its functionality.
– Distribution now available via BitTorrent (thanks to our partnership with The Category5 TV Network

Bug fixes:
– number of online users count on MOTD fixed.
– undefined constant in apache error log every 5 minutes leading to a bloated error log.
– added missing icons in check_mk.
– NEMS Migrator mail settings fixed when importing backup.nems from NEMS 1.0/nagiospi.
– Fixed MySQL Initialization Bug – was causing NEMS to lose configuration and no longer work.
– Wifi (wlan0) restored after it broken in 1.2 (due to Debian Stretch upgrade and incompatible firmwares for the Pi).
– Fixed nems-init user creation. In NEMS 1.2 it was not adding the new user to the “admin” group correctly in NEMS nCONF, so upon config generation, user would lose access to Nagios Core and other features requiring admin user.
– many miscellaneous bug fixes.

Configuring Your NEMS Server:
Browse to: http://NEMS.local/nconf (or http://IPADDRESS/nconf)
Make changes to the config as needed for your environment (eg., add a host, service, edit a setting)
I’ve added a few sample configurations in there (v1.1+) to help you get started.
Click: “Generate Nagios Config”
If there are no errors, you will have the option to Deploy the new Nagios Config.

Using Your NEMS Server:
Browse to: http://NEMS.local  (or http://IPADDRESS)
The navigation should be fairly straightforward. To add hosts or configure your environment, use the built in nConf feature. To access reports, choose one of the reporting options under Reporting. To access info specific to your Pi (eg., memory usage) you’ll find those under System.

Passwords:
When you initialize NEMS, you will provide a password for the NEMS web interfaces. This username/password will be what you use to access most NEMS features (eg., nCONF, Nagios Core, Check_MK) however, Nagvis still uses admin:admin. Please be sure to change that when you first login to Nagvis. To login to Webmin, use the username pi and the password you entered for the pi user during nems-init.

Known Issues:

  • PNP4Nagios is installed, but not configured. You may encounter errors, which will be addressed in a future release.
  • If you encounter an issue, please report it in the comments below so I can work on a fix (or please post your fix to help others and possibly to have it integrated into the next build).

TO DO:
This list details features which are planned for future releases of NEMS. NEMS is released on a 6 month schedule, with a major release every May and November. Thanks to the NEMS Migrator, upgrading is a cinch.
– Further improve the mobile responsive layout for tablets and smartphones (It’s really rudimentary at the moment due to the nature of Nagios’ interface… frames? C’mon now.)
– Upgrade Nagios to Nagios Core 4. (?) – Unlikely since most of the cool things about NEMS rely on Nagios Core 3.5.1 … at least for now.
– Further streamline the implementation of Check_MK. Deploy check-mk-server.
– Expand the documentation to include setting up SMTP and mail alerts, including a new video demonstration on Category5 Technology TV.
– Create an OVA of NEMS for deployment on existing virtual infrastructures (just for the challenge/fun of it).
– Build a graphical interface for nems-init.
– Build a graphical interface for NEMS-Migrator’s “Restore” feature.
– I’m open to suggestions! Please post your comments at http://baldnerd.com/nems

Things I Will Not Do:
This is a list of features I will not implement.
– Raspberry Pi Zero, 1 & 2 support. Buy a Raspberry Pi 3. The higher performance of a Pi 3 is a major asset for a project like NEMS, so I will not be focusing any of my efforts on supporting legacy hardware.
– GUI/Desktop. NEMS is a Linux server. If you require a GUI/Desktop Environment, you’re doing it wrong. I have built a very nice, easy to use web interface, and have worked hard to provide good documentation to ease the complication of configuration for novice users. NEMS itself should not even have a screen connected to it. Just power and Ethernet. Everything happens either through your browser, or for advanced users, an SSH connection.

Who Creates NEMS:
Robbie Ferguson is the host of Category5 Technology TV. He’s the kind of guy who when he figures stuff out, he likes to share it with others. That’s part of what makes his show so popular, but also what makes NEMS possible.

Support What We Do:
This project is a part of something much bigger than itself, and we’re all volunteers. Please see our Patreon page for information about our network.
– Please support us by simply purchasing your Raspberry Pi at https://cat5.tv/pi
– We have some support links on the NEMS menu, such as buying from Amazon using our partner link. Please use these every time you use those stores. A small percentage of your purchase will go toward our projects.
– Your donations are VERY MUCH appreciated – https://donate.category5.tv – Please consider how many hours (and hours) of work this project has saved you, and how much you’ll save on hardware and even electrical costs as you consider contributing
– Our network also has a Patreon page – Please consider becoming a patron – https://patreon.com/Category5

Convert Minecraft 1.8+ Skin to 1.6/1.7/Minetest Skin in PHP

RobbieF's Minetest SkinAs we build up #ThePixelShadow on Category5 TV, and introduce a creative Minetest server specifically for playing Minetest (the free Minecraft alternative), it became apparent that our users/viewers would like to be able to have their own custom skins.

We’re making it easy with a nice little interface to upload your own skins, but part of the process requires making a skin which is compatible with sdzen’s/PilzAdam’s player_textures mod … basically, these skins are Minecraft 1.6/1.7 skins… 64×32. Great Minecraft skin creator sites such as minecraftskins.com now generate Minecraft 1.8 skin files, which are 64×64.

The difference is essentially that the skins now support overlays (eg., removable headphones or glasses) and your left and right arms and legs can have different textures. Not the case with 1.6/1.7/Minetest… so we must convert the skin file to make it compatible.

Since we’re building a web interface to do this all automatically for you and place your player skin on our server automatically, I’m building the program in PHP. Since there are a lot of tutorials out there that simply instruct you to change your canvas size to 64×32 (which is wrong – you will lose your overlays!) I thought I would share my method with you in case it comes in handy.

And hey, it’s a fun exercise in PHP/GD anyways  🙂

If you find a good use for it in your project, please comment below. If you really love what I do, please consider supporting my Patreon profile, or throw a little something in the tip jar.

Hope to see you on #ThePixelShadow Minetest server soon, custom skin and all!

-Robbie

Make it so mountpoint can’t be written to if not mounted.

Have you ever accidentally saved files to a Linux mountpoint when the drive wasn’t mounted, and then couldn’t mount the drive thereafter? Or worse, had a backup run when the backup drive wasn’t mounted, only to fill your filesystem and crash the server?

These problems can be avoided by simply making your mountpoint immutable! What this means is, your mountpoint (the folder itself) cannot be written to. However, even as an immutable folder, it can be mounted to, and the filesystem of the mounted drive then controls the permissions of the folders therein.

It’s a simple Linux command. We’ll pretend our mountpoint is simply /mountpoint. Here’s all you have to do:

Brilliant! And oh, so simple.

Here’s a sample of what happens when I do this as root. Note that ‘mymountpoint’ is setup for me in my /etc/fstab file so it normally auto-mounts.

Enjoy that little tidbit!

As a side note, you might want to also get a notification if your drive isn’t mounted… so you could use the mountpoint command to send you an email if there’s a problem. Just add something like this to your backup script:

That simply checks if /mountpoint is a mounted mountpoint. If yes, it does nothing. If no, it will send you an email.

-Robbie

WordPress 4.3 is here!

WordPress 4.3 has been released, and our Managed WordPress subscribers are already enjoying the benefits of this major release. The rollout to 4.3 to all our subscribers has begun and will be complete within 24 hours. The next time you login, you will benefit from these great new features.

If you are not yet experiencing the benefits of our Managed WordPress 4.3 Deployment and Hosting service, make sure you contact us today.

Here’s an overview of what’s new in WordPress 4.3

Easier In-line Text Formatting

WordPress 4.3 Editor

One of the key focuses of this upgrade has been on simplifying the process of formatting your content. This means the improved ability to format your text as you type, without ever having to stop and click with the mouse. A hyphenated list intelligently becomes a bullet list, a blockquote can be created with a > and ## lets you enter a heading. These are just a couple of examples how WordPress 4.3 is improving your workflow, helping you get things done quickly and easily.

Improved Customize Feature

Another way WordPress 4.3 improves the user experience is to enhance the “Customize” feature, allowing you to take control of your site or blog.

Site Icon CustomizerSite Icons / favicon

Upload your logo and let WordPress do the rest. Your site icons and favicon will be automatically generated and included in browser tabs, bookmark menus, and even on the home screen of mobile devices as the icon for your site. You no longer have to add a special module or hack up your theme code only to lose the settings after an update. Site Icons are now part of WordPress 4.3.

Customizer Menu FeatureMenus With Live Preview in Customizer

Now, you can preview your menu in Customizer as you add or edit items. The streamlined interface allows menu revision to easily take place on either desktop or mobile devices. Navigation creation continues to get easier and faster with WordPress 4.3.

Improved Security

WordPress 4.3: Better PasswordsPassword System Enhancements

A feature that has been sorely lacking from WordPress is password strength enforcement. WordPress 4.3 now generates strong passwords, and gives visual feedback to the user when they change their password as to whether their choice is weak or strong. In addition to this, plain-text passwords are no longer emailed to users, further protecting you. Now, if you forget your password, WordPress 4.3 will instead send you a password reset link. The password itself will not be revealed.

And That’s Not All

This is only an overview. Further refinements have been made to provide a smoother admin experience across all your devices, and overall the intuitiveness of WordPress 4.3 is a step in the right direction. From a more technical perspective, 180 bugs were fixed, and a final point worth mentioning is that WordPress 4.3 makes way for the upcoming PHP7 release by deprecating some old PHP4 style constructors. WordPress is now ready for the upgrade when it arrives later this year.

All in all, WordPress 4.3 is another great update from the WordPress team. Positive E Solutions Inc. keeps our customers current and protected through our Managed WordPress services.

Enjoy the new version! We look forward to hearing your feedback.

-Robbie

— Update Wednesday August 19, 2015 4:43pm —
All customer web sites on our Managed WordPress service have been upgraded to WordPress 4.3.

Convert numbers to words the easy way with PHP

Sometimes we want words rather than numbers, but it used to be a very onerous task to do this. Since PHP 5.3.0 however, the NumberFormatter Class was introduced, allowing us to do this conversion quickly, with a single line of code.

A good example of the need for a this would be a business web site that says “We’ve been in business for 18 years.” To keep the site current, they’re doing echo ‘We\’ve been in business for ‘ . (date(‘Y’) – 1997) . ‘ years.’; It would look much better to say “We’ve been in business for eighteen years. This bit of code will do that for you.

Search Goblin Number to Words in PHP Screenshot

With the new Number to Words in PHP system at Search Goblin (my little helper script site), you can enter any number and the script will be demonstrated for you, converting your number to plain text. The code is provided there so you can start using this technique on your own site.

Check it out: https://searchgoblin.com/php-numbertowords/

How pastimes have changed over the years

Although changes in society are part and parcel with technological progress, the 21st Century has seen a radical transformation in how we are able to enjoy our favourite past-times. You just have to look back to your childhood memories and remember what was popular at the time as a reminder of just how far the world has evolved. Playing marbles, having fun with a yoyo and watching television when there were just three terrestrial channels to choose from are now a thing of the past, and while you are more than entitled to continue to enjoy traditional pastimes that some may consider out-dated and obsolete, it is difficult to ignore the digital-age alternatives. Significant advancements in technology have created a new wave of activities and interests that keep us occupied when we have time to ourselves away from work – it is amazing how so much has changed in so little time. Continue reading

Our mailing address has change: Why we switched to Pak Mail

One of the difficult decisions I rarely have to make is changing something that is seemingly set in stone.

It happened once when we got our vanity phone number. 254-5-CAT5TV is a pretty cool phone number for us. But for the first two seasons of my show, we had the old local number in the lower third. I feel bad for whoever ended up with that number and years later is still getting calls from Category5 viewers who are watching back episodes.

Now, we’ve been promoting our PO Box for years. We rent the box because we have to have a place to receive mail. Our hours of operation are not that of a regular business, so we can’t accept mail at the studio without risking having to constantly miss deliveries. But having promoted our PO Box for so long, I was really hesitant to ever change it.

Here’s are the facts. Our PO Box, with Canada Post, is way over-priced. $73 every 3 months. Almost $300 per year to be able to accept mail. They do not discount if you prepay for the year, and they only accept parcel deliveries from their own carriers. Shipping via UPS? Too bad, our Canada Post post office will reject it.

Well, our postal box is once again up for renewal, and with last year’s bills fresh in my mind having just completed our Category5 taxes for 2014, I really felt we were paying too much. I asked Canada Post if there was any way to reduce the fee. Take into account my years of being a faithful customer. We prepay every year, we pay on time every time, and we have the smallest box possible. Why are we paying $300 per year? They said there is nothing they can do, and in fact in my time with Canada Post, the price only ever goes up.

So, I made some calls.

Pak Mail is the one alternative in Barrie who really impressed me. Pak Mail offers mailboxes for $140 per year plus tax (plus refundable deposit). What? That’s about half what I’m paying! Okay, I’m already interested.

I called them up and turns out they have 24 hour access, and they accept courier deliveries from all courier companies! That means our DHL shipments from China can go directly to our mailbox at Pak Mail.

They’re able to achieve this because it’s not a “PO Box” per se. It’s a “Suite”. So our Suite at their street address is 166. It just makes sense.

They’ll even keep my credit card number on file so if there are any import fees, the bill gets paid and my package gets delivered (this happens almost every time we get a product from China to review).

Also, the woman who works there said they will email me if a parcel arrives. Excuse me? Canada Post be darned, I’m sold ten times over!

This is when I fist bumped her.

So with 2 weeks to go before our annual renewal of the PO Box, I decided to suck up the fact that some people will bounce mail (but I’m doing my best to let you know in advance while we have the 2 week overlap!) in order to save money and add better service to the mix. There’s nothing I can do about old videos that mention the old PO Box, but hopefully people know to go to our web site for current information.

Here’s our new address. Please send us your postcard today!

Category5 TV
336 Yonge Street, Suite 166
Barrie, Ontario
Canada L4N 4C8

-Robbie