IFTTT (If This Then That) – First Thoughts

I was listening to Know How on the TWiT network this morning and they were talking about this service called IFTTT that will “Make the Web Work For You”. The basic idea is that the site will take you various web services like Dropbox, Facebook, Instagram and a lot more (57 in all), and let you tie them together with logic statements.

For instance you can make a rule (called a recipe) that will upload every picture you take on Instagram and put it on Dropbox or Google Drive. This way you have a local backup copy of your pictures. One reason I don’t use Instagram at the moment is because there wasn’t an obvious way to do this.

One thing I was curious about was if I could take my blog posts and back them up automatically to Dropbox. Turns out WordPress is an app they support. There are a few pre-built recipes out there that will do this. Sadly I couldn’t get a lot of them to work as it would give a Dropbox error. I figured I’d try Google Drive, same problem. Turns out the recipe was constructed wrong. I had to create a new one to get this to work.

Potential Uses For IFTTT

I think this service is great for automation. There are few things easier to forget than to back things up. Automatic backing up of content and connecting to other services is something I look for when deciding whether to use a service. For instance, Instagram is not something I use a lot because even though it connects to Facebook and a few other social networks, it did not have any obvious way to keep those photos elsewhere, or to get access to the unaltered copies of them. I found out later that the Dropbox Camera Upload feature works pretty well for this as does the Google+ instant upload.

With IFTTT you can add the automation that these services lack once they get a channel. I really hope the website takes off. I plan on blogging more about what you can do with it from a Home/Small Business perspective here. I don’t see this as an Enterprise product, but if I find uses I’ll post them over at workendtech.com.



Testing IFTTT

Heard about IFTTT on “Know How”. A podcast on the TWiT network. I’m testing to see how well the WordPress rules work. If this works I’ll be posting how you can use all this at home and at a small business. Maybe video!



Home Routers and Why You Need One

I like to think of modern home routers as your first line of defense against the bad things out there on the internet. They are super important, and everyone with internet access should have one. Most new routers have a lot of features that surpass “route traffic to the internet and back”. Your basic Linksys router will have the following features, and a lot more right out of the box.

  • Basic Routing – Get your traffic to the internet, and the internet’s traffic to the right computer. Some of them can even do internal routing.
  • Network Address Translation – Lets you have more than one computer share an internet connection without your ISP really knowing it.
  • Wireless Networking – Connect your laptops and other wireless devices to the home network.
  • Basic Firewall – Protect your stuff from basic attacks originating from the internet.
  • VPN Passthrough – Lets you connect to your work without any re-configuring your firewall.
  • Quality of Service, Port Forwarding, MAC address restrictions, Diagnostic Tools, Data Usage Tools, DNS, DHCP and tons more.

Your basic $50-$80 wireless router will have at least all these features, and probably a lot more. Most people just use them to put Wi-Fi in their house if their internet provider didn’t just ship them one.

One major reason to get a router is that it will actually save you money in the long run. It’s not terribly surprising if your cable modem or DSL modem goes out a year after you buy it, and you’ll have to get a new one. If you have a combination router/modem then it’s going to be a lot more expensive. A good router that wasn’t the low-end $20 one at Wal-Mart will typically last five years without much more maintenance than occasionally unplugging it and plugging it back in. So instead of having to buy that $200 router/modem combo just because the modem part when out, you can just go get a $30-$80 modem once every year or so and be fine.

The other reason is the firewall. Most routers have basic firewalls that just work, no configuring by you is needed. If you’re hooking your PC directly to the modem, you will be depending on Windows Firewall, or whatever Apple uses. This isn’t a good idea. Windows Firewall isn’t that great, and a lot of malware just flat turns it off. Router firewalls can be a lot tougher to get around.

What Routers Are Compatible With My ISP?

Unlike modems, there’s not a lot to router compatibility. If you go to your local Best Buy, you’ll see about two dozen models of wireless router. They’ll range from $30 to $250 and have all sorts of guarantees on the front about gaming and video streaming.

The reality is, most of those claims are utter bull. At very least they are misleading. They’ll compare their routers to a competitors low-end router, show how much better it is then make a bunch of claims about speeding up video streaming from the internet. The competitor’s router will have the same thing on their box. Some will even say “Compatible with Suddenlink!”. Yeah, they’re all compatible.

All routers work with TCP/IP and the only major differences are speed, chipset and features you probably don’t care about. Wireless network speed is the biggest thing to look for. You want to get a Wireless N router. It has a range of roughly a thousand feet as opposed to the 300 feet a G router provides, and you get get data speeds up to 300Mbps as opposed to 54Mbps (depending on the security you choose).  Even the speed is misleading because you’ll be lucky to get 64-75Mbps on your wireless if you secure it right. A lot of that depends on your network card and what your house is made of.

Now I know you probably just want me to suggest a model. I prefer Linksys E2500’s. They’re right at the $80 mark and have just about everything even an advanced user could want. Here’s a link if your ad-blocking software are hiding the ads: Cisco E2500 Router

If you are an Apple user, I suggest either the AirPort Extreme 5th Generation or the Base Station with the print server port on it. The only drawback to these for a PC network (other than price) is they don’t have as many wired ports. Otherwise there aren’t any real differences between the Apple product and the Cisco product except the base station has a print server and some iTunes features you can take advantage of on your Mac, iDevices, or PC.

Why I Put GetHuman Links In My Posts

Try this: Call your phone company, tell the menu you are not calling from the number you need serviced. It will ask you to put in your account number or phone number. Hit ten totally random digits and see if the customer service rep can tell you what you put in. It will even say it is looking your information up (Pro-Tip: It usually isn’t). For most companies (AT&T excluded) you’ll be asked AGAIN what number you’re calling about and everything else you entered. They aren’t validating, the auto-attendant didn’t record anything. Heck, even if you are calling from the number you need help with, and the computer tells you that number, it won’t even pass the Caller ID to the rep!

Of the many things I do as an IT guy is dealing with warranties and customer service representatives whose job it is to make sure only legit claims are serviced. This is something that I’ve done on a near monthly basis for the past fifteen years. I’ve learned a lot of tricks, and I’ve got a pretty good database of phone numbers to call when I need help or to get a part serviced.

One thing I’ve found is that the menus are long and complicated to prevent you from thinking you’re really on hold. On top of that many companies will ask you to enter account information (sometimes your social security number!). This is a stupid delaying tactic as there are very few companies that actually record this information.You’re going to go to the same set of first level customer support agents no matter what you do.

Now personally, I’m not a fan of services like GetHuman because there might be some valid reasons they need you to go through a menu system. They are stupid reasons, but the company might think they are valid. Nothing is more irritating to a customer service rep than someone cheating and getting through quicker because they knew a special service number or something. For companies that make their numbers easy to find, do record your information and truly use their menu system to make life easier on you, please use that menu system. Those companies are good companies.

For all those companies who make it almost impossible to find a customer service number, put fake BS menus on their phone system, don’t record anything they ask you to enter, and their agents make you repeat it out loud: SCREW THEM! Use GetHuman, cheat the system, bypass it entirely if you can, and generally voice your complaints about it to their management team. Maybe they’ll fix the problem.

I post links to GetHuman for good companies because it puts what number you need to dial for what department you need right on the page. You don’t have to look through a long table of specific phone numbers to find what you are looking for. This just makes it easier than posting some dynamic link that might not show the same information to everyone who clicks on it. Any links you find on my blog will for the most part be things I’ve either been given by customer support agents, or verified with the company’s website.

If I note that I found information only on GetHuman or some similar service you can expect it’s a crappy company that hides their contact information to avoid dealing with their customers. They either get so many complaints they just took their number down and are ignoring the problem, or they are too cheap to hire more customer service agents. Either way you’re probably going to get lied to a lot when you contact them.

Finally here’s a link to Gethuman.com.



How To Convert a Word Document to Google Docs With Drive

I got asked if it was possible to convert an already uploaded Word document on Google Drive to the Google Docs format for better editing. This is possible and in fact very simple to do. When you first upload with the web interface you get an option to convert it upon upload, but not if you use the little folder app on your computers. So here’s how to do it if you’ve uploaded it that way.

I only tested this in Chrome, but it might work with other browsers.

How to Convert an Uploaded Word Document to Google Docs in Google Drive

Step 1 – Log into Google Drive from the website.
Step 2 – Right click on the Word Document you want to convert.
Step 3 – Click “Export to Google Docs”. It will make a Google Docs copy of the file with the same name. If the original file was in a folder you’ll need to click “My Drive” on the left to go back to the root folder to find the new document.

Note: It will keep the entire name, extension and all. So if the file was “Scrambled Eggs.docx” the new file will have that exact title, you’ll have to take the .docx part off if that isn’t acceptable. You can do that through the edit window that pops up. Also note that third-party pop up blockers might prevent the copy from opening up in a new window, but it still should show up in your root folder.