Rich Frangiamore

About Rich Frangiamore

Systems admin, geek, Trekkie, nature lover. Finding easier ways to do stuff since 1980.

Rolling With The G-Punches

Google searchI’m a big Google user. Much of my digital life is wrapped up in their services. I think I joined Gmail when the beta was still in the oven 10 years ago. I’m also user of Calendar, Voice, Wallet, Authenticator, Maps, Drive, Hangouts, Chrome sync, News, Music, Play, and tons of Android stuff. I even meddled around with Buzz and other betas that never quite made it. I was also an avid Reader user, until it was retired recently.

One of my very favorite services is the much-heralded Google Voice, the service that gives you a virtual phone number and lets you forward calls to that number to other numbers per rules that you set. It also enables custom answering schedules, call screening, unlimited texting from your browser, transcribed voicemails, and other really cool stuff.

I’ve loved it so much that my entire mobile communications are dependent on it. My only phone number is a Google Voice number. Nobody knows the number to my mobile, and I have no house phone.

Google Voice logoGoogle Voice, as a separate service, has gone the way of our beloved Reader.

The functionality of Voice is being rolled into Hangouts, the new multi-platform video chat/instant messaging platform which also absorbed the Google Talk service (you may remember this as the original IM function baked into Gmail web client). The future of the individual features of Voice are uncertain.

Let the outrage commence.

… That’s what I wanted to write about. The outrage, and why folks need to chill out and take a step back to see the big picture here.

Depending on a vast array of Google services (or Microsoft services or third-party stuff, what have you) means you have to roll with the punches. Ever notice how most Google services have that little “beta” tag on them? This stuff is always changing. My favorite description of the “Labs” features in GMail is “…they may change, break or disappear at any time.”

We’re living on the cutting edge every day with many of the Google services we depend on. And other products too; just last month, my favorite Twitter client for Windows, MetroTwit, was sunsetted because of API issues. So what did I do? Complain to the developers? No, I went and found something else (Tweetdeck).

Second, I have to mention money. Specifically, the money I pay for all these Google services. It’s zero. I pay squadoosh for this stuff. There’s no service-level agreement here. When an absolutely free service goes away or doesn’t quite do what I want it to, what am I going to do? Ask for my money back? Nobody made me any promises when I started using this product. And don’t forget about the other end of the transaction here: Google’s pocketbook. When a particular product isn’t making any revenue and the company finds themselves eating a significant amount of developer time for a project which really doesn’t have a future, it makes perfect sense to scrap it. There have been several cases in the past where Google has found duplication of functionality in several different products, which means rolling together some products into one.

I don’t hate Google for retiring Reader or eliminating Voice. On the contrary, I applaud them for actually putting the work forth to develop this stuff and inspire others to do the same. Reader taught a lot of folks that RSS is your friend, and it can ease your daily life on the web. Now there’s Feedly and other cool web-based aggregators out there that do the job just as well, and some of those may never have come to light if Reader didn’t exist.

The integration with Hangouts has begun. I’ll have to make some changes. I might need to modify some of my workflows for how my call forwarding works and install a new app on my smartphone. So what? A small price to pay for rich functionality that seems to get better and better every year.

It’s all about rolling with the punches.

What’s your strategy for navigating changes to your web-based services?

The Whoops Button: Delayed Send for Email

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a user gasp in despair as they sent an e-mail they didn’t mean to send. Folks forget that once they click send, it’s outta here, like a Freddie Freeman home run to right field (Go Braves). Cancel with red X

We happen to use a messaging platform called Zimbra. Recently, I deployed an extension called “Delay send”. This gives a little countdown timer at the top of the window before the message is actually sent, with an Undo link to bring it back.

This little thing has been a lifesaver for some.

MS Outlook has this functionality baked in via the Send/Receive setup (Options > Mail Setup). GMail also does this via a Labs feature called “Undo Send”.

Turn it on now, or you might wish you had some day.

What are your favorite “lifesaving” email tricks?

Pro Tip: Security is great, but make sure you’re not locked out

Recently, I changed my mobile number to try and alleviate phone spam. Luckily, since I use Google Voice, I have the freedom to do this. Unfortunately, I completely forgot about one thing… my Twitter “Login Verification” was set to text to the old number. (This was the case because they have trouble sending SMS to GV numbers.) rock

D’oh.

So, once my number changed, I came to the sick realization that I’d lost the ability to log in to my Twitter account. It took 3+ weeks to get @support to reply to my ticket. For a while, I thought my account was lost forever. Luckily, I still had a couple of clients which were pre-authorized (Plume on my Nexus 4 and MetroTwit on my W8 desktop). This was enough to verify the ownership of my account, and I’m almost back in business.

Lesson here:
Always, always, keep a key under the rock. The key in this case is what they call “backup codes”. I *thought* I saved this in LastPass, but could not find it when I needed it.

Google 2-factor authentication will generate a set of backup codes, numbered 1 to 10. If you lose access to your Google Authenticator, when prompted, you are required to type in the correct code. Other services like Facebook have a similar method which require the mobile app.

The secret? Store your emergency backup codes in an account that does NOT depend on any other services to get in. Get an Outlook.com or other account which has a simple login, and use it for nothing but storing your rock-keys. You’ll thank yourself when you need it.

What are your favorite tricks for keeping track of backup codes and other important login info?

Testing Tools: Free IE tools from Microsoft

modernie

Great news for developers and testers everywhere. Recently, on Microsoft’s Modern.IE site (which houses tools and resources for IE devs), the company released free, pre-built, fully functional virtual machines (VMs) specifically built for testing Internet Explorer.

You can download several different VMs, each with various versions of Windows OS (from Vista to 8) and various versions of IE (from 7 to 10). These are fully functional installations of Windows (not emulators) and are optimized for speed. One caveat, each instance is restricted with a time limit (within a single session).

There are versions prepared for Windows, OSX, and Linux, via VMware Player, VMware Fusion, and VirtualBox, respectively.

What testing resources do you love?

One does not simply LDAPS into Mordor: finding and using great tips from tech blogs

If there’s one thing I’ve taken for granted over the years, it’s Microsoft’s TechNet blog. It is just chock full o’ know-how, and always seems to be where my Google (or Bing, in my case) hunts end up.

Another thing I take for granted is being able to log in to stuff.  Recently, Technet proved quite enlightening while staring down a very frustrating LDAPS problem which was breaking some internal services. For those unfamiliar with LDAP, it stands for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. (The S is for Secure.) It’s how third-party applications are able to use your existing Active Directory credentials to authenticate. LDAPS requires a bit more tuning than non-secure LDAP, as server/client/service certificates (certs) come into play. And boy howdy, do they ever. large bicycle lock and key

When deploying applications which rely solely on LDAPS to work, it’s important to get the certs right. This means the template on your CA needs to include the proper Authentication Purpose, the private key must be exportable in the request handling, the server account cert must be renewed and exported as a PFX, and that cert must be re-imported back into the DC’s ADDS service account.

Moral of the story?  Don’t dare miss a step.

What great tip have you found in a tech blog?