Nest Learning Thermostat

nest_coolingI wanted to take some time to write about one of my favorite new inventions– the Nest Learning Thermostat.  I bought my first home in Dec 1012, and immediately bought a Nest Learning Thermostat.  The concept came from one of the developers on Apple’s iPod team, and completely revolutionizes the thermostat.

Installation was a snap.  I had a few questions and was able to immediately get through to a very helpful support staff.  The website documentation was above average for most technology products as well.  My only real issue had to do with my previous thermostat, which had been wired incorrectly when the AC was installed.  The system connected to my WPA2 network quickly and easily, and the navigation during setup was very well designed.

Programmable thermostats have been around for years, and with varying success.  If you live a life with set hours, you might have a lot of success with a basic programmable thermostat.  However, if you’re like me, the Nest can be a HUGE savings.  Here are just a few examples

  • I work in IT, so if there’s an issue in the morning, I’ll work from home to fix it before going in.  I also go in late the days after a major code release/update when I have to stay up at night to check on it.
  • Working for an airline, I travel a lot.  Sometimes I forget to set the thermostat off, resulting in 3-4 days of unnecessary heating and cooling.
  • Days when I come home early, I can use the iPhone/Android app to turn the temperature down before I get home.
  • Just last week, I left the house and forgot to close the door to the garage.  The door was left open for two days, exposing the inside to hot garage air.  Due to the auto away feature of Nest, this didn’t effect the utility usage.

If you haven’t had a chance to try the Nest, I highly recommend visiting your nearest Lowes, or going online to their website!

Learning the Facebook Graph API

Earlier this month, I was approached by a software company to assist writing a Facebook application.  I hadn’t done this, however I have read about their powerful Graph API and was anxious to give it a shot. The first step was to learn to connect to the facebook API, which was greatly assisted by using the PHP SDK that has been written and released as open source. I’ll write a longer blog soon once I develop the application, but here’s the steps to begin writing your own external facebook application.

  1. Register your facebook application ( link )
  2. Download the Facebook PHP SDK (link)
  3. Read tutorials to learn the basics (click here for a good one)

Installing Decoplanner on a Mac using Crossover (10.6.3)

OK, for a while now I’ve heard several people state that they won’t switch to a mac because deco planner isn’t compatible…here’s how.

First, download crossover.  You can get this here.  Now, install crossover.

Next, place the DecoPlanner install file somewhere you can easily find.  You can purchase and download it from gue’s website here.  After installing crossover, setup.exe will have a crossover icon, like this-

Double click the setup.exe and you’ll be greeted by the following screen. The default settings work, so leave them and press “install”-

You’ll see the progress bar for several minutes…never fear, it WILL eventually finish, but you’ll think it’s hung up because it takes so long.

Finally, you’ll see the DecoPlanner setup launch.

Run through the normal setup process leaving ALL OPTIONS DEFAULT, and you’ll be greeted with this-

Next, run and enjoy 🙂

Uploading old email to new IMAP account…the fast way!

I nearly titled this “Uploading old email to new IMAP account…the easy way!”, but I’m afraid it might not be “easy” to those of you who haven’t had much experience using command line based programs.  I certainly prefer the GUI, but after hours of trying to get Thunderbird to upload the email, I gave up.  The task before me was to upload about 19,000 emails from my boss’s old computer to our new email server hosted with RackSpace Apps.  Most of the commands here can be used to import email into RackSpace Apps with very little change, but can also be adapted to import email into gmail as well.

Step 1 – Download this email upload python script from sourgeforce and download ActivePython.  ActivePython is a bit easier to install than the default Python because it automatically configures the command line stuff, which is why I recommend it in this tutorial.

Step 2- Extract the .zip file.  Make sure to copy the file path as seen in the screen shot, this will make the next command line steps easier.

Step 3- Open a command prompt.  Go to Start->run and type “cmd” then click OK.

Step 5 – Navigate to the folder the python script is in.  You can do this by typing “cd ” (include a space) and then right clicking and pasting the file path you copied back in step 2.

Step 6 – Locate your MBOX file and copy it into the python script directory.  You can leave it where it’s at (obviously), but I’m writing this to be as easy as possible.  Click here for directions finding your Thunderbird mbox file.

Step 7 – Run the following Python command, replacing “” with the address of your IMAP server and then enter your username and password when it asks.   It took 5 or 10 minutes to get past the “Counting the mailbox” screen for me.  Takes a while longer to finish the upload, especially if you’re like me and have almost 2GB of email you have to upload.

  • python –host –port 993 –ssl –box imported inbox.mbox

Enom Outage…

If anyone is seeing their website not working, or website up but email down, etc, several people in twitter have posted that ENOM is having outages issues.  We currently have 273 domains registered through ENOM and we’re seeing the same issues as everyone else on most every domain.  I’ve placed the correct IP addresses into my etc/hosts file and I’m seeing everything correctly.  Our support technicians over at RackSpace have confirmed that they’re seeing the same thing.  If you’re seeing this, good luck reaching ENOM support, I’m just getting a busy signal.

I guess the only “fun” thing to come of this is having angry clients call and getting to calm them down.  I’m not sure why I enjoy it, but there’s something very rewarding about having someone upset with you when you start the phone call, and thank you by the time you get done.

Edit– ENOM posted an update on their twitter account, but seemingly can’t post one on their homepage.  That’s TERRIBLE customer service!  Screen shots below.   At least we know something now, I guess we’ll lead by example and do a mass email to our clients explaining what happened, and post an alert on our homepage.

12:06pm – “We are currently managing through a DDOS attack. All resources are focused on solving this issue ASAP. More updates shortly.”
12:25pm- “Customers should begin to see a significant improvement in services. We are still addressing some remaining issues. More updates pending”

Another interesting tidbit is that their outages page doesn’t reveal the info their twitter account does.

Over troubleshooting the problem…grr!

So last night I changed a client’s DNS over around 8pm. For those of you who aren’t familiar, DNS settings are somewhat like physical mail address settings in that if I want to go to our office, I type in 1802 N Alafaya Trail into my GPS, just as I type in to get to “your domain”. Let’s say we move physical addresses, it takes propagation time before Google maps phone books, and various GPS software update our company’s location. Well, there’s propagation time (only a few hours typically, max of 48 hours) when you change the IP address behind a domain to switch the server the domain points to.

Anyways, back to my story…I did it this late because they had requested that we do it after hours due to email being their primary means of taking and receiving orders, and they couldn’t afford being down during the business day. 7:30am my cell phone was ringing and waking me up with a panicked customer on the other line. My first thought is “oh no, I missed up the DNS switch”, but I had stayed up to make sure I saw the DNS swap go through on my end. I asked the customer to ping “” and it was seeing an incorrect location. My first assumption is that this machine had cached the IP address, so I asked if I could remote control the computer with LogmeinRescue (this software is the best thing to ever happen to technical support), which they agreed.  I ran a “ipconfig /flushdns” and then redid the ping with the same bad results (ipconfig /flushdns would be like throwing your address book away so that you have to look up new addresses each time, referencing the analogy I was using earlier).

Now here’s where this whole post starts to have a point.  The customer was upset because their email was “down” and in a moment of panic, I started looking for answers as to why a computer might not respond to “ipconfig /flushdns”.  The truth is, I had no reason to believe that this command didn’t work.  The solution was letting the customer know their internet service provider’s DNS information was outdated and might take a few more hours to get refreshed.

Lesson learned: When presented with a problem, focus on the primary causes,  then eliminate them one by one.  Don’t let frustration or panic on a customers end cause panic on your end!

Choosing Web Hosting — What to look for?

I’ve had several friends, and even some family ask me my opinions on general web hosting, and there’s only a select few names in the business I’ve come to recommend.   In general, ignore the price, start figuring out what you want, THEN price shop.

Let’s Look at the basic terms used in web hosting-

Storage Space
Storage space in regards to web hosting is basically referring to anything that you store on your hosting account, FTP, web content, and email all included.  Really the only thing that can eat through storage space is email, photos, file sharing, and video.  If you’re uploading tons of high resolution photos form a modern DSLR, using your website to send large files to friends, or uploading every holiday video known to man, you’re going to need a ton of space.  For the rest of us, space isn’t an issue.  For email, I recommend Google for your domain, which is a service Google provides, basically like Gmail, except it allows you to take your current email address with you, and take the load off of your hosting account.

Bandwidth refers to the amount of data transmitted through the server that you’re on.  Let’s say I have a 1mb file and 10 people download it, I’ve now used slightly over 10mb of data.  To put things in perspective, I use about 15GB of transfer on this blog each month, mainly because I use hidden folders on my personal hosting account to transfer files back and forth to work and school as I need them.  If you’re JUST transferring web sized photos to friends and family, you will struggle to use even 5gb of data transfer.  If you’re a company that has several files to download on the site, or tutorial videos you can easily blow through 10-15GB.  In general, if you’re looking at a new website, the typical 30gb or more is plenty, and you can always increase this as you grow.

Dedicated Server
A dedicated server is extremely useful if you’re in need of custom programs aside from the basic php/sql/apache that nearly every server on the market today runs.  For 99% of the world, it’s unnecessary!  The pro’s are that you don’t share the box with anyone else, so a security vulnerability, non terminating programming loop, or other negative things on someone else’s server won’t effect you.

Virtual Private Server
Virtual Private Servers (VPS’s for short) are useful if you need to install a few custom apps, but don’t really have the need to be on your own server for performance reasons.  Typically this is what you’ll want to look at once you outgrow shared hosting (we’ll discuss this in a bit!), but before you’re ready for an all out dedicated box.

Shared Hosting-
This is what the majority of the web is run on, Shared Servers.  Just like when you were in college and realized that you could share an apartment and split the bills in half, you can share a server, too!  This blog for instance, is being run on SharkSpace’s reseller hosting package.  This package meets all of my needs with room to grow, and costs less than $25/month, far less than the virtual private server or dedicated server options.  It comes prepackaged with a server management software called WHM/Cpanel which allows me to create sub accounts, and allows those accounts to manage their own site specific settings.

Now let’s move on to some aspects less often discussed!

Especially if you’re running a business online, support should be the FIRST thing you consider when choosing a hosting provider. Companies like RackSpace are filled with some of the most knowledgeable staff in the business, and willing to help you at any hour of the day.  The company I work for hosts our dedicated servers through RackSpace, and I continue to be amazed at how great the service is.  Other great companies I’ve used when it comes to support are SharkSpace (my current web host) and Idologic.

It’s no secret that Linux is a great OS for slower machines, but don’t let that fool you, you NEED processing power to run the dynamic portions of today’s content management systems and blogs.  Just a single page on this blog has to do a database call to find all of the unique months that I’ve posted a blog, all of the categories, the site name, the first 10 posts to show on the page, all of the photo galleries, etc….the point is, even a single page view involves a lot of database interaction these days.  Budget web hosts often skimp here, as you can install all of the latest versions of common software packages and market it as a new setup, however it becomes painful to browse your website.

Google Voice — Why it’s AWESOME!

About 2 years ago, I registered for Grand Central, which was at the time a free way to get a local Orlando phone number for my apartment gate call-box, since they didn’t allow long distance numbers.  At that time, text messaging was too expensive on my plan, and I never really used it.  Since then, I’ve gotten a work phone with unlimited texting, and I’ve gotten a text messaging plan on my personal phone.  Keeping 2 phones on me at all times just seems silly, especially after 7pm, where unlimited calling is free on my work iPhone….well Google has a solution for that.

The basic idea behind Google Voice is that you’re given 1 phone number, and it then forwards to virtually unlimited other phones.  This is very handy for people like myself, as I can give out 1 number to all my friends, and then after 7pm forward it to my work phone, and during the day forward it to my personal cell phone.

A few handy features

  • You can set “Emergency Contacts” as a group and during work hours, set the “Do Not Disturb” feature so that no phone calls come through except a few close friends/family who you can trust to only call you at work if it’s an absolute emergency.
  • You can text via your computer keyboard if you’re at the computer and someone txt’s you.  Much faster than using the phone.
  • You can call your own phone number and then use that to make a call to avoid long distance fees.
  • You can forward calls to the FREE Gizmo In, so that you don’t pay for minutes use when you’re near any computer with a high speed connection.
  • You can block certain callers.
  • If your minutes are running low, you can add your Google Voice number to your “My Circle” or unlimited calling plan, and all calls from this number won’t be charged for if you have Verizon or Tmobile’s free calling from xx different
  • Supports call screening.  This is where you answer, and it says “__________ is calling, press 1 to receive, or hang up”.  It forces callers to leave their name, so if it’s an unknown number, you know who it is before you talk to them.
  • Voice Mail To Text – Converts voice mails into a text message so that you don’t have to listen to them. It’s not 100% accurate, but I almost always get the point of the message and don’t listen to them.
  • Emailing Voice Mail – Voice Mail’s will be emailed to you in mp3 format so you can save them if you wish.