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Geek

I want to use Google+ but can’t justify doing so

Like many people in my age group *cough* 40+ *COUGH!!* I rely on social websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Facebook lets me maintain a way to keep in touch with friends that I’ve not seen in years and Twitter permits me to follow the daily minutia of some really interesting people.

For me it’s a social phenomenon and totally kills the art of writing letters to friends. We’re all addicted to it on one form of another and technology has improved where our smart phones provides us easy two way access to this data.

I am a confirmed fan of Google. I want them to be successful and like that they try to compete in so many technological arenas. I migrated my email system to Google Apps because it provides such an easy way to manage my users. And I don’t have to stay up nights adapting strategies for combating SPAM.

All that said, I have no use for Google+. I’m a Google Apps user and have successfully migrated my Google access to the apps platform using my domain name. Google+ doesn’t permit that yet so I can either use a different account or pass on Google+.

I went through the exercise of using my apps account for all Google access. My Android phone is setup for it, my email, search history, Google Chrome, etc. In order to use the new social site I use another browser such as Internet Explorer. That’s not too cumbersome but someday they’ll sort out the access for people like me. I don’t want to maintain both accounts so here I am.

When Google+ supports app users, I’ll give it a serious look. But for now I’ll stick with Facebook.

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Geek

Reeder for the Mac

I have a 90 minute commute to work and about an hour of that is on the train. To make my ride more entertaining, I use my iPhone to listen to music, browse the web, and read up on my RSS feeds with Google Reader.

Google Reader is OK but it’s a web page based app. Frequent page reloads, jumping to a new page in another browser window is not the best experience. So I downloaded and installed Reeder for the iPhone and have not been sorry. It’s $3 that was well spent.

I generally do not like RSS feed clients. The one’s I’ve used on Windows were just wrappers for Internet Explorer (ugh!) and felt like crude hacks. But on a whim I installed the beta Reeder for the Mac and have been playing with it.

It’s a clean app and so far I like it. Since it’s a beta it is not-quite as filled out on the Mac as it is on the iPhone, but that’s probably because I’ve not found all the shortcuts.

The best feature I like is that when I get an excerpt in my RSS feed, I click on Readability and the full post comes up. It doesn’t work on all feeds such as Gizmodo but clicking the link will bring up the post within the app. The articles are all well laid out and the view is easy to read.

The only thing that I can see is missing is easy navigation to the next article; it supports swiping but haven’t figured out how to do that with a magic mouse. I’ll keep playing with it, this beta is definitely worth the time.

Update: Ha! Read the funny manual. Keyboard shortcuts work fine.

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Geek

Google Voice on the iPhone is slick

After I read this article on Gizmodo  (helpfully called “How To: Jailbreak Any iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad”) I figured what the heck and did the deed.

The Spirit Jailbreak Tool is as fire and forget as it gets. I backed up my iPhone, made sure I could restore it to its pristine Apple condition and pushed the button. It was so easy that I wonder what the catch is. A few minutes later and GV Mobile was installed on my phone.

I can see why Apple and/or AT&T blocked this app in the iTunes store. The integration is so flawless that I’m not sure why I would go back and use the Apple dialer. It’s like the Apple phone app but integrated with Google Voice. I get my downloaded voicemail as well as the transcribed email.

It’s a shame that Apple does not let Google get this onto the app store, it’s a good quality program.

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Geek, Software

Now trying OpenDNS SmartCache

If you are an IT/Network professional with UNIX/Linux/BSD experience and you have a network at home, you really can’t resist playing around. It’s the best way to learn and causing outages at home will only irritate your family.

I’ve been using Google Public DNS for a day or two and it’s fast and responsive. Even though a simple test shows that Google’s Public DNS on a per query basis is slower, the end user experience has been faster (at least for me). But OpenDNS is more feature rich and I’d like to see if I can get a good experience using it.

I revisited my OpenDNS account dashboard and found out that they now offer an option called SmartCache, which I have enabled. I also downloaded the OpenDNS Updater onto my kitchen notebook.  That notebook is on all the time and it make’s sense to run it there. FIOS has already once given me a new IP address and I want my OpenDNS settings to follow my network at home.

OpenDNS’s blog has a good explanation for SmartCache here and more info here. It’s a useful feature and you have to applaud them for offering it to their free account users.

End user experience is a very subjective thing so I’ll see if OpenDNS has the same feel or better as Google Public DNS. Like most folks, I just want web browsing to work and be fast.

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Geek

Google Public DNS or OpenDNS?

Disclaimer: one of my brothers works for Google, I like Google and I hope they are wildly successful.

Google announced that they are offering a fast, highly available, and secure public DNS. It’s not a TLD registrar like Verisign but it’s supposed to be fast. I’ve been using it for a couple of hours and the name resolution is zippy.

It’s not OpenDNS and I don’t think it’s intended to be.  OpenDNS has about the same things only it also provides you with an account and a dashboard where you can set options such as filtering.  OpenDNS is a developed service and it’s well thought out and implemented. You can read on their blog some thoughts from OpenDNS on this new development.

That all said, I think mixing the words “Google” and “DNS” will be bad for OpenDNS. They probably have competition but I can’t think of one.  The OpenDNS is free and many people use it. Google’s public DNS is only a resolver and has no features. Now it looks like Google has entered that area and I think it will be successful and more people will move over to it.

I took 100 unique DNS names from my web proxy log (squid proxy, don’t you run one at home too?) and ran a simple command

dig hostname @8.8.8.8

The output contains a line like this

;; Query time: 21 msec

I ran those 100 dig commands and added up all the query time milliseconds and came up with 7550 milliseconds or 7.5 seconds for using Google.

The OpenDNS server IP address 208.67.222.222 with the same exact queries and took 1347 milliseconds while FIOS’s 192.168.1.1 (my cable mode that forwards to the real DNS IPs) ran for a total of 1668 milliseconds.

That’s not really a comprehensive test but it looks like OpenDNS is faster for now and it is very feature rich. But this should be interesting to see how this plays out since Google aims to have their solutions work best.

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Geek, Software

Moving some users to Google Apps for mail

I host the domain dembowski.net and also handle the mail delivery.  The mail ultimately ends up in Stefan’s house via his DSL line.

That DSL line has been prone to problems so I played with the idea of moving the mail to another server or VPS. But handling spam and keeping my web mail software up to date is a pain. So I wanted to move my whole domain to Google Apps for mail handling. Google is much better at distributed web mail systems and spam fighting than I am.

This was not universally accepted by all of my users. So I found a way to selectively send mail to Google Apps on a per user basis.

1. Sign up your domain for Google Apps

Okay, that one is a no brainer.  I authenticated my domain by inserting a Google supplied CNAME record into my zone file.  That established that I was the one in charge of my domain. Google lets you use it at no charge for up to 50 users.

In Google Apps I added another domain to my profile called app.dembowski.net.  This way mail from Google gets delivered as user@dembowski.net and Google will also receive mail for user@app.dembowski.net.

2. DNS changes

I set up a sub-domain called app.dembowski.net.  The DNS records for this domain are pretty sparse and only contain MX records that Google provides for users to point their domain to.  These came straight out of Google’s instructions. In my zone file I bumped the serial number and added these lines:

app.dembowski.net.      MX 10 aspmx.l.google.com.
app.dembowski.net.      MX 20 alt1.aspmx.l.google.com.
app.dembowski.net.      MX 20 alt2.aspmx.l.google.com.
app.dembowski.net.      MX 30 aspmx2.googlemail.com.
app.dembowski.net.      MX 30 aspmx3.googlemail.com.
app.dembowski.net.      MX 30 aspmx4.googlemail.com.
app.dembowski.net.      MX 30 aspmx5.googlemail.com.

Then I created a couple of  A records for mail.dembowski.net pointing to two servers I run Apache2 on. More on this later.

3. Postfix recipient rewriting

The magic happens on my two Postfix MTAs. When the primary mail server goes down, mail queues up on my secondary mail server.  It will stay there until the primary comes back. That sucks; last time we had an outage, the mail server was down for almost 24 hours.

The solution is to have Postfix receive the mail, rewrite the address to the sub-domain, and send it along for delivery.

In my /etc/postfix/main.cf file I added this line

recipient_canonical_maps = hash:/etc/postfix/recipient_canonical_maps</pre>
In the file /etc/postfix/recipient_canonical_maps I had something like this:
<pre lang="text">user1@dembowski.net  user1@app.dembowski.net
user2@dembowski.net  user2@app.dembowski.net
user3@dembowski.net  user3@app.dembowski.net

This let me turn on Google mail handling on a per user basis. I ran postmap hash:/etc/postfix/recipient_canonical_maps and restarted postfix on my servers.

Now if my mail server tanks again, as long as the secondary is up, I still get my mail via Google Apps.

4. Lazy web mail URL

The two servers that are being pointed to as mail.dembowski.net? I created an Apache2 vhost on each one for that server name. In the root directory for the new vhost I created a small index.php with the following content:

<?php
header("HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently");
header("Location: http://mail.google.com/a/dembowski.net");
exit();
?>

I’m lazy. I can remember http://mail.dembowski.net easier than http://mail.google.com/a/dembowski.net.

Update: Or I could follow the directions and in my Google Apps dashboard just set a customized URL for mail.

After setting that up in my dashboard, I updated the mail.dembowski.net DNS record to be a CNAME pointing to ghs.google.com.

5. Test everything

Using an IMAP client (after I turned IMAP on in my Google Apps mail) I sent and received mail with my primary server’s postfix shutdown. That worked perfectly.

I also had other people in my domain send and receive mail just to make sure I did not bork that up too. All was good and we were all able to send and receive mail.

That’s it. As long as I create accounts in Google Apps and maintain the recipient_canonical_maps file, I’ve got a good solution for fighting spam with a good web mail client without impacting my other users.

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