IFTTT Productivity

Today, I am finally getting the blog post that Eric Kline, Vice President of TEAM ITS, LLC , gave me well over a month ago to publish. Eric Presented this at our monthly Tech Leaders lunch and I thought it would be a great topic for the blog. ~Mindy

Productivity apps are all the rage, but do you really need another app in your life? Well, instead of a productivity app, what about a free service that makes your other apps more productive? Sounds like a mind bender? Well that’s because this utility isn’t marketed as a productivity app, but used properly, it can help organize your life and bring symbioses to the myriad of online tools we use day to day.
If This Then That, commonly shortened to IFTTT, is a free web service that allows you to chain together apps using commands that you specify (or pick from a wide list of pre-created “recipes”). Following the name, “If This, Then That”, IFTTT lets you trigger actions in many of your cloud-based services automatically based on some arbitrary action or scheduled task from another service. This even includes your smart phone and various IoT devices.
The name comes from a common programming paradigm which uses the same terminology to describe actions. Thankfully, IFTTT doesn’t require you to be a programmer to use it. The interface is simple, and all “recipes” are created with a simple structure that has you select the app that you want to trigger an action (ie. I receive an email to my Office365 account with the title “Urgent”) and then you specify what you want to happen as a result (such as, send me a text with the message body).

This feature alone is extremely powerful, but we were talking productivity, emergency emails are not my idea of a productive day. For some better examples, let’s look at how IFTTT can make us more efficient:
I use IFTTT to call my cell phone for important email reminders. I don’t always catch a calendar notification when it goes off on my phone, however, receiving a call that reads the appointment to me ensures that I’m cognizant of my appointments.

This next tip is one that is somewhat career dependent, although it works very well for someone who works from a different location, or even at multiple locations in a given day. You can use IFTTT to log your location using Wi-Fi connections to a google spreadsheet. This allows you to easily track time spent at a given client or office without you needing to lift a finger. There is talk of using geofencing with actual GPS data in IFTTT which would make this solution even nicer, however it does not appear that is available at this time.

An extremely productive use of IFTTT is to automatically update social media whenever you make a new blog post. You can also use it to sync posts across social media platforms without using a paid service. This can seriously reduce the hassle of alerting your followers to new content on your website.

Image result for social media icons through buffer

Along with the previous use-case, something else I find extremely productive, and dare I say fun, is to have IFTTT update you when a post that is relevant to your interests is created on various platforms. I follow a lot of niche subreddits and can monitor for posts on pages that don’t receive daily posts so that I can learn something new or keep up on projects in real time. You can even use this for news articles.
The final note I have on productivity is something that I know the DIYers will appreciate. You can use IFTTT to connect to various smart home appliances/DIY projects (such as Raspberry Pi systems). This means you can use it for Home Automation. Something I’ve wanted to try is turning on my lights when my cell phone connects to my homes Wi-Fi. Now, this is not something I have had a lot of time to play with, but there are a lot of prebuilt recipes on IFTTT for this sort of automation. There’s even integration with Tesla cars!

I’m sure this is barely scratching the surface of using IFTTT for productivity, but its greatest strength is its flexibility. I’ve used it for many things beyond what I’ve described in this article. Here’s just another small list of (not necessarily productive) uses:

Use it to silence/unsilenced your phone if lost.
Use it to set your phone background depending on weather
Use it to automatically turn off Bluetooth on your phone when you disconnect from a Bluetooth device
If you’re a programmer, you can use it to receive notifications when issues are raised on Github.
Get the heads up about deals, minus the spammy coupon emails, for stores that you frequent.
The list goes on. You can sign up for a free account at https://ifttt.com/ using your preexisting Google or Facebook account. Alternatively, you can simply use an email address.

If you still aren’t convinced, here’s a (highly incomplete) list of platforms that IFTTT supports:
Android
Google products
Office365
Evernote
Smart appliances
Robot Vacuums!?!?!?!
Social media
Services such as Mailchimp (really helpful for mailing lists)
Wolfram
Various productivity apps
Slack
Tesla cars even (that’s not scary)
Raspberry pis/arduinos
Github
Webhooks
Education and government apps
Finance apps
And far too many more to list in a single blog post.

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What’s in Your DISASTER RECOVERY Plan?

A little over a week ago, we had a traumatic fire just a couple of blocks away from our TEAM ITS office. This got me to looking back at how far we have come in Disaster Recovery. Today, I am writing a blog for TEAM ITS, LLC from my ERBA job of IT Coordinator. I guess I am my own guest blogger, :-).

As a Community Action Agency that works on Federal and State grants, our grantors require us to have a disaster recovery plan. We help people in crisis, so it would stand to reason that if there were a crisis, we would need to be able to operate.

When we started working with TEAM ITS, we had been struggling to make all the pieces fit that needed to be in place for our own disaster recovery plan. At the time, our server was being backed up to a My Book, that was kept in a fire safe vault, on our property. Period.

If something happened to the machine, the backup could be used on the same model of server to get our data back. Again-Period.

Little did I think about the fact that even a fireproof safe is going to get hot. And plastic coated drives may still not be 100% safe. And then we were at the mercy of our IT company finding us an identical machine quickly. We would still be looking at two days down and that is even if we just had catastrophic system failure. The thought of knowing we were really 100% ready to face a real disaster, such as a fire, or even worse, a tornado to our town, really made me cringe.

Fast forward to today. We now have a three-tiered disaster plan in place. One that I am confident with, and one that I know, should we have our community depending on us after a disaster, we will be able to pull through.

Here in our building we have a NAS- Network Attached Storage. This is a file by file backup that I absolutely love. This is the thing you need 10 seconds after you hit delete, saw the message that your file was too big for the recycle bin, you were talking on the phone so you just hit okay and then you realized you weren’t deleting what you thought you were deleting. Our NAS backs up every night, so every file is just a day back. It takes me just a couple minutes to restore a file when someone calls in that panic. (And I have done this MULTIPLE times in the last year). EVERYONE needs this! This is also the best recovery for a system failure, and as much as we want to think bad things never happen, we all know better. Better to be prepared and never use it than to need it and not have it.

Our second back up is off site, at another location, but still hooked to our network. It is a complete system backup. This too runs every night, I get emails as they are running that tells me they are successfully backed up–something else I love. This would be the backup we would turn to if we had a fire in this building, or a natural disaster that took out our building but not the whole town.

We then have a third backup. It is cloud backup and it is used for our most important items. I have a file on my system called In Case I Get Hit By a Bus. This file is everything someone would need to know to keep doing my job the morning after my demise. Of course, I have shown my assistant, and others, but my guess is, they might be a little emotional- either because I got hit by a bus, or because of all the work they now have to do; either way, they probably need a little “in writing” guidance.

I have had all the department heads create a similar file. Things they have to have to continue working. These, along with our absolutely have to have documents are saved to the cloud. I am going to give you a word or forewarning- truly secure cloud backup is not cheap, but this is not the place to skimp. Choose a company for its track record, not its price. (TEAM ITS can help with this). I am not a huge cloud fan personally and we use VPNs rather than cloud for our day in day out business. I personally like the fact that my document storage is here in my building, but in order to have this level of backup, I feel the cloud is necessary and as I said, if you choose the right one, there are multiple layers of security.

Having this backup gives us the tools we need should our town be hit by a tornado. We could go to another building in another town and be set up ready to assist our customers in a matter of hours. We could be back to 100% fully functional within 2 days.

THIS is a disaster plan. One that I have slept better at night every night since it has been in place. What is funny, is going back to the beginning where I said we needed a disaster plan in place for most of our grantors. When we started working with TEAM ITS, Mike put this plan together, not knowing we had to have it for grants. When he started going over it with me and our Executive Director, we realized he had just written our much needed disaster plan.

Mike Miller is a specialist at creating disaster recovery and backup plans. If you do not really know how you would handle a fire or a natural disaster, give TEAM ITS a call. Let Mike come to your business and lay out a custom plan for you. That sleeping at night thing is priceless.

The Power of a Perfect Password


Every year, millions of accounts are hacked, from facebook to your checking account, all the way up to databases used by businesses. There are a few steps you need to put in to place; but you need to start with a strong password.
It seems there are people out there who really don’t take this seriously, if your password is 123456 or Password, I’m talking to you. Do you honestly think someone trying to figure out your password is sitting at a computer, typing in every combination? I hate to tell you this, but there are many software programs out there designed specifically to run through the gamut of possible passwords. I am relatively sure the settings are set to check the 10 most common passwords first.
For 2018, this was the list:

It is sad that so many people take something so important so lightly and then are shocked when they are compromised. Others say they can’t trust the internet and so they don’t do anything online. If you have the proper tools in place, it can be a secure environment. For the most part, these programs spend so many minutes on one account and move on.
It has been found the best passwords are not just those that are random numbers and letters, but ones that are multiple, unrelated words, and if the site calls for it, a couple of special characters thrown in. Honestly, if the site doesn’t call for numbers or special characters using multiple unrelated words works wonderfully. Why unrealated? If you have certain phones, when you text someone, your phone tries to predict the next word, to save you key strokes. So, when I type a text and say “How are you”, in my prompts, “doing”, “gonna”, and “feeling” all pop up as possible suggestions for the next word. The hacking software does the same thing.
I happened upon a little helper at howsecureismypassword.net. Now, just as an extra measure, I really still wouldn’t just type all my current passwords in to this site, but you can get an idea of what are good passwords and bad passwords. For instance, I typed in iloveyou as a password. Look at the results:

Then, I typed I Love You:

And you think, okay, three years, they would probably skip over mine, but new software is emerging every day. 3 years today could be 10 minutes tomorrow, and as more people batten down the hatches, the more desperate the hackers will become.
So, my third try: I lOve yOu:

Again, three years. So now let’s try just 3 totally unrelated words: vase pencil clock:

That one might take a while for even software advancements to catch up with. And actually, it is such a silly combination, you will remember it.
A strong password is the first step to securing your online presence. In the next few blogs, we will share more tips, such as password managers (so that great password you just created isn’t taped to your computer screen!) and two factor authentication, to just boggle hackers minds a bit more. Hope you come up with a great password- and then set yourself a schedule to CHANGE IT!

Have a great day computing!

Mindy

Our Kid at Christmas

This blog is totally unauthorized and maybe a bit *insert gasp* unprofessional but I couldn’t help it. Read quick because I may be told to take it down. I want to share with you a little behind the scenes at TEAM ITS. I put a blog up a couple weeks ago about myself being a problem solver. One of the reasons I work so well with our president, Mike Miller,  is that he too, is a problem solver. When he gets a hold of something he knows can help people he gets like a kid at Christmas. Not being able to wait until Christmas morning to open those presents. That has been our Mr Miller for the last couple of weeks.

I got an email a week ago last Thursday letting me know that he thought we was very close to becoming an Authorized Quickbooks Reseller and explaining that with that, he would be able to offer a much better product experience than someone buying Quickbooks off the shelf. Well, HELLO!!! My husband owns a business and as his bookkeeper, I went to Quickbooks online. After a few months, I took a class and was very disappointed. There are so many sides to Quickbooks and I had to learn bunches of stuff in this class that I will never use (let me just tell you, personally, if he ever hires someone to help him, he is hiring a payroll clerk first, just sayin’) Anyway, I still feel very inept at Quickbooks, and because I am paying the online version, I am spending way more money than I need to. Guess whose name is on his list? I’m getting in on this! 

So yes, I was excited, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Mike’s excitement. On Friday the 7th of December, it became official. And his ideas started rolling. I am going to tell you, Quickbooks had him hook line and sinker, because how do they market the reseller program? With this little beauty:

Ah yes, let’s put Solution Provider in the name: Code Name PROBLEM SOLVER!! So, it didn’t take long for Mike to send me an email with the little icon under his signature, but about 20 minutes later, I get another email, two words: “too much?” and why? because this is what he added:

I said, “Well, it definitely gets your attention”. So, we are embarking on a whole new line of products as well are now Authorized Quickbooks Resellers. We can help you pick the right products and show you how they can be a perfect fit for your business. And once it is done, Mike can be happy knowing that he has made a difference in your daily work.

I know a lot of IT people, I know a lot of IT people who make sure the technology works. I know very few IT people that really have that deep down need to know that they have made your life better. So many times, the IT person is the first one that gets roughed up in people’s minds when things aren’t going right (at my full time job as IT Coordinator, I have even been blamed for a key breaking off in an office door). But when you give someone that has the deep down need to help people the tools to do so, it is a win-win for everyone. So, hopefully I get to keep this slightly personal glimpse of Mike up on the blog.  But just in case I don’t, just remember it was here when you see the all official, “We are now Authrorized Quickbooks Resellers” and that Mike is basically living to not only sell you the right Quickbooks solution for your needs but to help Quickbooks make your life better.

~Mindy

Let them know you are away

Mindy here. Pet peeve time. Monday-Friday, from 8 until at least 4, there are certain people that I expect answers from when I send an e-mail. I am not begrudging anyone time off but I have to tell you, the people who take the time to have an auto-reply saying I am out of the office are my favorites. I am a planner, and if I know someone is going to be gone a week, I know that I can also set that aside for a week, instead of keeping it on my desk in case they email me back. 

So, here are the handy steps to setting an out-of-the-office message using Office 2016. Happy Monday! 

Go to File, and you will see Automatic Replies, Click on it and fill in the blanks. As you can see, you can set for both inside your organization and outside. I set both but depending on what is going on, I may leave two separate messages, Outside the organization, I tell them someone they can contact instead of me. Inside, I tell them how to get a hold of me, or when a good time to get a hold of me is if they absolutely need to talk to me. 

Set an automatic reply when you're out of the office.

Little Girl Lost in a Technology World

Some amazing things happen as you age. You look back on your life and think about what your plans were and if you are lucky, you figure out that the world changed around you and you adapted. When I was a senior in high school, I took a computer class. I can’t tell you that I liked it. I can tell you that if I would have been half as interested in school as I was socializing, we would have all been better off. But it is what it is, and life took me on a journey and here I am 51 years old and working for an IT Company. This is my side gig, honestly a favor for a friend, that turned to a hobby, that has turned to a passion. However, my real, full-time job still has IT in the name as well. I am the IT Coordinator taking care of around 175 users for a Community Action Agency in south central Illinois. That job is a passion as well, but it is STILL not my primary job. My primary job is as the Energy Assistance Coordinator for the agency. I am responsible for the program for our agency that helps low-income, the disabled, and the elderly have energy security. That position is my main passion. I have for many years though, been labeled as a problem solver, and that is where the thread runs through my life. All of my jobs, and titles boil down to helping make people’s lives better.

As the IT Coordinator for the agency, my main job was to put out the fires I could and know when to call in the big guns of our IT Consultants. We have 9 counties which actually span several hundred miles and I have traveled from one end of our agency to the other in a matter of hours more than once. Usually the fixes would be simple but in our line of work, computers are a necessary means to an end and almost nobody in our agency was hired particularly because of their computer skills. Over the years, I had learned a great deal and was actually starting to feel comfortable being called the IT Coordinator. When I took on the position, everyone in the main office had computers, and there were maybe 30 users outside of that office. As we grew, our need for support grew and we were realizing we were outgrowing our IT consultants. I started looking for alternatives.

First up to bat was a company from northern Illinois. They quoted a price per year that is more than my wages. This was to be my backup. The one that only handles the stuff I couldn’t. I had learned how to take care of a lot of things myself, so this kind of price just would have been laughable had I not desperately needed someone who could really do what I needed done. I dropped it for a few months and another company came on the horizon.  They quoted me a price per year that was about half of what the first company came up with, but still more than a not-for-profit could handle. I passed again, knowing we were falling farther behind in the technology world, but not knowing how I could help it. Hence the name of this post, I felt very much like a little girl lost in a technology world and was seriously afraid that if we went on much further the way we were, we would be too far gone to recover easily.

Enter Mike Miller, TEAM ITS, LLC. I met Mike at a Chamber of Commerce dinner. He was giving a presentation on Cyber security. He wasn’t 10 minutes into his speech and I realized some of the things he was telling us not to do, was the very things I had been being told I wanted to do.  Part of me was upset immediately with our current company, but even more, I was upset because I hadn’t studied these things enough myself or I would have realize this too. Two weeks later, Mike sat in my office and asked me why I wasn’t running terminal servers. I was very honest with him, I didn’t know what that even meant. Nobody had mentioned terminal servers to me before. I asked him to fix me a quote and I had no doubt in my mind but what he would come back with the same pie-in-the-sky numbers that I had seen the previous two times. But he didn’t. He came back with a plan. Because we were falling behind in technology, it was going to be a “rip the band-aid” period of time to do the initial upgrade; but then the rest was up to me. Mike, and TEAM ITS co-owner, Eric Kline, both assured me that they were very comfortable with teaching me how to take care of my own infrastructure.

I have learned how to take care of adding my own users and maintaining them, how to restore a file from our backups, how to check the bandwidth on my point-to-point radios and much more (all things that I either didn’t have at all or had always been treated like I wasn’t smart enough to do by my other consultants) . As my turn at this blog progresses, I will share some of those things. I feel I have the right amount of “non-tech speak” that I might be able to help some of you understand that computers are seriously not as scary as they feel.  And, it is no secret, because I do the marketing for TEAM ITS (another story for another day), I hope to help you understand how these things that have helped me can help you as well. I am hoping to have occasional blog posts from the tech guys too, so whatever your depth of understanding, there should be something here for you.

So, welcome to our new blog, come visit often. And as is always my wish, my hope, is for your lives to be made better through these articles. Please feel free to comment, or email me @ mbrowning@yourteam-its.com

Mindy