Tag Archives: Networking

MailChimp: Data mining your subscriber lists.

MailChimp Logo

To find out more about your MailChimp lists, create a segment.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, (just dumb, I guess..) but MailChimp actually has a pretty good built-in querying ability directly from the management interface.  It involves the segmenting function, where you create subsets of your list.  MailChimp calls these subsets segments, and the classic use for this is to break up a large list so that you can test different segments by using different subject lines, or mailing times.

From a database perspective, it looks like this:

MailChimp vs. Database
create a segment = create a query
segment = query results, aka a “cursor”
segmenting options = query criteria, aka  an SQL WHERE clause
saved segment = saved query results

In SQL, this would be the equivalent of:

SELECT * FROM <my eMail list> WHERE <my criteria> INTO <my segment>;

The available criteria are fixed, but there are a lot of useful ones. You can combine up to five criteria in a single segment request.  For example, let’s say you want to see how your list is performing. You can query how many subscribers opened:

  • all of your last five campaigns
  • one or more of the last campaigns
  • none of your last campaigns

The criteria are chosen from a convenient drop-down list.

Mailchimp Segment Drop-Down

Mailchimp Segment Drop-Down

To see the results of this query,  click on the  “Preview Segment” button at the bottom of the dialog box.

MailChimp - Segment Results

MailChimp – Segment Results

One thing you may note in the listing above, is a field called “Grade Level”.   We include this field on our MailChimp sign-up form. It will be populated only if we acquired the user through that form and if they choose to give us that information. We also ask for zip code.

The “Contact Rating” field, with the stars, rates the quality of the contact based on their campaign activity and the length of time that they have been on the list. Oddly enough, new acquisitions start out with two stars. If they fail to respond to several campaigns, then they are demoted to one star. These stars are the basis of determining how to pare down your list; eventually you might consider removing 1-star contacts altogether, or sending them a “re-engagement” eMail beforehand. This is well documented on the MailChimp web site. To cut to the chase…  4 and 5 star members are engaged, 3 star members either have low activity, or haven’t been on the list long enough to earn a higher rating.


Archive and Transfer your Google Mail

When an employee leaves your company you may need to archive.

Using the Chrome browser:

1. Sign into your google account.

2. In a new tab, browse to the following address: https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout/custom/gmail,calendar

3. Follow the wizard.  You can choose to make an archive just of your eMail and calendar, or you can select information from other services such as Google Drive.

4. Once you have selected the services that you want,  click on Next

This shows the file version (zipped),

5. Click on Next again   This starts the archive process.  You can access the archive after it created by clicking on the link that Google sends to your eMail account.

Hosting with Linode

Let us sing the praises of Linode, a provider of cloud-hosting for Linux-based applications and web sites. At work we’ve had two of these for a year, and they just work, exactly if the servers were sitting in the next room, except that they provide a slick management interface, and you can mix and match among different disk sizes, RAM, processors, redundancy, and various flavors of Linux. Access is via their web site, or via a secure terminal session.

Here’s a shot of the backup screen, (click to enlarge).

 The Linode-provided backup is great for basic backup. It makes backups on a weekly and daily basis. It also has a provision for a snapshot, which is a great way to back up the server before doing upgrades. Full details are on their web site, including the costs, which are a few dollars per month depending on the size of the Linode.

There are some limitations…for example with MySQL database transactions. Linode recommends that you perform a data dump of your MySQL data so that the dump files get backed up.

Set default text editor in Ubuntu

I was looking at our crontab on our backup server. This server is an Ubuntu 12.x LTS machine, and the logs for this were being sent to my predecessor, and I wanted to change the eMail address. The usual procedure is to run the following command to see and edit the contents of the crontab file:

crontab -e

This brings up the crontab file for the root user.  Crontab is probably for another day, but basically the script shows a MAILTO address that I wanted to change.

# Edit this file to introduce tasks to be run by cron.
#  m h  dom mon dow   command
0 23 * * * rsync -avz root@ /backup/hive
0 18 * * * /backup/scripts/rsync_agave.sh
0 17 * * * /backup/scripts/rsync_basil.sh
0 1  * * * /backup/scripts/rsync_mysql1.sh
0 4  * * * /backup/scripts/rsync_mimic.sh
0 2  * * * /backup/scripts/rsync_petal2.sh

Running the crontab-e opens up the file in the default editor. Well, I didn’t even realize I had a default editor on this machine, and the file opened in vim, which is an archaic program, beloved by Unix freaks.  I prefer the nano editor, especially because I don’t use a text editor much, and I know how nano works.

After some digging it appears that the default editor is set as an environment variable specific to the user.  It can be changed by running the following command:

export EDITOR=nano

You can view your current environment variables, by typing


There will be a line similar to


In Ubuntu, you can also use the following command: 

sudo update-alternatives –config editor

This will bring up a list of editors from which you can choose your favorite.


I have taken over our webmaster’s job, following the departure of that esteemed and highly valued person a week or so ago. We are going to miss him in ways that we haven’t even figured out yet.

I’m scrambling to find out everything that the webmaster does…and finding that his tool set was basic in the extreme; roughly a text editor and and the superb open-source FTP program called FileZilla. With these two tools, he maintained two major web sites, and several minor mini-sites, built on-demand web pages for special projects, ran our DNS, managed our open-source survey system called LimeSurvey, did our analytics and search-engine-optimization (SEO), slung PHP code like a master, and managed a series of third-party advertising tiles and several mailing lists.  Whew!  

Sharing QuickBooks 2014

Having recently converted from Peachtree to QuickBooks, we wanted to add an additional person on QB so that both our accountant, and our CFO could work in QB at the same time. We started out sharing the data file from the CFOs computer, but that bogged things down.

The solution is a “server”….  which runs the QuickBooks Database Manager program.  We repurposed an older but reliable HP workstation by installing a fresh copy of Windows 7.  Then, we ran the QuickBooks installation program from their support  link.

While it looks as if you are installing the full QuickBooks program, an initial screen asks what kind of installation you want:

  • Use QuickBooks on this machine, and access a company file stored elsewhere on the network 
  • Use QuickBooks on this machine and host the company file for others on the network 
  • Host the company file on this machine, but access it from Quickbooks on other machines 

By choosing the hosting option, the installation program will install the QuickBooks Database Manager program only, on your server machine.


Assuming you are not on a domain network, (i.e. your users’ machines are set to be a workgroup) you need to create user accounts on the server machine which match the Windows 7 user accounts that users use to log into their personal workstations.  This will allow people to connect to the server machine using their usual account name, without having to enter it a second time.

Set up the data folder 

Create a folder on the server machine to hold the QuickBooks company file. Copy the company file into that folder.

This needs to be  a shared folder on the network. The QuickBooks file doctor program will turn on folder sharing, and make the folder accessible. Download and run this program on the server.


At this point, you have the company file loaded on the server. Now, run the QuickBooks database manager program.  This will ask you for your company folder so it can find the company file.
Note that the database manager runs as a background service,  so you can exit the program, and the file will still be available to the network.

Now you can go to each workstation, and access the file over the network. I edited the opening QuickBooks screen to show just the networked copy of the file. The next time the user starts QuickBooks, it should automatically open the file without requiring a Windows network log in. Of course, the QuickBooks log in is still required.


Using the database server does not require a QuickBooks user license. You can safely move a company file to a server, and have the same number of users access the file. 

Details at:

Test PowerShell scripts with VirtualBox

I’m at the point where I am going to deploy some PowerShell scripts to my end-users, and I want to test the scripts on a fresh installation of Windows before trying them on the user’s workstations.

I use VirtualBox to create virtual machines for Powershell testing. Virtual box works on Linux, Mac and Windows host machines. My 8 gig Win 7 box works fine with one or two “guest OS’s”. On my 4 gig (ancient) iMac, it works, but its pretty slow.

One thing that I find amazing, is you have to run updates on all those Windows Virtual machines. Don’t expect to be fully productive on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, when Microsoft sends out Windows updates. It isn’t unusual for updates to run for an hour or more.

Be sure to install the VirtualBox “guest additions” within your Windows VM, once you’ve got your Windows VM up and running. You may also want to change the network settings to “bridged”, so that your VM is on the same network subnet as your host machine.

One other disconcerting thing; your Windows 7 desktop may come up with a black background depending on whether you are running the aero interface and other such fripperies. You can turn all this stuff on if you want; but it will slow down the performance.

More details on setting up VirtualBox are located  here and here.


If you have installed Windows 7, you may find that it has come with Powershell V.2 out of the box. You can test that by starting a PowerShell session from the command box (just type Powershell.exe).  Once Powershell is up, issue the following command at the prompt:

get-host | select-object version 

If it isn’t 4.0 or later, download the latest version of the Windows Management Framework from Microsoft.