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Of emails and aliases

I have been thinking a lot about emails and aliases in the last few days.

Emails are the core identity of one’s online presence. They are everywhere, and form the base for any online service.

For years, I have used a Gmail address.

While it’s convenient and free, it isn’t the best choice for a privacy-focussed individual like me. In the last couple of years, I have started reading more about privacy online and opsec. I have gradually made changes to my workflow, including getting a custom domain based on my name.

My address is hosted on ProtonMail with a custom domain. In my opinion, ProtonMail is the safest email can get, thanks to their built-in PGP encryption and published security details.

Having a custom-domain based email also gives me the flexibility of moving to another email host should there be a need. In the event ProtonMail shuts business, I can always move that domain to a new email host and don’t have to update all of friends and family about a new address.

That’s the beauty of owning a domain-based email address — I get to carry that email identity until the end of the internet.

That’s a standard practice that everyone must adopt. However, isn’t always the case due to lack of domain knowledge.

HEY email is Basecamp’s bet in turning that around. They aim to offer a Gmail-like service that’s easy to get started and manage, and respect users’ privacy. Of course, it’s a paid email service.

I managed to secure my preferred address ([email protected]) on day 2, and it has been a little over a week.

So far, their features are okay. I cannot say they are marvelous. There is a learning curve to the product, as it’s not a traditional single-stream inbox. They have three feeds which constantly need to be juggled between. In particular, their Paper Trail feed doesn’t differentiate read vs unread emails, which is a road blocker, for me.

Most annoying part is probably that there is no way to have a sender’s emails arrive in two different feeds. Right now, all of their logic is based on sender’s email address. Some businesses user the same address for marketing emails and support. In that case, it’s hard to make sense of where to divert the emails – Imbox or Paper Trail?

The founders say all of this likely to improve in the coming months. As with any product, I know this can improve. Time will tell.

ProtonMail on the other hand, at a fraction of HEY’s cost, fares a lot better. Especially considering the fact that HEY does not offer PGP-encryption.


Encryption is one part of opsec.

I came across a tweet from Pieter many months ago.

He mentioned something an idea that was very intriguing:

Seeing emails as security keys too

What this means is that, in the event an email address gets leaked in a breach, it wouldn’t fall prey to credential stuffing attacks.

I briefly toyed with the idea of using a custom domain with random characters, but later discovered SimpleLogin and AnonAddy. Both services are much better implementations than what I was doing with a custom domain.

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Telegram stickers to Signal

I found an interesting Telegram bot last night. Signal Sticker bot helps you convert Telegram stickers to Signal. It’s as easy as it can get,

  • Initiate a chat with the bot.
  • Send a sticker, one that’s not animated.
  • Wait for the bot to generate a Signal-specific sticker pack link.
  • Click on it to install the pack on your Signal. 🀯
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BYE mail

Found this on my Twitter feed today. Copy and design are guaranteed to give you a laugh. πŸ˜‚

And, look at this! ⬇️ 🀣

Jokes aside, they are actually donating these funds to a great cause — Black Girls Code.

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GitHub repository refresh

I received GitHub.com new design for repositories and I like it! πŸ’― πŸš€

Particularly like the latest release section on the right sidebar. I do WooCommerce support as well, and part of my job often involves downloading the latest copy of the plugin. It must be easier with this prominent placement on the right sidebar.

As I understand, this is not available for everyone yet. This is a feature preview that you can sign up for.

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Basecamp’s Hey and Apple

I generally do not like DHH’s tweets, but this case is a bit different.

For one, I am sad about how monopolies like Apple can crush software makers, small or big.

And, I am glad to see DHH voicing Basecamp’s concerns in the public. Members from the EU antitrust division are looking into this issue, other companies are sharing their stories as well, and in the event something positive comes out of this, it’s not just Basecamp that would benefit. It’d be all software developers publishing to the App Store.

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My DNS setup

I have been obsessed (in a good way!) with DNS lately. Mostly around pihole and NextDNS.

Pi-hole is a free, open-source software that enables you to block or monitor DNS queries. It supports a variety of operating systems and is straightforward to setup. The community on reddit is helpful as well. It’s meant to be used on a private network, like your home WiFi. You could optionally pair it with a VPN, so that you have access to this pi-hole on the go. That means, you can block ads/DNS queries while on your tablet or smartphone as well.

I used it briefly, but I recently switched to NextDNS, because I want a public/online DNS resolver (as opposed to a local DNS resolver, which is Pi-hole) that can work with a commercial VPN like NordVPN or Cloudflare Warp. NextDNS is nothing but Pi-hole on the cloud. It’s in beta and free at the moment.

I wanted to write about my DNS setup across devices, here goes:

On Android: I use NextDNS’ DOT (DNS-over-TLS) setup. This is easy because of the “Private DNS feature on Android 9 and above. This also works well when I turn on NordVPN or Cloudflare Warp. I suspected that their own DNS servers would take precedence, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. That’s nice!

On Mac: I use NextDNS’ CLI app. This runs a NextDNS daemon locally and all DNS queries are encrypted.

On Windows: I see no CLI app for it, so, I use the official NextDNS Windows app. It seems to be work pretty well with wgcf for Cloudflare Warp. Because Cloudflare Warp is based on Wireguard protocol, so, is easy to use with the Wireguard Windows client. The wgcf app that I have linked to, can help generate a config file. NextDNS and Wireguard seem to be work well!

One point to note would be, remove all DNS resolvers that you have entered on your Wireguard config file. When you do that and save the changes, you will also see an option kill-internet switch.

Uncheck that.

Wireguard Windows client does not seem to fallback to the system-level or router-level DNS resolver when no DNS resolvers are listed on the Wireguard config file. Without unchecking it, all DNS queries/internet just stop working.

On iOS: I couldn’t get NextDNS to play well with NordVPN, Cloudflare Warp so far. This is mostly due to how iOS defines VPN settings – there are two kinds, “VPN configuration” and “personal VPN”. I haven’t got the hang of either so far; as and when I do, I shall publish a new blog post.

On router: So, I have setup NextDNS on invidual operating systems, but as a fallback, I have it setup on my router as well. This must also benefit all my guests when they connect to my home network. As I use pihole (running on a Raspberry Pi) as my DHCP server, I could enter any DNS resolver on its settings. I used NextDNS’ stubby configuration and it works like a charm.

Pi-hole settings indicating the DNS resolver in use

I found this blog post to be helpful in setting up stubby on pihole.

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WordPress.com to WooCommerce

April 2, 2019 marks one year since I started “officially” at Automattic. The past twelve months have been a terrific journey — speaking with thousands of WordPress.com users, seeing their challenges firsthand and working with developers on priotizing issues.

I can confidently say I love what I am doing here, but I figured I needed to experience other parts of support at Automattic as well.

Automattic has this process called rotations — wherein, you can jump to another team doing similar work with a different product. I will be doing just that in Q2 of 2019; I am moving from WordPress.com support to WooCommerce support for three months.

Rotations are not limited to Happiness (support) division, but there are rotations within product teams as well.

There’s also another process called support rotations, wherein new hires would start their first two-weeks in Happiness division. It does not matter where one’s core work lies; whether one is a designer, developer, working in finance, or working in any role, one would be spending the first two-weeks answering customer queries on email and live chat.

I have experience in working with WordPress sites (both WordPress.org and WordPress.com) but I cannot say the same about WooCommerce.

I have known WooCommerce as a plugin to build e-commerce stores at the outset, but it does have a massive potential to do things beyond simple stores. I am looking forward to learning more of WooCommerce extensions, WooCommerce apps, and bring back these lessons to my home team.

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One year at Automattic

I cannot believe I have been here for one year already, time flies! While technically I started at Automattic only by April 2, 2018, I started on the Happiness Engineer trial process by Feb 21, 2018. That makes it one year at Automattic.

I am happy about what I have learned so far, achieved and I am thankful for the opportunity to be here.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It started with a team meetup (yes, my second week of being a full-time Happiness Engineer was at my team meetup in Singapore) and has come a long way to having the comfort of working from anywhere — I have worked from home, visited relatives in various cities, friends, and traveled with colleagues to Vietnam for a localmatticians meetup.

One of the key reasons to why I am very happy with my job goes to the first line of the Automattic creed — I will never stop learning.

Being a Happiness Engineer has been rewarding with a lot lessons to learn every day. You get to chat to the millions of users, see what their problems are, see how you can address it and work with the product teams to prioritise them.

Outside of core work as well, there is a lot of time to invest in learning new skills, which the team, lead and the company is very supportive of.

Another reason why I am very comfortable at what I do goes back to the creed again — I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. In the span of one year, I have sent over 35,000 Slack messages and have done numerous internal blog posts!

What’s next for me? I have been learning to code and I hope I will be building my own Gutenberg block or WordPress plugin. πŸ™‚

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When a team collaboration software went backwards with an update

I use Slack at work. It’s fantastic, enables easy, fast communication with peers and offers excellent automation integrations. Before Automattic, I did not use Slack.

One of the best things about Slack is its extensive keyboard shortcuts and markdown integration. The following are a few which I use often:

  • Command + Shift + M to open the Activity section.
  • Alt + arrow-up for moving to the previous Slack channel/DM.
  • Alt + arrow-down for moving to the next Slack channel/DM.

At least, these are a few that I use often but the tool offers a lot more which you can check here.

Having said these, I also am very cautious about how I manage notifications on Slack, how and when I set my statuses — when I am away from the desk, or I am not at work for a few days, that’s something I clearly indicate on the status.

I use the /status update command to set an update.

But, a few months ago, Slack made a change that I am very disappointed with.

They updated the status’ functionality to show it only until the end of the day, and at the 0001 UTC mark, the status disappears.

I live in UTC+0530, which means, I am sleeping when Slack removes that status notice. When I am back at work the next morning, I notice that the status has disappeared, and has been so for a few hours!

This was not the case earlier.

This is plain going backwards.

As a responsible user, I reached out to their customer support team, to share my thoughts on this update. As a tip, they highlighted that I can click on the status dropdown to set a duration for that status, or that I can make use of Command + Shift + Y to set the status.

The problem with the two approaches above is that, it requires mouse input at the least, to click on the duration dropdown.

As a keyboard-heavy user, my preference is to make use of its robust /command feature to do all things.

It’s been a few months since I suggested they set Forever as the status duration by default, or that they allow users to choose a default status expiry, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

For now, I am considering writing a Slack bot that automatically sets the previous day’s status at the 0001 hours mark, but I haven’t checked their API so far.

Update: I created a one-page app and put it on GitLab CI to clear Slack status expiration at 2300 or 2330 every day. I have published a post on it here.

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No more Facebook

“Your account is scheduled for permanent deletion”

Goodbye!

I no longer have a Facebook account. πŸ‘

I feel very relieved about this change.

Day after day, there are new posts about how Facebook is violating user privacy and selling our data for their profit.

It’s time to stop this mess. I managed to have my Facebook account deactivated for over an year, but I realised it’s time to actually delete it and did so.

So is Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn. It feels so, so good

I do have a test account though, on Facebook, that I have to use at work, for work.