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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.

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Matt on distributed/remote work

Automattic’s CEO, Matt, spoke on distributed work and how we approach it.

My first job was at Freshworks Inc. and I jumped ship in approximately 8 months, in favour of remote/distributed work.

Primary reasons behind the change:

  • I get to work from the comfort of my home.
  • I choose my own work schedule. I initially chose to work from 10am to 6pm, but these days, I work from 5.30am to 1.30pm. See how it gives me the flexibility to focus on personal things during the rest of the day?
  • I am not really comfortable working/being around many people. A small group’s fine, but when there are many around, not necessarily talking to me, I find it tough to focus on my work. Traditional office spaces is a no-go for me.
  • I am also able to leverage my skills to the best – I am more comfortable with written communication/documentation over in-life communication. It’s tiny things like this that bring out improved work results, productivity and help one to do better at their job.

One of my coworkers also wrote on “Thriving as a remote worker“, which you should read.

There are tons of other benefits to distributed work – GitLab.com has put together an interesting handbook on how they manage their company, and a website on remote work on how others approach it.

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GOT Official Tease

I literally have goosebumps at around 1:18 on the video! Bring it on! 😍

Cannot wait for April 14. πŸ™ƒ

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My favourite Android apps roundup: 2018

I thought it would be a nice idea to share a list of my favourite apps that I have either found in 2018, or continued to use through 2018 as a blog post. Here goes.

Telegram

Telegram continues to be my most favourite medium for communication. It’s easy to use, available on multiple platforms, offers the flexibility of sharing files and offers e2e encrypted communication between devices the chat’s launched from.

Also I saw many friends move from WhatsApp to Telegram in 2018, and I am very happy about it.

Keybase

Keybase is probably my top choice for sharing secure information. Unlike Telegram, it offers the flexibility of enjoying e2e encrypted communication between all the devices the user has. To be more clear, while e2e chats on Telegram are available only on the device the chat’s launched from, with Keybase one can enjoy e2e chats on all devices, with realtime synchronisation.

ProtonMail

My privacy-focussed choice for apps continues! I also moved from Gmail to ProtonMail in 2018, and I am very happy about it. I have written about the move here that you should read.

Tusky

I also signed up for Mastodon, on mastodon.social, as an alternative to Twitter and other social networking accounts. While there is no official client for Mastodon on Android, Tusky is fantastic. It offers the ability to use multiple Mastodon accounts at the same time, lists, blocking, muting and supports saving of drafts as well!

There are a few other Mastodon apps for Android as well, with Mastalab being another popular one, but I haven’t had a reason to move away from Tusky yet.

NordVPN

I also came across NordVPN’s $99/3 years deal, thanks to a colleague, and I signed up right away! It’s a nice little VPN app that allows usage on upto 6 devices – works well for my family!

SmugMug

While I gave up on Gmail for ProtonMail, I also gave up on Google Photos for SmugMug. SmugMug on Android feels snappy and I am happy with their lowest paid plan, which offers unlimited storage as well!

Signal

It looks like I haven’t mentioned Signal yet. Not much to differentiate between Signal and Keybase, but it’s another encrypted chat system that works good for family needs. I have been reading a lot on Signal vs Keybase, and while it looks like each has its own pros and cons, I am happy with both.

My usage is pretty much split, in that I use Signal for family while I use Keybase with friends.

1Password and Bitwarden

I cannot miss 1Password and Bitwarden. Until 2018, I did not use password managers and when I joined Automattic, I realised password managers are an absolute need for any internet user.

While I signed up for 1Password at work, I needed a solution for families. 1Password for families looks great at $5 a month, but I wanted a cheaper solution and that’s when I came across Bitwarden. At $10 an year, it felt to be the best choice for family/personal records, and I signed up!

Both the Android apps are fantastic, and you should try them if you haven’t so far.

Simplenote

Disclaimer first, I work for Automattic, the company behind Simplenote. πŸ™‚

Simplenote is a nice little note-taking app that synchronises all updates across all the devices I use. I use it mostly for work purposes. It offers the ability to tag notes, use markdown to compose and publish notes online so that it can be viewed by others. You should try Simplenote if you haven’t so far!

Forest

I didn’t start using Forest until a week ago, but I like it now! It’s an app that helps you focus on your goals and stay away from your phone. When you start the timer, a tree starts growing. When you do something on the phone instead, the tree dies.

What are your favourite apps that you have discovered in 2018?

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5 months with ProtonMail and I haven't looked back

5 months ago, I decided to quit Gmail for good and move to an end-to-end (e2e) encrypted email service like ProtonMail or Tutanota. After thinking a lot over this, I settled for ProtonMail with a two years subscription. They had this nice Black Friday promotion from 2017 that I was able to redeem.

I have used Google’s services ever since I first discovered websites in 2004 (I think it was around that time, not very sure).

I wish I had realised the effects of using such services – giving up privacy, being tracked, not owning my own data, being targeted for advertisement amongst many other negative effects – much earlier though!

Signing up for an encrypted email service was the first step for a relief.

I use ProtonMail with a dedicated web domain, which means I don’t use their @protonmail.com address. I had been using the same dedicated email address on Google as well, via G Suite – so, using same with ProtonMail’s premium service was a natural choice and I didn’t have a reason to update my email address everywhere.

I did not explore an option to move all my emails from the previous inbox on Gmail to ProtonMail. I thought it would be a nice distinction to separate unsafe emails on Gmail from safe ones on ProtonMail.

While ProtonMail offers only a web UI and no native desktop apps, I am okay with it. They do offer a service called ProtonMail Bridge, for use with other apps like Apple Mail, Thunderbird, and Outlook. I am convenient with their web app though, for a few reasons below:

  • Automatically attaches my public key on outbound emails for others’ use – they can send me encrypted emails.
  • Can make use of the message expiration feature to send self-destructing emails.
  • Can have multiple ProtonMail sessions on the same browser, without using incognito tabs – each tab has its own session.

ProtonMail being based in Switzerland and using European data servers was another key reason why I preferred ProtonMail over Tutanota.

ProtonMail also claims they do not log IP addresses, but I have noticed that they do log the IP addresses by default. One only has an option to opt-out. I wonder if they can make that messaging clear.

“Think your email’s private? Think again.” – Andy Yen, ProtonMail

I don’t see myself going back to Google’s services or the likes, in favour for decentralised, open-source softwares and services. Especially in the time of unethical practices that companies like Facebook are involved in!

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New .blog subdomains in WordPress.com

I am very excited about this. When I first wanted to create websites/blogs on WordPress.com, an year ago, most of the subdomains I wanted were already used up by other users. I am not surprised given how many millions use WordPress.com every day.

This is changing – you can now choose .blog subdomains for free on the signup flow, gaining yourselves new site addresses like jack.photo.blog, dan.tech.blog. The entire list of .blog subdomains available, is on the page I have linked to earlier.

If you are an aspiring photo blogger, tech enthusiast, cook, nomad, travel blogger or want a plain, private family blog, go, get your favourite subdomain now!