Monthly Archives: November 2017

How I Handle Email

I’ve come up with a slightly complicated system for managing email, but one that works well for me. Most people are happy with just using Gmail or something like that, and if it works for you, great. But I have a few needs that Gmail won’t satisfy. I want my email sorted by category, automatically and accurately. I get a lot of spam and junk email and don’t want to have to see most of it, but I don’t want to miss anything that might get miscategorized as spam. I want to keep all my email on my main computer, but still want access to important email on my smartphone.

Here’s what I do. You can pick and choose among these suggestions, but it works best if you do all of them.

1) I have my own domain, which is something I recommend for everyone. It isn’t expensive, and gives you an email address you own, that can’t ever be lost against your will, as recently happened to people using Verizon email addresses. Even a Gmail address can potentially go away. If you want to use Gmail, get your own domain and forward that email to your Gmail account.

2) I use a different email address every time I register on a website, and set up my email account as a “catch-all” so I will get any email sent to my domain (anything@mydomain.com), rather than having separate mailboxes for everything. For example, if I register on xyz.com, I use the email address xyz@mydomain.com. This is very important for security. I can be reasonably sure that if I get an email from XYZ Corp. at the address xyz@mydomain.com, it is legitimate. Likewise if I get an email supposedly from XYZ Corp. but it comes to a different email address than xyz@mydomain.com, it is probably a phishing email. This protection works very well. Further, sometimes email addresses “get loose” when a company gets hacked or sells their email list. I can then change the XYZ Corp. account to use a different email address (say xyz-2@mydomain.com, or just cancel the account, and then route all email to the original address directly to my spam folder.

3) I have an email client running on my main computer that downloads, sorts, and stores all email I receive to any of my various email accounts. I use an email client called “The Bat!” by http://www.ritlabs.com (yes it has an exclamation point in the name). The Bat! is very configurable, which makes it more complex than most other clients, but if you’re comfortable around computers you won’t have trouble figuring it out. It does cost money, but not a lot, and I think it is well worth the cost.

4) I use an email classifier called “PopFile” that works as a fancy spam filter, and assigns a category to every email I receive. I have a dozen or so categories, each of which gets routed to a different folder in The Bat!, and some of which get additional processing like being marked read, or having a copy sent elsewhere. PopFile works by intercepting POP3 traffic and processing it to determine what category it belongs in, and adding a flag to it which specifies the category. It requires “training”, but is probably 99% accurate once you’ve given it a few examples. You do have to correct it when it miscategorizes something, but that only happens with a couple of emails a day, and is very easy to do.

5) I have a separate Gmail account that I only use for copies of emails that I want to have available on my smartphone (there are a few PopFile categories that I consider “important”). The Bat! forwards copies of those emails to that Gmail account, and they pop up on my phone. I review them several times a day when I’m away from my computer, and delete them from the special Gmail account (remember that there is still a copy stored in The Bat!) when I’m done with them on the phone.

This whole procedure is kind of old-fashioned (few people still use POP3 for email) but it works for me and newer ways of dealing with email won’t do everything that this does. Enjoy!

-jimc

Goodbye Hurricane Electric, Hello Namecheap!

I’ve been putting this off for months, but I’ve finally made the change, and it wasn’t that hard!

What change, you might ask? Well for the past 12 years this website was an increasingly embarrassing one-pager. It was hosted by Hurricane Electric, one of the earliest hosting companies (they did manage to get a two-letter domain). I’ve never had a problem with them, but they seem to be getting out of the hosting business and don’t offer the latest bells and whistles (like automated WordPress installs). They were also costing me $10 a month, which for a small website was a bit much.

I had Hurricane Electric providing my nameservers and email service as well as hosting. Switching over was scary because I have a lot of ongoing projects and it wouldn’t do to start losing emails. Especially if I broke things and couldn’t figure out how to fix them quickly.

My first step was to build this new site using another domain I have (exeye.org) so I could get it minimally presentable before the cutover. It turns out that WordPress is not very good at being moved; instead of having everything relative like any good programmer would design things, WordPress is full of absolute paths and names of external resources like the database. I was a little overwhelmed by the prospect of having to move my website from exeye.org’s WWW directory to exeyesoftware.com’s new home. The NC how-to page, which was not very encouraging, came out to be 41 pages long when I printed it. Luckily NC support, which is very good, handled the job of moving WordPress for me.

I also created a new catch-all email account for exeyesoftware.com at NC and set up my email client to be listening to the new account in addition to the HE one. Finally I turned on NC nameservers for the domain. For a day, while the new nameservers took over, both the HE account and the NC account were active so you’d get to me regardless of which nameserver you got. After a couple of days I just removed references to the HE email account, and it was all done.

Now I’ve got all the goodies of a modern web host, like cPanel, WordPress, and a zillion other things. I don’t have extensive experience with other hosting providers, especially the current crop, so I don’t know how NC compares. All I know is that I’m really happy with them, especially their support.

-jimc

My VoIP Book(s)

For the past couple of years I’ve been working on a book for beginners to VoIP. I’ve learned a lot over the past few years by implementing a VoIP PBX for a client and for myself. One thing I learned is that VoIP is insanely complex, and that the existing books for VoIP beginners don’t tend to start at the beginning. So I somewhat naively figured “Why don’t I write a book for beginners myself?”. After all I was a beginner, so I know what beginners need.

Well that has turned into an on-again, off-again project that never seems to get closer to being done but manages to consume vast amounts of time. I’m going to try to get something published within the next few months, but I’ve been thinking that for a year now. We’ll see.

The book is tentatively titled “Installing Your First VoIP PBX — Working With Callcentric and Grandstream — Volume 1: Orientation”. Originally I wanted the book to have both an orientation and specifics for setting up a PBX and VoIP phones. What I’ve learned is that that is simply too much for one book, and further, that VoIP hardware is evolving so quickly that it is impossible to keep hardware-specific content up-to-date. To adapt to these constraints, it seemed more sensible to produce three shorter books rather than one huge one.

The plan is to get the books produced by Amazon’s on-demand publishing service, Createspace. It’s reasonably priced, and aside from the fact that Amazon keeps a lot of the money, it has the huge advantage of not costing anything to get started.

I’ve been distributing a small number of copies of the book by email to interested beginners who are willing to critique it, as well as to VoIP professionals who are willing to tell me about any mistakes I’ve made. If you fit into one of those categories, contact me with your email address and I’ll send you a review copy of the book in its current unfinished state. I’ll stop doing this once I’ve got enough reviewers, or the book actually makes it into print.

-jimc

The New EXEYE Website

We’ve had a simple one-page website for (way too) many years. What you are reading is an attempt to move into the twenty-first century. Welcome!

I will not be selective on what to publish here. I’ll include information about EXEYE projects and products, technical information learned while doing EXEYE work, as well as posts about things unrelated to EXEYE that I think might be interesting or useful to others, so you might find anything here.

I’ll try to keep the category structure relevant to help you find your way around, but I’ll leave in to Google to handle the indexing. I expect most visitors to find this site by searching for a topic I’ve written about.

Enjoy!

-jimc