I think the
uses.tech concept of sharing what tools and processes we use in
ordinary life is cool, so here’s mine.
I’m going to lead with what I believe is the most important one. If you’re reading this, you’re online, and if you’re online, you need a good, trustworthy, convenient program to manage your passwords because your human brain is not sufficient for the task.
I don’t care if you use the one I’m about to personally endorse, but you do need one. I personally use Enpass, but I have used 1Password in the past and it is also good. One of the reasons I switched is that Enpass has a single-purchase price, while 1Password is now subscription-only, and I personally prefer point rather than ongoing sales.
Crucially, you must not use a password manager that does not grant you explicit and sole control of your password archive files. Services like LastPass that store your passwords on their servers get breached and cause more harm than not having used one in the first place.
I use Enpass on my laptop (macOS), my desktop (Windows), my server (Linux), and my phone (now iPhone, previously Android and Windows Phone). Enpass is the only product I’ve seen that has a native application for all of them.
Both Enpass and 1Password provide the following features that make them worth using:
- multiple Vaults allow you to organize data into independent, fully separate, groups that you can control separately. For example, I have a vault of just my own credentials vs a vault of shared family credentials.
- automatic breach detection: they will alert you if one of your credentials has been found to be in a service breach
- browser plugins: when you go to a website, they can autofill your existing credentials, or automatically store new ones, and most importantly: when you are on the “change your password” form, they can detect it and automatically fill in your old password, generate a new one, submit, and save it on success, with one click.
- generation rules: websites (like banks) can impose their own rules about password length or contents. The password generator form has toggles for whether, and how many, uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and symbols to put in the generated password.
- sort by age: you should generally rotate passwords bienially, or better yearly, even for credentials that aren’t breached. You should probably, but not many people do (even I don’t) rotate crucial passwords like banking, email, and social media more than once a year. These tell you how old your credentials are and you can set expiry alarms to remind you to rotate them.
- phone keyboards: on both iPhone and Android, both Enpass and 1Password register keyboards with the operating system. When you navigate to a credential form in an application or a browser, you can select your password manager’s keyboard and it will determine which credentials you need and then write them into the form for you. This is incredibly convenient and I really love it.
- 2FA/TOTP storage: you can store your 2FA seeds in the vault rather than in a completely separate app. When Enpass submits a password, it also automatically copies the current 2FA code into the system clipboard so that when the form advances, you can hit paste and immediately proceed. It can also detect 2FA forms and fill them just like it can with a password, but this automatic one-two behavior is very nice.
- synchronization: neither of these operates a synchronization service. Your credentials are in an ordinary file on your computer or phone, and that file is encrypted by a master password that you need to remember and also store in, say, your safe or a bank deposit box. Enpass offers hooks to synchronize this file through services like DropBox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or other. When you do so, it is just another opaque file. Those hosts can’t see inside it.
If you don’t have a password manager, I strongly recommend one. Mom, this means you.
On to the rest of the page.
My longest surviving computer is a 2014 MacBook Pro (13”). My mom got it for me when I switched majors and it’s been with me ever since. I mostly use it as a web browser and a thin terminal connected to a more capable Linux server.
I built my first PC in 2013 (deceased 2017) and my second in 2015 (deceased 2021). I intend to rebuild both of them once I have the spare time and money, and the GPU shortage subsides.
They ran Arch Linux as the primary operating system; in 2019, I reverted back to Windows as the primary and ran the Arch system as a HyperV guest so that I could resume doing Windows-only things like playing video games nicely. Maintaining an Arch desktop in working condition for six years was actually fairly easy, other than the initial learning wall and some sporadic hardware failures. I enjoyed it a lot.
My primary work environment is now an AWS rented machine which, at about $20/mo, will remain cheaper than repairing the deceased desktops for several years.
I started on a Nokia Lumia 920, then 1020. I maintain that those phones, and the Windows Phone platform, are the pinnacle of human achivement in mobile computing and I miss them deeply every single day.
I used Androids for a while but had generally poor experiences with them, and they generally lasted about eight to nine months before a hardware failure required replacement. The last and most egregious failure came when my Moto Z would fail to detect an internal battery when transitioning from a 70℉ building to a 10℉ Utah winter and simply shut down until it was plugged into a wall.
I gave up and bought an iPhone X, which I used (and harshly) from late 2017 to mid 2020. It still works, but I got an iPhone 11 which I am using now.
KDE Plasma offers integration with Android phones which I quite liked, but the macOS-to-iOS integration is also very good. Between the conjoined software and the fact that, observably, Apple hardware is just better able to survive existing with me than anyone else, I don’t anticipate migrating back without a significant cause.
VSCode’s ability to split into a client/server connection and run on remote servers, inside local containers, or across hypervisors makes it an invaluable single-service environment for anything I’m doing. This ability is basically the primary reason I don’t feel an urgent need to repair my desktop, since while my laptop is still seven years old and not in shape to be doing thermally intensive work, it is perfectly able to be a thin client to a rented machine elsewhere.
I currently use DNSimple for my domain names, DigitalOcean for my web-facing servers, and AWS for my personal machines. AWS employees don’t get pain in store credit and DO is cheaper for continuous uptime.