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Using mail aliases to provide a united front to customers

December 2nd, 2014

A huge company might have a support email address of Emails that are sent to this email address are not received by a single person and then forwarded to an account manager, they typically go into a customer management system. Their subject, reply identifier and who it is from are matched with on going emails hidden behind support tickets and the whole thing is tied together in a way that allows customer service executives to analyse how well they are dealing with their customers.

These systems cost a lot of money, require people to run and generally don't make sense to have unless you have more than one person doing the same job role. If you have a small company where there is one salesman, one accountant, a couple of techies and a managing director then a standard issue tracking system will suffice. In this kind of company everybody knows their customers and can enter information into a tracker, and if Bob isn't in today then he'll get to them tomorrow because he is the only person who knows how to handle that particular enquiry.

But what happens when Bob leaves, goes on paternity leave or has a serious accident. When you work for a company with the customer management system this is not an issue because those emails were never sent to Bob, they were sent to a pool of people logged into a management system. All Bob's business relations have been sending their enquiries to so how do we tell Bob's contacts that they must start using a different email address. Here in lies the problem.

What most small companies do is they change Bob's password and various other people log into his email account and essentially pretend to be him. This is open to all kinds of problems. Bob might use his work email for his personal banking for example. You as a company are opening Bob up for an unscrupulous employee to steal his identity. There is always the question of who owns the email account and the email in it. The users think they own it when in fact the company owns it. This can also be a bone of contention when Bob returns from his operation only to find out that is colleagues have been through his personal mail while he was away and know about the nature of his sensitive operation or his ongoing affair with the secretary.

Another side effect of trying to reuse Bob's account after he leaves is that there is no handover. Bob's account is left open and if you pay per email address (like with Google) then this is costing you money. The excuse of we need Bob's email history is a poor one as services exist to transfer email from one account to another. [ Small plug for me, use my contact form to ask about our email transfer services. ] Generally what happens is that the company is now paying for a lot of email addresses from people that have left because they are too frightened of missing something instead of creating a procedure to handle a person leaving.

What I generally advise my customers to do is think about the roles that your company does that lead you to interact with the outside world. For example your internet account, web hosting account and domain names, all your social media accounts might be the responsibility of Bob. While your HMRC VAT account, accountant, auditor, companies house might be the the responsibility of Sarah. You may have to hire seasonal staff to do maintenance services in summer because more people come through the gate as a result there is more damage or vandalism. It might not be the same person each year but they would still need to be registered with trade suppliers and the like. In the winter there is not enough work for a whole extra person and Bob would handle it.

If Sarah or Bob leave it can be a real nightmare changing all those email addresses you have registered with Twitter or the Revenue. Forms usually have to be filled in, signatures and declarations have to be made by post, the whole process can take a long time and is subject to all kinds of delays. To use our example if Bob signs up for a new internet social media network or a new cloud sharing system site he will use the email alias assigned for that role e.g. "", but if he signs up for a tools manufacturer's monthly newsletter he'll use "". If Sarah has to sign up for corporation tax online she might use the email address "".
Your companies internal IT person would create an alias for "it" and "accounts" and make them point to Bob and Sarah respectively. The alias "maintenance" would be assigned to Bob in the winter and then re-assigned to whom ever they hired during the summer months.

Now it is simple for the company to continue its services with external organisations when Bob is replaced with Jeff. The internal IT person will simply redirect to The external companies don't need to know or care that you have made a staff change.

The granularity of this is worth spending time thinking about though. Sure you can have one email for every service you sign up for but there is an administrative overhead for all of this. Part of that overhead lies with your IT department but mostly it becomes about managing all those accounts on different systems and their related different passwords. Generally speaking think in terms of roles and responsibilities and you won't go far wrong.

Sendmail takes ages to start

November 12th, 2014

I had a development server that was taking ages to start. I checked the /var/log/messages file which didn't reveal anything so I checked the /var/log/maillog which showed the following lines:

Nov 11 16:16:11 myhost sendmail[1334]: My unqualified host name (myhost) unknown; sleeping for retry
Nov 11 16:17:11 myhost sendmail[1334]: unable to qualify my own domain name (myhost) -- using short name
Nov 11 16:17:11 myhost sendmail[1336]: starting daemon (8.14.4): SMTP+queueing@01:00:00
Nov 11 16:17:11 myhost sm-msp-queue[1344]: My unqualified host name (myhost) unknown; sleeping for retry
Nov 11 16:18:11 myhost sm-msp-queue[1344]: unable to qualify my own domain name (myhost) -- using short name
Nov 11 16:18:11 myhost sm-msp-queue[1363]: starting daemon (8.14.4): queueing@01:00:00

The salient line for the delay is:

My unqualified host name (myhost) unknown; sleeping for retry

myhost was in the /etc/hosts file and it resolved just fine. I typed domainname and got (none). It's a development machine so I didn't want to set up a domain for it.

The solution was to alter my /etc/hosts file to include the localdomain suffix thus: myhost myhost.localdomain

Now sendmail starts quickly as expected.

Sean Lock's view of Russell Brand

November 10th, 2014

8 Out of 10 Cats: Series 18 episode 6. Aired 10 November. I always wondered why so many people were agreeing with Russell Brands view of politics. Finally the wonderful Sean Lock says what I've been thinking for ages.

Sean Lock: If his [Russell Brand] book is called Revolution he shouldn't be out there trying to sell it, he should be try to encourage people to steal it. Shouldn't he? He has back peddled so much now, he started out saying "Don't vote, it's stupid pointless to vote, don't vote". But he's now come out, Russell Brand and said, "no, what I'm saying is actually is 'who am I supposed to vote for?'". So if you reduce that to what he is actually saying; it's what everyone says at every bus stop or newsagent "Huu, politician, what are they like hay?" "How did that lot get in, I don't know, bloody hell".

Melanie Chisholm: In his defence, we all bitch and moan about the government because they are shit, they have been for years and it's getting worse. How are we ever going to change it unless we come together and all stop moaning at bus stops.

Sean Lock: The main problem is now that people get the politicians that they deserve because they don't take any interest in politics. And him saying stuff to people who are disaffected already and aren't engaged with the political process "Don't vote" is the most moronic self serving pathetic bit of attention seeking wank that he has ever spewed out of his mouth in history.

Debugging PHP in Eclipse

October 21st, 2014

Debugging PHP in Eclipse requires 2 parts. Firstly change the php.ini to include the xdebug sections. All the relevant information can be found in the article Setting up XDebug under XAMPP. Second create an Eclipse run configuration to connect to the remote server which is what this article is for!

You don't have to do this next step but it makes administering your project code easier because you're not forcing all your code to live under the Apache document root. I have different workspaces for different clients so I add an Apache alias to join all the projects together under the same document root. Basically all my code lives in my client folders (along with their accounts etc) and the document root just has virtual directory pointers to those locations.

  1. From the XAMPP Control Panel, click Apache Config httpd.conf
  2. Add the following lines after the last <Directory> section. This tells Apache about the folder you would like to include.

    <directory "D:/BigSoftLimited/Clients/Oscorp/workspace/goblin/src/web/">
    Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes ExecCGI
    AllowOverride All
    Require all granted

  3. In the alias_module section add the following line to slot the afore mention directory under the document root:

    Alias /goblin "D:/BigSoftLimited/Clients/Oscorp/workspace/goblin/src/web"

  4. The restart Apache.

I'm using Yii for this PHP project but the options should be the same.

  1. Ensure you have PDT (Eclipse for PHP developers) installed.
  2. From the menu select: Run->Debug Configurations...
  3. Highlight the PHP Web Page icon on the left and click the New launch configuration button above.
  4. Give it a sensible name: Yii Goblin.
  5. In the Server tab change the Server Debugger to XDebug.
  6. In the File section Browse and navigate down to the index.php file that starts the application. In my case /goblin/src/web/index.php where web corresponds to the /goblin/ on my web server.
  7. Uncheck Break at First Line.
  8. If like me you are developing all your projects under the same document root then you will have to uncheck URL -> Auto Generate and enter the entry path to the applications. My Yii project is located at /goblin/index.php. You could set it up as /goblin/index.php?r=controller/action but you will find that you are constantly changing the configuration to test new controllers.
  9. You can leave the rest of the options as is and click Apply followed by Close.

To run

Yii commands I keep forgetting

October 15th, 2014

Been using Yii for a while now and there are several functions that I need to use from time to time that don't seem to want to stay in my brain. Most of them seem kind of obvious now that they are in front of me which is why this is so annoying!
It's usually quite difficult to Google them because they are related to doing ordinary Yii type things and so I can't make the search specific enough to narrow it down.

Here is a pretty good guide to creating URLs in Yii2 which contains the things I want (amongst others) but these are the few I use when I need them.

Creating a URL without the wrapping anchor tag

This is handy when you need to generate a URL in order to place inside some Javascript.



echo Yii::app()->createUrl("recording/scheduler_data");




Creating Javascript names using compatible with Yii models


echo Chtml::activeId($model'model_field_name');

Produces: RepeatRecordForm_repeat_from


echo Chtml::activeName($model'model_field_name');

Produces: RepeatRecordForm[repeat_from]

More to come but I haven't got time to dig them out at the moment.