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Millstones. I have them; some are personal, most professional. Today I have one less than yesterday, but there are still leftovers. I’ll tell you about the one I ticked off.

Back in 2013, or perhaps 2012, my mum told me she was researching the first world war, specifically how her town of Selby in North Yorkshire was affected by it, and how it was told through the media, primarily the Selby Times newspaper.

What began as poking around and research soon turned into a visions of a printed book. I was asked about the technicalities of publishing a book. I offered my help and knowledge-sharing, both with the technical side of digital pre-press and also production of an ebook. I don’t recall the exact date I got involved, but it was a considerable time ago. I know I was living in Cornwall, but beyond that my mind is fuzzy. It’s been a year, I’d say. Give or take.

I received Word documents and spreadsheets in email, all of which had been pared down and proofed. I started to process the info and create a style guide, choose the typeface, and so on. I’ve lost count of the number of badly-produced books that I’ve seen, and I didn’t want this to be another to add to that pile.

I had a job to do, and no defined deadline. This was a failure on my part. My mum is the best in the world, and she’s patient. She understands me (mostly). It didn’t matter that I was doing this without payment; she’d decided that proceeds were going to be donated to the British Legion, so I couldn’t in good conscious take a cut. I worked on it, and worked on other things, and did the whole dip-in, hop-out thing for a while.

Then winter arrived. Mental health issues got the better of me for what seems an eternity, and work stopped. Some time later, I got back on the horse, and carried on. I had a hard drive crash the morning of mum’s visit back in spring. Backups saved the day, but it was embarrassing; not only was I taking far too long on this project, but it was like going to a presentation and having nothing to show.

I would wake in the morning and have dark thoughts about the day. All these things that were supposed to have been done, but hadn’t been. Add in a fresh, daily helping of depression, anxiety and frustration to the mix, getting out of bed most mornings was something of a challenge.

Then I got sick. I picked up Bell’s palsy from somewhere and my face stopped working. I was prescribed steroids which started an achingly slow recovery, along with most of the side-effects listed on the paperwork. That was another month gone.

I’ve been involved in the production of numerous books before now, but this one took far longer than I had anticipated. I stopped counting at 250 hours. The duration of the project compounded the progress to an extent that I was having to redo work over and over, because it wasn’t right. That is, my work wasn’t right, my presentation wasn’t right; the content itself was fine. I estimate there have been 15 or 20 iterations of this book. The woolliness of the figures is due to my brain wanting to push them out and forget, I suspect.

Yesterday, I finalised everything and had the print-on-demand version uploaded to Lulu for sale. The ebook version has gone up today. I have a Kindle version to make later, and that’s it. I’ll be done.

Bluntly, I got this one very wrong. It’s entirely my fault. There’s no lengthy post-mortem to chew through: I screwed up, that’s it. This will happen again, I’m sure of it; I say this as a pragmatist and not a defeated, dramatic soul. I have, however, used this opportunity to assess some other millstones in my life. My discipline and motivation were both sapped by the tough winter, and it’s taken this long to figure out what’s going on.

I’m fighting urges to use solitude as a solution. Alone time is both a comfort and a complicator, especially with the unpredictability of my brain. After a particularly long work session, I drove out to new surroundings last week and took a notebook with me. Like, a paper one. And a pen. I don’t do that. Ever. Some years ago, I went through a phase of having notebooks just in case, but I was so married to my screen that they were unused. I didn’t get around to writing anything down, mostly I was out for the sake of a scene change and some mental decompression.

Millstones are really unpleasant. With the length of time I took over resolving this one, it became normal to have it hanging over me. It was always there, and it affected me far more than it should’ve. Frankly, if I’d‘ve treated it like any other work project I’d‘ve had it done and dusted within a fortnight and it’d still be 2013. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Tomorrow I will wake up and will not think about overdue books. I might even have the stones to work on another millstone.

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The last few days have been challenging, rewarding and thought-provoking.

I’ll start with Saturday. I took a call from a local client, he’s from a well-known family in the village and his computer had died. I visited his house on Saturday morning, complete with my tech support toolbox and set to work diagnosing what was wrong: a dead laptop hard drive.

This is a pretty common thing for me to deal with and ordinarily a replacement would be overnighted from Amazon, and I would fit it on arrival. There is a conversation about backups – more accurately lack of a backup in most cases, sadly. In this case, I’d supplied and fitted a Time Capsule backup system a few weeks previously, having diagnosed a poorly hard drive.

The solution was a new hard drive, restore from Time Machine, perhaps re-apply the latest OS X combo update for good measure and we’re back on the air. My proposal to order a drive on Saturday for delivery and fitting Monday was eschewed in favour of my finding a local supplier of a new hard drive and fitting it the same day.

I’m totally fine with this, and it was a good opportunity to see how the local stores deal with this kind of situation. I called Blue IT in Bude. Answer phone. I called Bude Computers and spoke to a human. A replacement drive was put aside for me to collect, about 50% more expensive than Amazon would’ve been.

On the way to Bude Computers, I pulled into the trading estate where Blue IT are based. They were closed. The opening hours indicated they should have been open, but they weren’t. Having peeped through the letterbox at Blue IT, I’m not sure I’d‘ve been happy buying items from them, anyway; it looked like the dark corner of a corporate IT room that time forgot.

Anyway, onto Bude Computers. I bought the drive, had a fudged receipt (it was for an external drive by another manufacturer), and I put it down to the store owner making a quick buck on a quiet Saturday. Hard drives are usually sold as retail or OEM, the retail type usually being the more expensive option of the two. I’ve been charged an external drive retail price for an internal OEM drive. Were it not for the urgent/emergency nature of the situation, things would’ve been different.

As I drove back from Bude to Crackington, my mind was racing on thoughts of business. Could I do a better than Blue IT and Bude Computers? Possibly. I have a solid reputation locally, with plenty of repeat customers. It’s not a self-sustaining business just yet, but it’s getting there. Some marketing and the right approach on my website will help out no end.

Yesterday, Sunday, was morning technical support and afternoon photography. I haven’t used my camera in a long while, mostly because the last time I bent the pins on the card slot and that was an expensive (out of warranty) fix. About a week or so ago, I was invited to take photos of the Cracky Coohas; a local, all-girl group who were having a surf session. How could I possibly turn down the opportunity to take photos of girls in wetsuits and swimwear? Yeah, that.

In 75 minutes I took 926 photos on the beach. I took 4× 8GB CompactFlash cards with me and used them all. I didn’t bend the pins on my slot, which is some achievement considering I was swapping cards over pretty rapidly standing in the Atlantic with water lapping around my knees and £3k+/4kg+ of camera & lens in my salty hands.

Looking at the photos, I made some mistakes from lack of practise (ISO too low, rough composition on a few otherwise good shots), but the dry spell is over. I am hoping for a 2% success rate with the shots I took, and a few gems are already starting to show through the lightbox. It’s got me thinking about the sea, about photography and where they play a role in my life.

Today is Monday, and I spent an hour watching Jen have her first acupuncture treatment with Penny Matheson in Dizzard. Lots has come of this session, none of it relating to Jen being pricked with needles.

I’ve taken a liking to Dizzard since I moved to Crackington. It’s peaceful, even compared to Cracky. There are many good people there, and when the fibre broadband finally gets installed (Q4 this year is the current forecast) it’s going to be top of the list for me to live, either via self build, renovation or buying as-is.

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I can remember an email to-and-fro between Ian Whalley and myself, perhaps a decade or more ago, in which we were trading light-hearted tales of Internet domain purchases, registrars, horror stories and the like. Ian was rightfully pleased that he’d managed to get all his domains under a single registrar. I seem to remember, but this is a little hazy, that he’d got visibility of all his expiry/renewal dates, and also the correct details in the whois info.

My first domain purchase was with an Australian registrar whose name escapes me. I registered beatnik.net when I visited Sydney and Melbourne for trade shows during my Sophos days. It was cheap, as I recall, and I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, but it looked really cool, or something. On my return home I realised that I’d made a terrible mistake and sort of left it to fizzle and die.

Next up was gaekwad.com which I registered with Joker in Germany. Joker was a pretty neat system, but I never really got on with it. It was too technical for my know-how at the time. I snagged a few other domains around the same time, none of which really came to anything.

For reasons of national pride, or perhaps a feeling of bashful stupidity, I moved my domains to 123-Reg. I bought a few more, sold a few, let a few lapse and forgot to renew a couple. This was how it worked until perhaps 2004 or so when I discovered Go Daddy.

The following decade was not kind to my wallet. No fault of Go Daddy, I might add. They offer(ed) a vast selection of domain types at silly prices. They had coupons to take the prices down even further; coupons which, thanks to an affiliate deal with Podshow/Mevio/BiteSize TV paid my mortgage and bills for a number of years.

I’ve been gradually slimming down my domain portfolio from a somewhat bulky and expensive 250+ domains to the low teens. I’ll soon be in single figures, which is nice. I’ve sold a bunch, made a nice chunk of money on smart purchases and been a little unscrupulous with some others that took advantage of fat-fingered people mashing away on keyboards. I regret nothing.

I’ve had a working relationship with Go Daddy since 2006, both as a promoter and user of their services. I have been paid, continue to be paid and have paid them. I’ve seen good times and not-so-good times. They’ve received about $US10,000 from me for domains and related services, and I’ve been paid an order of magnitude more in return for my promotion services.

I’m an expert at navigating my way through the checkout process and avoiding the infamous Go Daddy up-sell. The domains I buy are likely loss-leaders, and the offers of additional trinkets with a cheap domain almost always get ignored by me.

Earlier this week I was reading about Go Daddy on Hacker News. Sort of due diligence after the fact, I suppose. Go Daddy are reportedly preparing for IPO. My understanding is that Go Daddy management changed considerably in the past few years. The founder and CEO has moved on, the higher-ups have changed tack and the current Go Daddy is not like the old Go Daddy.

This New Go Daddy is a double-edged sword. They’re less brash and showy, the commercials are less controversial and I’m confident the guy in charge doesn’t hunt elephants. New Go Daddy acquired Media Temple, the hosting company I’ve used since 2006. At the time it was announced, the somewhat inevitable customer backlash and fallout was brief and likely lost Media Temple some customers. It wasn’t a fatal move, both Go Daddy and Media Temple are still trading.

I don’t have access to any concrete source on this, but I’ve read reports that Go Daddy is losing money and has been for years. Having poked around and read lots of articles, I’m a little nervous having my hosting and domains under the same ownership umbrella. Not, like, losing sleep or jaw-clenching levels of nervousness, just a bit of first-world mild concern.

Last week, I started a search for a new domain registrar. I’ve skim-covered my emerging email strategy in recent days, but domains are another thing that need my attention. Most of my domains are with Go Daddy; there’s one with Names Beyond that I wasn’t able to migrate to Go Daddy. Remember that conversation with Ian about one registrar? Yeah, that rogue Names Beyond domain that wouldn’t budge has been annoying me softly ever since I bought it.

Someone once said that domains are like girls: most of the best ones are taken, but if you go searching around in faraway lands you can find some real gems. With that in mind, I went to Antigua and Barbude to buy pr.ag. Well, I didn’t actually get on a plane or anything proper, I just found a registrar that would sell me a domain for a reasonable price. Names Beyond got my business.

Most domains, subject to some rules and exemptions, can be transferred from one registrar to another. Go Daddy, for reasons that aren’t clear to me, cannot transfer a .ag domain in, which meant I was stuck with Names Beyond for the duration of my ownership. Actually, that’s a lie. I thought I was stuck with Names Beyond and their low-rent website interface. It turns out, I’m not.

I am about 24 hours away from being in the position that Ian was in a decade or more ago in having all my domains under one registrar, with full visibility of expiry dates, correct whois info and a slight air of smugness.

Did New Go Daddy figure out how to transfer that lone domain into their flock? Did Names Beyond make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Nope. I went to the French.

Gandi, a French company, are now guardians of my domains. In less than 24 hours I’ve moved 90% of my portfolio over to them. There are three more in the process of moving over: two .co.uk domains and pr.ag. Names Beyond are going through the motions of transfer, I’m told. I am not totally confident that will happen without a hitch, but that’s life.

The two .co.uk domains are ultimately handled by Abominet Nominet and need their IPS tags switched from Go Daddy to Gandi in order for me to push them. Go Daddy don’t offer this tag switching function in their control panel, it’s a case of contacting them and asking them to do it for you.

I prepared some text to raise a support ticket at Go Daddy. Get all the info into one message, get the issue raised, get a ticket reference, get it actioned, get the domains out, drink a celebratory beverage, etc.

New Go Daddy have removed the ability to raise a support ticket over email.

Huh?

OK, no worries, I’ll email their catch-all support email address. That didn’t help, and advised I either call them on the phone or use the live chat. To their credit, they have a UK geographical number (020 for London) to call, and it appears to be VoIP. This means I can call from my mobile phone and use my allocation of minutes.

Great. I call. There’s a 30 minute wait to be served. I hang up.

I look around for the live chat option. I fail to find it. I’m pretty good at Internet-fu, and this stumped me for a considerable while (almost 5 minutes). It turns out that the live chat option was not available from my browser, either because of my browser being unsuitable or because – and get this – the live chat queue was too large. Seriously.

I’ve read reports of people not being able to find the live chat portal thingy because there’s too much of a backlog. Conspiracy theories aside, it turns out that I wasn’t able to start a live chat for a more obvious reason: where I live.

Compare the following two screenshots. The first is how the Go Daddy support homepage looks if you’re in the US:

This is how the same page looks from the UK (note the change of country in the top bar):

The red emphasis is mine. In the US, there’s a live chat box. From the UK, there’s only a telephone line option. – no live chat. A telephone-only option for an Internet services company. This is baffling.

Note that when I took these screenshots it was before 5am at New Go Daddy, so their live chat was closed and the wait times for telephone support are much lower. I used the US location option and used live chat. I waited about 40 minutes, not quite focussing on the other tasks I was doing due to the inaccurate waiting time progress indicator, before a cheery-sounding lady responded with something that I’ve never experienced in live chat. I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t save the chat log, but it was along the lines of “Hi, please ask your question and be prepared to wait a little while because I’m dealing with other people at the same time as you”. I assumed this kind of thing happens a lot at busy companies, I’m not naive – but it didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about the whole thing.

After a 40-minute wait, and a further two-minute chat to request an IPS tag change, I was done. I received an email with an incident number and advice that this tag change process would take 24-72 hours to complete. I don’t mind that it’s going to take 1 to 3 days to get this job done, but a email or form to open a ticket would’ve been far more straightforward for me. Selfish, I know.

Interesting point to note: zero up-sell on the chat. None. No attempt to have me stay with Go Daddy. I guess this is down to the operators not having any spare time to sell stuff while they juggle a bunch of support requests at the same time.

As is customary at the end of a support chat, I got to rate the operator and leave feedback. I was going to request that they bring back the email support option, but on the basis that I’d essentially just quit New Go Daddy as a customer, I left that field blank.

A tinge of sadness, a little reminiscing about how things were, and I was done.

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My quest for minimalism is continuing and my thoughts have turned to email. Like many people, I have a Gmail/Google Mail email account. My email strategy is changing, and that Gmail account will likely be closed by this time next year.

I was an early adopter of Gmail and I’ve recently passed my ten-year anniversary of having a Google account: I have no clear recollection of May 31, 2004 when I created the account, but I remember it was via an invite. I was attracted to a bunch of free email storage, and at the time I liked the Google user interface. I was instantly impressed and switched from Hotmail, which I used as an ISP-agnostic email account.

Hotmail was, well – it was Hotmail. It worked OK, and as long as I logged in every month or so, it was a free email account. I’d dabbled with Hushmail too, but ultimately moved away from it. I’ve been using Gmail for ten years, both as a catch-all for website sign-ups and predominantly non-work emails.

I have become reliant on Gmail. A massive Internet company looks after a large proportion of my email. I have, to date, never had a problem with Gmail. It works. I access my email over IMAP, which means I use Gmail for their email infrastructure and use a mail reader on my computer & phone to view, send and sort.

Looking at the things Google have done in the decade-or-so since Gmail first appeared, I am not confident my method of accessing Gmail will continue. No inbox ad revenue is gained from people like me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gmail IMAP was switched off in a year or two. I have no data to back up this statement, it’s more of a gut feeling than something based on empirical evidence.

Google make lots of stuff, then decided to stop supporting some of it – and that’s totally understandable. Whether or not various security agencies have read access to my email makes no difference to me at all, perversely. What does concern me is that I don’t have any control over the @gmail.com part of my email address.

I’m going to switch to Fastmail. I will use my own domain for email, and pay for the service. I pay for website hosting – something that I place a commercial and monetary value in having run well, and be able to control. My email is equally important to me, if not more so, but having it on a free service (Gmail) does reduce its perceived value to me.

The Fastmail model of charging on a per-account basis has got me thinking, too: how many email addresses do I actually need? I have ten. Some are for projects that are active, others are throwbacks to another time where things were needlessly complex. The web hosting I mentioned earlier allowed me to have a bunch of domains, each with a bunch of email addresses. I created many of both.

This complexity issue is actually two-fold as my web hosting is changing, too. I’ve been with Media Temple for years, since I saw a recommendation for them in my early podcasting years. Renting a virtual private server on Media Temple gave me the scope to rapidly set up websites and email addresses without paying each time.

The only thorn in this arrangement was that the server itself was maintained by Plesk, a software product that appears to be written and maintained by drunk Russians. I say this not in a xenophobic way, but having visited St Petersburg it’s pretty clear to me why they invented vodka. My setup is a server, with Plesk, some websites, some email and some databases. Whenever Plesk updates itself, I cross my fingers that nothing breaks. I’ve lost count of the times it has.

So, email is going to Fastmail. Web hosting will move to Digital Ocean and/or Linode. Having trialled a few things with Digital Ocean, it’s been an eye-opening experience. Sixty seconds to commission a server instance with an operating system, then you get to work on doing what needs to be done. Install as little or as much as you need or want to. That’s it. There is no Plesk. There is no Plesk. NO PLESK.

Back to email again. I’ve got ten years of using Gmail to gradually undo. Hundreds or thousands of websites. In some respects, it’s tempting to cherry pick the top twenty sites that use it, switch the email address to my new one and then move on. Realistically, though, this is not ideal. The ‘forgot password’ option won’t work when I delete the email address – which then raises the question of value for that particular website. Do I need to have an account there? Can I cut my losses (if there are any) and register a new account?

The work involved with a gradual migration is tolerable, and I figure that if I don’t use an account in the next year or so, it’s likely I can do without it. This caveat doesn’t apply to work-based stuff as I have that taken care of outside of Gmail.

When my Gmail account hits its 11th birthday next year, it should be all but unused. Whether or not I can still access it with IMAP is another question entirely.

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I can finally see space where I live. Free space that’s a direct result of a concerted effort to declutter and minimise what I own. I’ve achieved things in recent months that have eluded me for years. I’ve gone from the mindset of a packrat to something on the way to bodged minimalism. The mental processes are addictive, truly and honestly.

A few days ago I had a conversation with Jen about death. We’re both going through a period of depression in our own worlds, punctuated with occasional spikes of mania. We’d both had challenges over the week that had left us struggling on one level or another, and tensions spilled out. We talked about death, dying, not being around, that kind of thing.

It was all very matter of fact — unsurprisingly so. People who go through depression do so in their own way. Some folks cope, some work through it, others don’t. As crass as this may sound to you, I’m lucky with my depression; I don’t keep it a secret and frankly I’ll talk about it with anyone who asks, including a small bunch of people who seem to understand what I go through. This conversation was something of a turning point for me, especially combined with the progress I’d made in terms of decluttering and minimising. I could see evidence that my bullish attitude toward not keeping useless stuff around the house has finally starting to have a positive effect. I’d decided by the end of the conversation that I want to continue my path and make a life worth living.

Living alone is a unique experience. It’s liberating and frightening, it’s restorative and exhausting (sometimes at the same time) — I’d also go as far as to say it’s an experience everyone should have at one time in their life. I’m responsible for everything that happens around here, and for the last two years I’ve been finding my way. In some respects, living alone for two years has fundamentally changed me, but in other ways I’m just the same; I still (still) want a better life for myself, and I have an inkling that I’ll never be entirely content with what’s going on, whatever that might be.

This to-and-fro about death covered different experiences we’d both had, plans we might make for our own deaths and at the time I talked openly about how I presume I will take my own life at some point in my future. No emotion, malice or resentment, just an understanding that when my time comes it’ll be on my terms. Crucially, there’s no current schedule to do it. There have been times in the past that I’d‘ve preferred to just not be alive, something that appears to be common with many people going through depressive episodes, but I don’t have any suicidal thoughts right now.

The daily decluttering of my house is a warped simile of my brain. I haven’t been coping very well with life since about 2008, and although the happy graph is trending upwards overall it’s had many bumps along the way. This ideal of making a live worth living is a very recent realisation and will certainly influence what I do in the short, medium and long terms.

I don’t have mania episodes very often, and I’ve learned to handle the ones I do have. To that end, I haven’t made any abrupt path-changing decisions in the days following this chat. It probably helped that my family were staying down here last week. It’s an annual gathering that is becoming something of a tradition; last year it was Center Parcs, this year I suggested Cracky as a destination and a local holiday home became their base for 7 days. In that respect, I wasn’t alone. Truthfully, I never go a day without seeing at least one person I know, but having people around to keep my mind on other things was likely a good move.

It’s very clear to me that I’m not living the life I want, but at the same time I know I’m not a lost cause destined for quiet mediocrity. I have no desire to be well-known or a key industry player. I do want to carve out my niche and make the best of it. There are, of course, a hundred or so things I could be doing right now to get me closer to this seemingly mythical ideal path that I want to be on. Maybe this current path I’m on is just meandering a bit and I’ll figure it out on the way.

There is no big ending to this blog post. I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing: keeping a low profile, being relatively strict about what comes in and out, and treading the paths to a life worth living.

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