Vincent Ritter

A weekend of change and consolidation

A lot has happened this weekend. Nothing bad! More a re-think of everything I do to stay productive, happy and private. Not to mention all the services I use to fuel my lifestyle.

I had the urge for change. I’m not sure why… perhaps because I had a strange week last week and had to get back into the swing of things. My mind trying to find something for me to do except “work”. I think it… worked.

So, I’ve been up to a lot and hope that the things I list below will find their way back to my “Tools I use” page that I had a long time ago on my site… but have removed since. Here goes (long post).

Removing Google Drive and Google Photos, and account.

This one was on my list for a while. I wanted to finally rid myself from my Google account. I paid for G Suites ($10/month) as it fitted my need for Google Drive storage and the added benefit of using Google Photos.

Don’t ask why I used Google Photos. I was pretty impressed of it when they announced it. Wishing Apple would copy a few of the features. However, as good as it is… I don’t think Google gets the Privacy aspect of it and I started to feel I’m getting pushed in a corner and having to find that balance of sharing stuff and getting a good service.

As my wife and I use separate iCloud accounts, it was useful to have all our devices sync to the one source, which was Google Photos. It was super convenient.

Why the change? Easy, Google.

There are certainly trade offs with using iCloud Photos, but I think it will get there and it’s close enough for our needs.

After making the decision I started deleting all of our ~ 50k photos and videos. There is no option to delete everything at once. Shame. Only 1500 at a time. You have to select one, hold shift and then scroll. This works in theory but I found many times that the site comes to a complete stop. To be expected though… a lot of images being loaded.

That took some time to do, but happy I did it.

The next step was to remove my reliance on Google Drive for my backups. When you subscribe to G Suite you get unlimited storage. Whatever that means. I had around 5TB of data on Google Drive (I am sick of having to type Google all the time). These were just backups of my machines, some archives of documents that I never need to touch anyway (but good to have for reference). On top, there was the photo storage taking a small chunk of that.

I use Arq Backup to backup my computer. I used to use Backblaze but I didn’t want to rely on paying the monthly and loose my backups. On top, being an independent/freelancer is hard at times… so sometimes you cut out a few things and consolidate. Cut costs where you can and work with the basics. Anyway, I’m thankfully in a different place now. On top, Backblaze didn’t suit my own personal needs, especially their policy with network drives and others (not that I have anything complicated). Sure, $5 a month is cheap… and they have some other cool features.

Arq Backup, allows me to select different locations for backup - be it AWS S3, Google Drive, Dropbox… you name it. This is great, and I could actually have my backups at different locations/services if I wanted to (at the same time). I elected to use Backblaze B2 which is very similar to AWS S3… just way cheaper in the long run.

The backup has taken the weekend to upload to B2, for around 1TB of data (in total, after consolidating stuff). With that done, I deleted everything from Google Drive. Went to my admin account page and delete the whole service. It took 24 hours for them to delete it. Fine.

Bring cloud sharing in-house

With Google gone, my next task was to find a way to rid myself of Dropbox too. I used their file sharing extensively. I also kept files there.

I was looking at ways of integrating with Backblaze B2 and some sort of web app that I could run myself. I wasted time running up both ownCloud and nextCloud on one of my servers. Massive waste of time and poor UI and to be honest… a bit too much for my needs. I also found out that there was no easy way to hook that up to B2. Uninstalled.

I finally landed on a little app called Dropshare. It’s pretty neat, it’s available for both the Mac and iOS.

For the Mac it sits in your menubar at the top. You simply drag a file you want to share to the icon, it uploads it and copies a link to your clipboard - which you can send onwards. I like the simplicity of it and I love the idea of knowing that the file I uploaded actually belongs to me and doesn’t get used for any other purpose. I can bring up the actual “bucket” in Transmit and delete the files.

Dropshare also allows me to have a custom landing page for each upload, if I so wish. So this is a great fit of what I want to achieve. I don’t share much, but this is just great and simple to have around.

I also have the option for using a URL shortener for files. I’ll probably try and create my own at some stage… Dropshare allows that! In fact, it gives you many options on how to rename files and other cool things.

Anyway, the aim for all this was to try and consolidate all these different providers and bring it closer in-house where possible. Having everything stored in one location and not jotted around many different places just keeps it simple for me. Granted, for the web stuff I do (asset hosting, CDN, server & database backups) I keep those on AWS S3… for now.

Changed my email provider

Something I pondered for a few years now, but I wanted to move my main email account (this site) to a dedicated email service. Away from Gandi IMAP (which comes free with the domain). So, I went for FastMail. Something I had on my radar for a while.

Set up was simple… and OMG they had actual profiles you could download to your computer. No set up required. It literally blew me off my chair! Not only that, they showed you a QR code that you can scan and download the profile to your phone. DONE.

All that was left was move my email over. I didn’t have much. Only around 2GB. They have an import function, which would have worked but I elected to just fire up Mail and drag all of those emails over. I don’t organise my email as such, I just have one massive Sent box and everything else is in Archive. Simple. Search is good anyway. Plus I usually remember specifics for my clients present and past.

That didn’t take long and saw them coming over on my iPhone and obviously their nice web client. NICE!

I went to DNSimple and clicked the “FastMail” button and boom, everything was changed for me. Or so I thought…

Email was coming in fine to the new mailbox and I proceeded to disabling my email account on MailRoute.

MailRoute sits between the sender and your inbox. They are great for detecting junk and has been an amazing service for the many years I used it.

Anyway, email was working fine for 12 hours or so without issue. The next morning I had a few emails, to the new mailbox. NICE. By chance I had a log in link sent to my mailbox, but it never arrived. OK, strange. I tried sending to the account directly through my iCloud account. I got a bounce back. Whoops.

Turns out that the MX record for MailRoute was still there and was resolving to them instead of FastMail. This was my fault. Removing the record fixed the problem immediately. I also enabled MailRoute again… just in case someone would try again and their MX records haven’t switched over. They would then allow the email through to my new mailbox.

With that done, my email usage experience has gotten better. I’m super happy with FastMail. I don’t think I’ll ever look back.

A new domain registrar

I’ve been using for many many many years now. I bought hundreds of domains through them, both personally and for clients. They had a super simple clean interface, nothing in your face and I liked that there was no friction. Their prices were good and fair. On top, they gave you loads of features out the box - like free IMAP email and other things.

However, I think it’s time for a change. They recently updated their main UI… not saying it’s bad… just it’s a bit too much for me. It looks too flashy and in your face. Now… I don’t mind change, I embrace it (usually). But I think they missed the point. The web is supposed to get easier, not harder. On top, I’m having to keep separate accounts jotted around for different clients, which now is a pain. True, I could stick to their old interface; that will go away one day.

So, in a bold move I moved this domain name over to DNSimple. It was super easy to do and their pricing is similar to what Gandi would charge. It was pretty much done within an hour and there was no service disruption (except my email hiccup above).

I’ve been using DNSimple for about 2 years now and had a really great experience with them. From their services to their just plain super awesome customer support. They are a great bunch and I love interacting with them (although rarely).

Personally I get good vibes from them.

I did try Hover a few years… but they weren’t great. Always blocking my account because I was logging in through my VPN, using a card that was issued in a different country than my VPN and on top, when I used a client name, didn’t match my name. They did promise it won’t happen again. But it did, three times. Phone support was great though. Anyway... boring.

It’s my plan to exclusively use DNSimple going forward. It will be a long process if and when a domain comes up for renewal. I could do them all at once, but I’m in no rush.

But why

There is no easy way to explain it, it’s how I work. When I feel stuck I try and do something different, so this was it.

I wanted to explore options to rid myself of the dependancy on many little services here and there and bring most of it in-house. I am privacy conscious so deleting my Google account was a major win this weekend. On top, having sorted out my sharing and backup needs have eased my mind. With the email I wanted to get it transferred over to someone that does email well (and that are privacy first) - plus, moving my domain meant I actually needed to look at doing that anyway.

By consolidating every-now-and-then I make sure everything keeps running smoothly and that I can simplify my way of doing things. Granted, I rely on third party apps, but at least I know my data is in good hands (or so I believe, ha).

I'm better off and haven't increased my monthly outgoings in any significant way. Yes, I had to buy software, but that's OK with me. Even though I now pay for email and storage, I actually reduced my monthly outgoings.... and I'm getting more from it.

I wanted to do something like this for a while, so I’m happy that I scratched that itch. My mind is at rest and I’m feeling more productive, just what I need to nail a few client projects this month.