Vincent Ritter

Writing

All my past blog posts for your viewing pleasure.

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 Gandi.net 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.

Removing my content blocker, Just Block, from the App Store.

Today, I am saying goodbye to my little iOS content blocker, Just Block. Not because I have to, but because I believe there are way more amazing apps out there that do a much better job.

Not too long ago I started using 1Blocker for both iOS and the Mac. It’s clean, simple and works really great. Sure, it’s a paid app, but the developer put in a lot of effort - so it’s totally worth it.

Just Block was never supposed to be in that field, although at the time I was dreaming that I could make some sort of public API that any developer could use to stay up to date. Maybe one day.

I had a few updates planned for Just Block, but I just can’t find the time to do what I want to. Not only that, the block list is probably way out of date.

It would feel wrong to have an app, on the App Store, that is outdated and gives people false hope of true blocking of trackers. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the changes.

I had a search around the App Store and there is a lot of crap out there, especially with content blockers. Now… I don’t want to say mine is crap… but I think it could be added to the pile of abandoned.

So here we are. As it was a free app I am not concerned of the outcome of this. Perhaps one day I will return to it. This year is probably not it.

If you want a great content blocker, in my opinion, try out 1Blocker.

I will, however, keep it on my site to showcase.

Simple Schedule - a month after beta.

After spending a tremendous amount of time on shipping a beta for Simple Schedule, fixing loads of bugs and moving hosting provider, I took a break from it all.

It’s now been one month (and a few days) since I launched the beta version of the app. I’m pretty happy where it ended it up and I am also happy that I took the time to learn the process of creating an app using the Rails framework.

I don’t… can’t… go into much detail of what I did for a whole month, so I’ll just dig in on what is next.

The newsletter

Before I move on though, here are some interesting stats from the newsletter that went out. I didn’t track how many people actually opened the email. It doesn’t interest me… I find it clouds my judgement. MailChimp didn’t give me an option to disable tracking on links though… you have to pay for that.

  1. Out of 80 that signed up within the 30 days, 10 were fake accounts.
  2. 1 person, who clicked a link, and signed up via the newsletter form, reported the email as spam ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  3. Out of 70, minus 1, no one signed up from that newsletter.

So, interesting insight really. I’m not sure why people signed up for it and then ultimately decided that a few days later that they don’t want to sign up. Perhaps it was the promise of a free account for people that supported the project. I’m not sure.

However, seeing people sign up to the newsletter gave me hope which ultimately kept me going. I went through some super difficult time in life, so working on the site kept me going. Even if you didn’t sign up, I want to say thank you for keeping me motivated.

Pricing

I decided to ditch pricing for now. Easy as that. My current servers are more than capable of handling the app, so I have no need to do anything special. Once there are a few thousand sign ups, I’ll rethink it. But as long as I can sustain it personally I am more than happy to keep it a free service.

Things are missing

I didn’t complete everything, with two items still outstanding. I’ll get to them eventually but I’m in no rush at the moment.

On top, I have been working hard on client projects. These pay for keeping the lights on and gives me the luxury to make it a free service.

On that note, I would say that Simple Schedule is in a good place and now just needs a bit of time to hopefully gain a bit of traction. I don’t mind if that is a slow process over a year or even longer. My goal is organic traction, so let’s see.

The most important part is that I shipped something, I learned a new framework and that I am happy of where it got me.

What happens after

When someone passes away, they leave all their possessions behind, memories of them in the hearts and minds of loved ones for eternity and, for most of the population, a final resting place where family can gather and mourn. Reflect. This, at its bare basics, lives on for an eternity. Always remembered, passed down generations and generations within the family. Fragments of stories, possessions and sometimes even pictures handed down to family member to family member.

We’re fortunate to live in a digital age, we have tools to make some of these memories last. We can store images, at reasonable resolution, we can store electronic documents of wills and other items. Heck, I think we could even reasonably create a 3D model of ourselves or a loved one that passed away.

Personally, I don’t have many possessions… physically. I’m a minimalist, or try to be. All there is of me are pictures, memories, personal achievements and one thing I value the most, except my lovely wife and beautiful daughter, is my website. This site.

I wrote about it before, but I’ll probably never create physical monuments or build huge skyscrapers that will stand the test of time. No, I’m a developer at heart. I make stuff. For the internet. A digital universe. Something so real, yet not in so many ways.

Everything I make, put out in the world and also work I deliver to clients is history. My history. It’s what I am and it’s what I do. Everything I write here, is history. Good and bad. We all learn from mistakes.

But like anything digital I started wondering, what happens after? What happens when my time comes? It’s only a question of time.

Everybody dies.

“What did he do in his lifetime?”, “He made websites on something we called the internet”. “Can I see his work? Did he write a book about it”…

My website and many others sites, are not a physically printed book. They’re not meant to be. Websites are dynamic, growing with time and wisdom. Books, once printed, are history. Sure, there are second, third and so on editions. Every time we press save or publish a new article on a website, a new edition is “printed”. A new code change. A new edition. A new section on the site, a new chapter.

So, what happens if someone wants to check out my own history, even just for curiosity. Where do they start? Pictures for sure, stories and possessions. But stop right there, my website is now gone - my most valued possession. My digital history that I spent most of my years of my life on. I never printed it. It’s not a physical item. It’s digital. It always will be. It can’t be a book. My domain name, once unique, gone.

Now, truth be told, I have no idea why I’m thinking this. But I know, like many people, they have websites and publish amazing work. Anyone can create a website, apps and what else digital these days. Most things live in the digital.

But the biggest question is, what happens after you have done all your life’s work behind a computer screen, contributing to this digital universe?

It’s complicated. It doesn’t have to be… but it is.

My wife, a bookworm, doesn’t use computers like I do. A fact and trait I love about her, we are pretty opposite when it comes to technology. Sure, she uses her iPad sometimes… but she actually prefers pen and paper. I grew up in the 80s with Star Trek and Star Wars. Of course I like all things digital. Doesn’t mean I had to be. Circumstances could be different. Sure, since I was 5 I wanted to fly metal planes in the sky. A huge computer in the sky!

I know how to boot up a server, create a website from scratch, add HTTPS, buy a domain name and do some other things that some people would call “clever”. No, it’s not clever. It is a machine reading and interpreting a language and doing as I told it to. It’s a language, like any other. I live and breathe it every single day. But, I don’t expect anyone to have the same understanding as me. It might not be their interest. Might be boring to them.

If something would happen tomorrow, I can pretty much guarantee that this site, servers and everything I have ever made and host will be gone within a month. Gone. Probably forever. The domain names gone once they expire. There will be nothing left, no memories of my digital realm. Gone. When my developer plan runs out with Apple, my apps will be gone forever too.

Does my wife know how to get this all running again? No. Do I want her to? No. No, because I know she wouldn’t like it and I couldn’t live with giving her the burden to keep my digital history maintained. And no, because I know it is not her interest. What happens after my wife passes, does she pass on the knowledge? Will my daughter and her children and so on? Probably not. Would they even want to? I don’t know. Am I sounding selfish now?

Sure, we have the internet archive, a website called Wikipedia and some great search engines. But ultimately, they can’t convey the message of the digital “real”. Domain names expire, it is a fact of life. Sure, they can auto renew… but what will that look like in 500 years time? As far as I’m concerned, the only real thing I made are my websites and apps. Not what someone said somewhere on Wikipedia (If only so lucky), only to be edited by someone with a different story.

I don’t know what the solution is to keep these digital lives pure and accessible where and what they are now and, will be, in future. Forever. Eternity. No matter your history, good or bad. For anyone with even minuscule interest for you. May it be very distant and future relatives, or a historian looking for people with specific pasts. You name it.

A lot of our lives are digital now, it seems to be the way of the future. Services come and go and you probably can’t rely on them because they took outside funding with an interest with selling your data to someone else that actually has no real interest to you.

I don’t know what we need. A digital body or non profit organisations to preserve our digital lives for eternity is a good start. We all pay taxes and social contributions, so why not build that into the governments. A basic human right to preserve the digital self… not for profit, but for the greater good. For your family, near and far.

Knowing that this site will remain running, even if just purely static, in 500 years on this very domain… wow. Books can be preserved, why can’t we do the same for our digital lives? Automatically, without much thought, except a one time click of a button that marks your digital live as “preservable”? Accessible to anyone, anywhere.

An insurance, built into our tax systems or even privately, that takes over the ongoing domains, digital assets and you name it.

It sure isn’t an easy task to even achieve something like this. But sitting here… now… seeing more people being “digital” I only wonder what will become of their past digital, yet real, selves when it’s time.

Nothing?

Forgotten?

We have the technology to preserve data better than ever. Is it not worth to try and learn from the past and preserve as much as possible to see the real person behind it as purely as possible?

Simple Schedule - It's time for the beta

I’m super happy to announce that Simple Schedule is now, officially, open for public beta testing. I can’t believe that I have come so far already with the app and am excited that I have come to this milestone!

This week I concentrated on getting a new website up for the marketing site, to replace the holding site, and also worked on tweaking the actual app to give a bit more information about the beta. I added a few ‘support’ articles but feel I need to expand this even more. At the moment there are no guides on how to add events and do other things.

Development certainly will keep going as I build out the rest of the features and squash bugs.

It feels weird and exciting to open it up… even though I had a dev url always available this feels different.

I wrote my first email to go out to everyone that registered interest on the holding site. You can see this below or view it in a browser. (It’s not sent just yet but will at Feb 15th 10:00 AM Pacific).

Hey, this is Vincent, the creator of Simple Schedule.

I want to thank you for signing up to the beta email list and taking an interest so early on in the development process. It means a lot to me!

I’m happy to announce that Simple Schedule is now open to everyone as a public beta. To celebrate I also created a new homepage.

"Beta" means… stuff might just break! By opening it up I’m looking for feedback about the service, learn more of your needs and work towards completing everything necessary to implement features and fix bugs.

The app is 95% functional at the moment, as envisioned when I had it on the drawing board. It is missing a few features that will hopefully ship during beta. These are listed below:

Appointments
Events with time slots
Billing (Boooo!)


During the beta, the service is free to use and there will be more updates on pricing structure as I go.

For your information you can always follow along the blog posts that I write daily or weekly. You can head over to a special section of my personal site to find out more.

I urge you to keep an eye on the public Trello board I created there. This contains everything I’m working on. It will show bugs, features, design tweaks etc. I’ll be adding to it as you report bugs and have feedback for me.

I really do appreciate any feedback you have during this time and I’ll do my best to please where I can. Email me or just reply to this very email: hello@simpleschedule.net.

Once you are registered, you can click on the “beta” badge on the top right to pull up (“down”) contact details and links to the website.

I rely on word of mouth, so if you know someone that would find the service useful please share.

I’m really excited to where this project can go.

- Vincent

If you like to contribute, please email me or let me know via Micro.blog. There is also the Simple Schedule site where you can sign up for a beta. On top, there is now a public Trello board with beta site progress. You can visit the 'beta' website to play around.

For other posts on the challenge, check out the links below:

  1. Code challenge - from zero to web app in 60 days.
  2. Code challenge - Prelude and Day 1 - Setting things up.
  3. Code challenge - Day 2.
  4. Code challenge - Day 3. Holding page.
  5. Code Challenge - Day 4. A login page and a few tweaks.
  6. Code Challenge - Day 5. Registration page and preliminary app navigation.
  7. Code Challenge - Day 6. Getting in the groove, new events, MVP considerations.
  8. Code Challenge - Day 7. 'My Events' view.
  9. Code Challenge - Day 8. Burning the midnight oil, loud music and good progress.
  10. Code Challenge - Day 9. Progress, changes and regrets.
  11. Code Challenge - Day 10. There are no events, pricing thoughts and badges.
  12. Code Challenge - Day 11. New logo, further changes to event details and a tiny tweak.
  13. Code Challenge - Day 12. Final frontend stretch.
  14. Code Challenge - Day 13. Choosing Rails, getting into the swing and thoughts on a multi tenancy app.
  15. Code Challenge - Day 14 & 15. Blog post thoughts, passwords and learning.
  16. Simple Schedule - Day 16 & 17. Register, Login and sharing progress.
  17. Simple Schedule Dev Diary - Week 4. Profile, Settings, Passwords and Attendees.
  18. Simple Schedule Dev Diary - Week 5. Events, bookings and getting ready for the beta. 
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