by Pat Heyman | Jan 26, 2015 | Essays, How to, Pat, Writings
What is Dynamic DNS and why do I need it?
DNS (Domain Name Server) is how the internet maps human style domain names (like google.com) to ip addresses. In the world of internet there are two types of IP address, static and dynamic. Static IP addresses don’t change, so it’s relatively easy to map domain names to the correct IP addresses. Dynamic IP addresses, on the other hand change from time to time. Most cable modem and DSL services provide dynamic IPs. That means that if you want host a file server on your home computer, or be able to access your files from work (or while on vacation), you’ll need some way to keep your IP address up to date in case your provider changes it.
This is the purpose (or one purpose) of Dynamic DNS providers such as dyndns.org or no-ip.com. You sign up for an account, choose a host/domain that you think you’ll remember, and then run a program on your computer or router that tells the service your current IP address. That way, no matter where you are me.ddns.net (or whatever you chose) will always point to your computer.
The problem is that DynDNS discontinued their free service and I could never seem to remember my No-IP hostname. Moreover, for a free account, in No-IP, you have to log in every month and tell them not to discontinue your service. Not too cumbersome, but still, can’t they just check user logs and only require that of dormant accounts?
So where do I get Dynamic DNS for free?
I thought there had to be a better way, enter Namecheap.com. In my Upgrade from Shared Hosting series, I suggested some benefits of separating your domain name registrar from your webhosting. I also suggested that you could even separate your DNS hosting from your Domain Name registrar. Namecheap.com happens to offer fairly competitive domain registration. They also offer free DNS hosting, so no matter, who you use as your domain registrar (even if it’s your webhost), you can still use Namecheap.com as your DNS host.
I did not know it until recently, but one of the features that Namecheap.com offers as part of their free DNS hosting is free Dynamic DNS. It is insanely easy to set up, and the best part is that the routers that I use have Namecheap.com already configured as a Dynamic DNS provider (meaning that you don’t have to run a program on your computer).
Describe this “easy” process
This only works if you’re using Namecheap as your DNS server. For this article, I’m assuming you already have it or have followed my directions here.
- Log in to Namecheap and choose “Your Domains/Products”. Then scroll down to “Free DNS” and choose Hosted Domains.
- Click on the domain name you want to use for Dynamic DNS.
- Choose a “host” for your dynamic DNS. So, if you want me.mydomain.com to go to your home computer, create an A record for “me” with a short TTL (time to live) and give it the ip address 127.0.0.1. (it doesn’t really matter, because it will be overwritten by your update client). Choose save changes.
- On the left hand side, under Advanced Options, choose Dynamic DNS.
- Choose enable, and then look at the directions. If you’re following me, you can ignore everything except the password. Copy down the password, and open a new browser window.
- Enter the Following URL into the Browser: https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=[host_name]&domain=[domain.com]&password=[domain_password]/li>
- The [host_name] is the host you created the A record for above. The [domain.com] is your domain name. The [domain_password] is the ppassword you copied a second ago. So using my example above, the address would read https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=me&domain=mydomain.com]&password=efg3234ksdfj234jfsdlk3/
- Hit enter and you’re done. Visiting that web address copies your current IP address into the A record you created in the first step. Now me.mydomain.com will point to the computer you used to enter the address above.
- You can read the official help files from Namecheap.com here.
Maintaining your Dynamic DNS
You need to have some way of updating your IP address. You could just bookmark the web address above and visit it once a day or once a week, but that’s not very automated or cool. You could set up a cron job to wget the address once a day (if you’re using Linux or Mac). Or you could install a DNS updater. But the easiest way is to configure your browser to do it for you.
The official Namecheap.com Dynamic DNS help files have directions for setting up a DD-WRT router. On my Asus router, after logging in, I went to WAN under Advanced settings (left hand side) and then chose DDNS from the options across the top of the page. Choose Namecheap from the server dropdown, and enter your information (host, domain name, password), hit save, and you’re done.
Free, simple, no brains Dynamic DNS. And the best part is you get to your own domain name instead of whatever leftovers DynDNS or No-IP happen to have available. Even if you don’t have a domain name, buying a domain from Namecheap (or other registrar) will cost you less than DynDNS’ least expensive option.
by Pat Heyman | Mar 15, 2014 | Essays, Pat
“So I opted for the awesomeness of this Japanese steel you were talking about. I mean that Tojiro DP gyuto is cheap! … What? I can’t just sharpen it with a pull through sharpener? I can damage the blade with the steel that came with my Henckels set? I need “special” sharpening stones? How much are we talking here? MORE THAN THE KNIFE COSTS? WHY DID I LISTEN TO YOU?!?!?!?!”
Okay, so the Achilles heel of Japanese knives is how do you sharpen them? Well, you can ask me to do it for you, or you can get some waterstones and learn to do it yourself. Unfortunately, there are as many waterstones as there are knives, and the prices vary from $23 to $200. So what kind and how many does a young sharpener need?
This section is not going to talk about how to sharpen, but will just be a synthesis of what I have read (and maybe one experienced) about various common waterstones followed by some very general recommendations and some references.
First some vocabulary:
- Dish: when a stone becomes rounded in the middle (like a dish) from use. A dished stone will not sharpen as well.
- Flatten: Lowering high parts of a dished stone so that it is flat again. Can be accomplished by a specialized plate or by using drywall screen attached to a flat surface.
- Soaking: Many waterstones must be soaked in water to either work at all or work better.
- Splash and Go: Waterstones that don’t need to soaked (although sometimes soaking may enhance their performance).
- JIS: The Japanese Industrial Standard. Measure the grit size. The higher the number, the finer the grit. It is NOT equivalent to either sand paper or ANSI (American National Standards Institute) grits. Cut: the ability to wear away metal. Lower grits tend to cut faster than higher grits, but two stones at the same grit level may not cut at the same rate.
- Mud: as the stone wears, the particles build up on the surface. Some stones’ mud acts as a polisher that may function at a higher grit than it is nominally rated for.
- Nagura: A small stone used to smooth a waterstone and sometimes kickstart mud production.
- Combination stone: two stones of different grit joined together. Usually combination stones are thinner than two separate stones. Sometimes reflects a great value. Sometimes not.
- Speed: Not really a feature, but a performance description. Reflects how long or how many strokes it takes to sharpen a knife. A stone that is too aggressive or fast will wear a knife too quickly in the hands of an amateur. On the other hand, a stone that is too slow takes too many strokes and induces boredom, fatigue, and more opportunity to screw up. We want the Goldilocks principle. Just right…whatever that means.
- Feel: This one is very subjective, but the way a stone feels through the knife helps the sharpener know if the angels are right, how much steel has been removed, and affects how enjoyable the experience is.
- Size: A wider, longer stone will generally be easier to sharpen on than a narrower, shorter one. Thicker stones will generally last longer than thinner ones.
- Base/Baseless: Some stones come mounted on a wooden or plastic base. The base raises the stone slightly, and some people think they’re cool. But the base prevents you from being able to use both sides.
The first decision is synthetic vs. natural.
Natural stones tend to be softer and dish faster, and being a natural product, they vary wildly in character. The good ones tend to polish in a manner that synthetic stones can’t. They take more finesse to use properly. If you can’t pick your exact stone in the store, you want to make sure you buy from an informed and reputable source. A good return/exchange policy doesn’t hurt either.
Synthetic stones are more uniform, having a abrasive particles held together by a binding medium. The size and density of the medium combined with the type of binder will affect how the stone performs. Their consistency and predictability make them generally preferred for beginners. All of the stone below are synthetic stones. All of the prices reflect the 1000 grit unless otherwise specified.
King stones are some of the cheapest waterstones you can find. They tend to be relatively soft and dish fairly easily. Many people don’t like the way they feel, and some think they are rather slow. On the other hand, Murray Carter of CarterCutlery fame uses them in his DVDs and sells them on his site (although his prices are not the best). They can be a good starter stones due to their price, but others feel a faster stone would.
King Medium Grain Sharpening Stone – #1000 – $23 on Amazon.
Naniwa Super Stones (SS)
These stones are a step up from the King. They are harder and faster (but still relatively soft and slow compared to other stones), but still have a tendency to dish. They have a reputation for feeling great. They are considered splash and go, but many report that they work better with a short soak. They will crumble if left in water too long.
$45 at Chef’s Knives to Go
Naniwa Chosera (Sometimes spelled Chocera)
These stones were once described as the Sara Lee of waterstones. You might prefer a different stone, and you might get a better price or better performance from a different stone, but nobody doesn’t like Chosera. Generally regarded as an excellent stone, the main downside is their price. They are harder and faster than the Super Stones. They are splash and go and will crumble if kept in water.
$86 Chef’s Knives to Go
If you want an unqualified recommendation, I’ll give you this: IMHO the 1k Chocera is the best 1k stone in the world. That’s a whopper of a claim but I think it’s warranted. You could do it and the Suehiro Rika 5k for about $130 and have an absolutely fantastic combo that would do a superior job on carbon and stainless, hard and soft knives. There are other combos but I can pretty much guarantee that’s one you wouldn’t regret. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t respect the 1k Chocera.
The grits lower than 1000 are called Beston, and the grits 1000 and above are called Bester. Don’t ask me why. Many people think these stones are the best value. Fast cutting, decent feel, but still relatively inexpensive. They need to soaked for at least 30 minutes, although longer might be better. They can safely be stored in water so they are always ready to go.
$48 at Chef Knives to Go
Comes in two grits, 1000 and 6000. The 1000 is very similar to a Bester. The 6000 is a very common medium fine stone used for either finishing or as an intermediate for very fine polishing. It’s very highly regarded. It’s effective grit varies base on how the stone and mud is used. It’s also marketed as a Taekono 8,000. (Sold on the Bester page at Chefknives to go.)
1000 – $44 at Chef Knives to Go
6000 – $63 at Chef Knives to Go
This stones functional grit also varies based on how it’s used, ranging from 3,000 to 5,000. Can be used in place of the 6000 Arashiyama. Not quite as highly regarded as the Arashiyama but $15 cheaper. (Sold on the Bester page at Chefknives to go.)
5000 $49 at Chef Knives to Go
This is an 8,000 stone that also seems higher depending on how the mud is worked. More of a polisher than a sharpener.
$78 at Chef Knives to Go
Shapton Glass and Shapton Professional
Used to be considered the bomb but seem to have a reputation for being somewhat unforgiving. Got the impression that some people still love them, but there are better stones out there. Some people think they polish better than sharpen. What do I know?
$57 at Chef Knives to Go
Gesshin is the name for Japanese Knife Imports house brand. The stones are made specifically for JKI. They have a reputation for being excellent (fast, smooth, and good feel), but they are more expensive.
1200 $75 at Japanese Knife Imports
So…what stones should I get?
Well, just like knives, it’s very personal. The absolute cheapest in a King Combination Stone. The “best” is probably Chosera or Gesshin. I prefer the “bang for the buck” approach going for the Bester/Arashiyama or Bester/Suehiro Rika combination.
As for grits, it’s generally recommended to get a 1000 or 1200 to start and a 4,000-6000 to finish. Once you’re good and consistent at that combination, then you can get a more aggressive 400-600 for faster reshaping and repairs. Once your consistent with your start combo, then you could get a finer stone for polishing, but for general kitchen use, you really shouldn’t need anything higher than the 4,000-6,000 range. Although like everything else, it’s highly personal.
You know, this is getting awfully expensive.
Okay, get the King 1000 for $23, or the Bester or Arashiyama 1000 $for $45-$50 and nothing else. After a year or two of practice, then if you feel the need, buy a 4000-6000 stone. At $73 for the Tojiro DP plus $45 for the stone, you’re still under the price of a Wusthof Classic 8 inch; you still have a far superior knife, and in a year, you’ll have far superior sharpening skills.
There is a lot of sharpening stone advice in these threads. I’ve posted a few excerpts below, but there’s a lot more in the threads.
Time to get a new knife. Suggestions?
Sharpening Stone Advice
Tojiro DP F-809 240mm gyuto. A good budget entry level intro to japanese knives?
“My advice is not to get too creative at first and just put together a decent kit based around regular bench stones or an Edge Pro. Stones are making you crazy because you’re overthinking and overcomplicating. But anything will do that, as it’s intrinsic to your nature and not to the stones’.
Get a Bester 1.2K and either a Suehiro Rika or Takenoko [aka Arashiyama 6k]. The Rika is very pleasant and easy; the Takenoko is both faster and finer. When you can hold an angle well enough to get a good edge with either of those two, add a Beston 500. The need will arrive at around the same time as the ability. Flatten on drywall screen until you feel you can afford a DMT XXC. Later, if you have a hankering for a really fine polish we can talk 8Ks and finer; but for now, not a worry. Yes. It’s that simple.”
BDL from another thread:
“If you’re going to put up with all of the water stone BS to go with a Takenoko, you might as well buy a medium/coarse water stone such as a Bester 1200 for basic sharpening. There are other very good 1K choices, but the Bester is the cream of the crop at or near a semi-reasonable price. Bester 1200/Takenoko is an awesome combination for the heart of a water stone kit. Add a Beston 500 and a Kitayama, and you’ve got something good enough to compete with any kit, no matter how expensive.
If I were choosing an ultimate water stone kit for me, it would be just three stones: Gesshin 400, 2K and 8K. That’s a very easy set to use and very fast; but too expensive for anyone who doesn’t see sharpening as a sort of hobby and end in itself. Just because I obsess, doesn’t mean you should.”
The importance of flattening by boar_d_laze
Flattening is no big deal just tedious — It’s especially easy (not to mention more tedious) if you flatten on screen rather than using a diamond plate. I flatten on dry-wall screen mounted in a sheet pan, cleaning the screen with the sink’s pressure hose when it loads up. The pan contains the mess. Since a lifetime supply of screen is about $10, it’s not a bad thing to start out with it and no big deal if you change your mind and decide you want to invest $80 in a DMT XXC.
In addition to flattening them right OOTB, you’ll also need to bevel the sides of the Besters (as with all normal waterstones). This means holding the well soaked stone at a 45* angle to the flattening surface (or the flattener at a 45* angle to the stone) and rubbing back and forth. Oh dear.
The Besters require about 30 minutes of soaking before they’re usable, and more than an hour before they’re at their juicy best. Is that an issue?
Understand that people buy stones without knowing how to prep them before using or even that they need prep at all. And when that lack of knowledge creates problems (right away!) they call Mark and kvetch. Mark, no doubt, is basing his recommendation on the stones which give the fewest problems to the masses. But you’re not the masses. You have the wisdom of Chef Talk.
I’m not much of a fan of the GS series in any case. My verdict is more shine than sharp. They are fast, convenient, and the bevels they make truly gleam, but at the end of the day I think you get better edges on less expensive stones. Consequently, I disagree with Mark and think you’d be better off starting with the Bester than with the GS.
If you don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of soaking and flattening, and if you’ve got any anxiety about other aspects of the bench stone learning curve, you might just buy an Edge Pro and be done with it. They do a really good job, and other than set up and take down are practically painless.
You’re better off learning to sharpen before buying new knives, but only slightly so. Learning to sharpen takes time and commitment, yes. But it’s not particularly difficult, it doesn’t take much talent or brains (look at me), it just sort of happens if you do it enough. The big thing might be demonstrating to yourself that you can and will so that when you do buy an expensive knife you’re beyond the point of allowing it to get dull, feeling overwhelmed, and losing interest.
Also, it helps to ease the blow to the budget to invest in one thing at a time. And if you want to prioritize, good sharpening trumps a good knife. People so often want to buy a $200 knife plus sharpening gear and a steel for $225 (and if I get that a lot, you can imagine how often Mark does). Unfortunately…
Consider though that unless you’re using coarse stones, you really can’t do much damage. So as long as you have the commitment to learn to sharpen, there isn’t that much downside to learning on a good knife. Also, some knives do better than others with certain sharpening kits. For instance, you’ll get a lot more from a Bester sharpening a MAC Pro than you will sharpening a Mercer. And fwiw, the Mercer will actually sharpen better on oilstones.
Since he features so prominently in this thread, I might as well mention that Mark really cares about matching you with stuff you’re going to be able to use right off the bat and will like for a long time. He’s not going to hose you in order to make an extra buck.
Lots to confuse, no?
PS. If you’re going the bench stone route… Yes, I’d start with the Bester 1.2K and the Arashiyama. Learn to draw a burr on the Bester before even attempting the Arashiyama. That will probably take four or five tries. After you’ve become sufficiently adept at angle holding to consistently actually sharpen with the Arashiyama, you can move on to using a coarse stone like the Beston 500 — which you’ll eventually need — for profiling. You should be doing minor profiling to the extent of flattening the high spots, which are an inevitable part of ordinary sharpening, once for every four or five times you use the 1.2K. For home cooks, that means every year or so.
I use the coarsest screen for flattening — which IIRC is 80, then lap with a 220. After flattening my 3K, I lap it with screen then the 1.2K. After flattening my 8K lap it with the 1.2K, then the 3K. Lapping stone doesn’t take much pressure or many strokes. Of course everything must be properly wet — in the case of my stone that means at least an hour of soaking for the Beston and Bester, and about 10 minutes for the Chosera and SS.
When you lap stone on stone, do it under water and keep the stones moving to make sure they don’t stick together. This is a big problem. It’s a lot like a tongue sticking to a frozen fence not only in the sticking but in that you should take it on faith and not check it out for yourself.
If your following and finer stone is 4K or coarser, the 1K is great; but I’d hold out for the 1.2K if the next stone is 6K or coarser. It won’t be more than a few weeks of waiting at most; and you’ll have the stone for years.
It’s not going to make a great deal of difference either way.
FWIW: 1) I do not flatten in a pan filled with water. I flatten — or used to do so until a couple of weeks ago — on dry wall screen set in a baking sheet. I rinsed the screen frequently with the sink’s pressure hose to keep it from loading up. But I was given a DMT XXC for Channukah. 2) It’s important — but not critical to lap your finer stones before using them. And 3) Yes, I left the sheet and and screen flat on the counter parallel to the horizon while holding the stone at an angle relative to it. Beveling the stone’s edges is critical. It keeps the edges from forming “rails” and keeps the edges and corners from crumbling. Not only are those things bad for the stone, but they cause a variety of problems with the knife edge as well.
- Primer on Japanese Knives
- Choosing your first Japanese knife
- Review of my first Japanese knife, the Tojiro DP 240mm gyuto
- Sharpening process and tips
- Vendors, Experts, and Forum Denizens
by Pat Heyman | Mar 13, 2014 | Essays, Pat
When I was young, I bought Wusthof knives because, of course, they were so much superior to Henckels. I knew there were better knives in the world, especially from Japan, but they seemed to cost my firstborn, and I didn’t really know how to buy them in the first place, so I was happy with my selection. Soon after (but not soon enough to return the Wusthofs) the Japanese invaded a Bed Bath and Beyond near you with a little help from Alton Brown. I had a strong case of Shun-lust, but being the practical, thrifty person that I am, I made do.
Fast forward *cough* years, and I needed a second chef’s knife for when someone else is helping me cook. Naturally I knew that this was my chance to acquire a Japanese knife. So a week of underslept nights later, I purchased my first Japanese knife. (Review to come.)
I will be documenting what I found in a series of posts, so that I don’t have to do it again, and perhaps it will help you, dear reader, acquire a Japanese instrument of cutting joy more quickly than I did.
Most of the advice below will focus on a “single go-to” knife for the largest variety of kitchen tasks. Generally, this will be a replacement for a chef’s knife (or santoku for those of you who have bought into the hype).
I am synthesizing a huge amount of reading, much of it gleaned from forums. As forums are volatile things with a tendency to go belly up—Fred’s Cutlery Forum, one of the highest rated knife forums, died about a year ago, taking most of its knowledge with it—I will quote directly from some of the posts I deem most helpful.” I will link back to the forum (if still in existence).
What’s wrong with my Wusthofs or Henckels?
- The main problem with them is their country of origin. German knives are known for two things in general.
- The German profile has a large curve in the blade that prevents most of the cutting surface from touching the board at the same time. It also makes it so that you have to lift the handle very high to get the tip to touch the board. (That said, plenty of very good cutters prefer the German profile, and the German profile is considered more forgiving of bad technique.)
- The second problem is that they tend to be made from a very tough, relatively soft steel that can stand up to a lot of punishment but doesn’t get exceptionally sharp or stay sharp.
- Most of the retail sets come with 8 inch chef knives that are just too short for some tasks. A 10 inch would probably be a better choice.
So what are the alternatives?
- The French profile chef knife is much flatter, allowing for more efficient cutting motions. The classic brand is Sabatier who’s older knives are legendary but seem to have lost some quality in more recent years.
- The other alternative is a gyuto, the Japanese take on a chef knife with a more French profile. They come as either Wa (traditional handle) or Yo (Western handle). The wa-gyutos have a reputation for being lighter.
- The general recommendation is a gyuto in 240mm (9.4 inches) or 270mm (10.6 inches).
What to look for?
- The main thing to look for is a quality steel. You want something around 60 or a little higher on the Rockwell scale. Much below 60, and the knife won’t take or hold the edge you want. Too high, and the knife becomes too brittle for the general kitchen use we’re after (although not inappropriate for special use knives). So look for 60 plus, and then the look at the reputation of the knife for being brittle. Not all steels at the same hardness are equal in terms of strength and brittleness.
- When it comes to raw performance, carbon steel is generally regarded as the best, but it is prone to rust and pit without proper maintenance and can impart a metallic taste to some acidic foods. Not all carbon steels are created equal, so you still have to do your homework. As for “proper maintenance”, mainly, wipe it off as soon as you use it, especially if you’re cutting acidic food such as limes. Carbon steel will also form a patina that can protect the steel from corrosion but some people think it’s icky.
- Stainless steels are easier to maintain, but can’t quite match the edge that carbon steels have. Stainless blades can be clad (san mei) or monosteel. Clad blades have a core of a harder steel sandwiched between two plates of softer steel. The harder steel provides the edge, while the softer steel provides additional strength. Some people think that sandwiched knives feel flat or dead on the cutting board, as though you’re wearing thick gloves; others don’t notice at all or notice but aren’t bothered by it.
- There used to be a big quality difference between forged and stamped knives. However, modern heat treatment and hardening has rendered the difference largely moot. In fact, stamped can be better because it is lighter, causing less fatigue when used for longer periods of time. (Please note this is only for higher end knives. At the low end, forged is still probably better than stamped.)
Anything else I should know?
- The harder steels of Japanese knives require a more refined sharpening system–using waterstones. Be aware that stones take practice, and if you only cook in your home and care for your knives, you might not be sharpening very often, so it may be difficult to get enough practice in to become good. One suggestion is to get a “beater knife” made from carbon steel and practice sharpening it. There are also guided sharpening systems out there that take some of the art out of sharpening but don’t require much skill. Whatever you do, do not send your Japanese knives to any commercial sharpener who uses a grinding wheel on them. Sharpening and waterstones are such a big topic that I’m going to do two separate posts on them.
- Any steel above 60 HRC may be damaged by steeling (even with a super fine steel), so 1) consider not steeling, or 2) make sure you have a very fine steel; 3) be VERY gentle when/if steeling and don’t bang the knife against the steel.
Can’t you be bevel-headed about this?
- Japanese knives come in two major forms: single and double bevel.
- A double beveled knife is sharpened on both sides of the blade. This is also how most Western knives are sharpened. Double bevel knives may sharpened symmetrically, with even amounts of sharpening on both sides, or they may be beveled unevenly, so that one side has received more sharpening than the other. In addition to changing perceived sharpness, it may also affect how long the knife will stay sharp, and may favor left vs right hand cutters. Changing the asymmetry is as easy as sharpening one side longer than the other.
- Single bevel knives are only sharpened on side, and the other is straight or even slightly concave. Single bevel is also called a chisel edge, because—well—it looks like a chisel. Single bevel knives can cut extremely flat because one side is completely flat, and are usually sharper than double bevel knives. Most single bevel knives are cut for right handers, so if you’re a lefty, you may have to pay a premium for a single bevel knife that will work for you.
- Primary, secondary, and microbevels: These are actually sharpening topics and will be covered in another article.
Just to refresh your memory, we’re looking at Gyutos (all purpose chef knives). One small caveat. Because of the hardness of Japanese steel and thinness of most of these knives, cutting through bone is generally not recommended with most of these knives. So they’re really “most purpose” not truly all-purpose.
by Pat Heyman | Oct 4, 2012 | Essays, Pat
Although Google seems to be determined to hide it, you can migrate much of your existing account using the methods documented here. For example:
- Log in to google with the account you want to transfer data from.
- Now go to this link. You’ll need to change the e-mail addresses to match your source and destination accounts.
- Choose the accounts that you want to transfer (it is irreversible) and hit go. This works for youtube, picasa, and groups, but most significantly not google play.
- Moving e-mail, contacts, and calendars is pretty easy, so I’m not covering it here.
Considering Google Apps
The decision to use Google Apps as an e-mail provider is a big one, because you’re getting much more than an e-mail provider. The ramifications can be extremely annoying. First, we’ll deal with reasons to use Google Apps:
- Great spam filtering
- Top notch network and redundancy. If Google’s network fails, the world ends (or something like that).
- Good web user interface
- POP3 and IMAP compliant
- Shareable calendars
- Integrates well with Android. Works natively with iPhone
- Generous storage space
- Free for up to ten “users”
- Access to other Google Apps services
- Customizable landing pages and urls, e.g. mail.yourdomain.com
- Concerns over privacy and use of your data to target marketing to you.
- Practically impossible to reconcile personal Google accounts with Google Apps account.
- Organization approach is not conducive to a single person with a domain name for a personal site/e-mail/blog.
- Confusing login pages.
- No traditional e-mail aliases.
That doesn’t sound like much of a downside, but the second one is HUGE!!!!!!!!.
If you already have a Google account for services like Picasa, Youtube, and Play store, you will find it practically impossible to migrate your data to the new account. If you have an Android, you will not be able to transfer your app purchases to your new account. This means that you will have to sync at least two accounts on your phone. Moreover, you’ll have to decide which account you want to put new purchases on. If you want your Youtube channel to be under your own domain name instead of your original account, you basically have to re-upload every single video. And if you have a popular channel or a lot of comments, you lose all of that history. If you have a lot of contacts in Google+, huge pain there too (although I can’t imagine anyone actually using Google+.)
Google Apps users have been complaining about these issues for more than five years with very little progress in resolving them. Part of the problem stems from the assumption that only “organizations” will use Google Apps. The whole thing is geared toward businesses that need e-mail, calendars, and a word processor/spreadsheet. Google seems completely oblivious to the idea that there are people who own their own domain name and just want to move their existing Google accounts over to Google Apps. I mean, really, unless I divorce myself or fire myself, I’m never going to leave the patheyman.com organization. And if I do decide that I like heymanator.com better, then I don’t want to have to create a new heymanator Google Apps account. I want to simply transfer my account from one domain to another.
An additional problem is the Google sign on pages. To log in to Google Apps, you have to go to google.com/a/yourdomain.com. Then you set up a user, firstname.lastname@example.org. You log in to Google Apps and play around. When you log out, you’ll be taken to a generic Google log in page. If you try to log in to with your e-mail address and password, instead of logging in to Google Apps, it will create a personal account with that e-mail and then tell you that you have a conflicting accounts because you have a Google Apps account and a personal Google account with the same e-mail address. I don’t know what idiot at Google thought this was a good idea, but it’s the stupidest thing in the whole world!
While we’re talking about sign on pages, you can also “customize” the sign on page and apps with your own logo and colors, but the image size can be no bigger than 143×59 pixels, and they’ll stretch it if it’s smaller. It’s just silly. Moreover, the main account sign on page is not customized—only the gmail, calendar, contacts, and documents apps are customized. Seriously, Google. You need to hire me to tell you how to run this aspect of your business.
Google Apps does not let you create traditional e-mail aliases. Instead they suggest that you add a dot or plus to your e-mail address, because email@example.com will go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stupid, right? Especially if you’ve already got all your bills going to email@example.com. A much better workaround is to create a “user” (account) and then tell Google Apps to send all e-mail that does not belong to an actual account to that e-mail. You can use e-mail forwarding rules to send the mail to the appropriate person. Of course, even here, Google apps has to be stupid. It makes you confirm the ability to forward e-mail to your own domain when you only have up to ten users in the first place.
I know the stupidity at work in Google Apps, but I want to use them as my e-mail provider anyway.
Okay, but I warned you. The first thing to do is open your Google Apps account. If you have 10 or fewer “users” (accounts) then the Standard (free) edition should work just fine for you. The problem is that Google likes to hide it. There is no direct link to it, and most of the guides from a year or more ago are outdated. As of October 3, 2012, the way to get to the Standard (Free) Google Apps is to go to the Google Apps page and then click the pricing link at the top. You’ll see the Standard, Business, and Premier plans, with Standard being free…YAY!!!!!
Fill out the boxes with the appropriate information, and then you will have to prove that you own the domain that you are registering for. The easy way to do this is to upload a file to your website.
- Download the file
- Upload the file to your webserver
- Tell it that you did it.
Now you get to choose between Express Setup and Custom Setup. I chose Custom setup which is a huge pain in the—well—something. If you’re setting this up for just yourself or you and your wife and kid, I’d say choose the Express setup. I can’t really describe it too much, because I didn’t do it, but hey, there you go.
Tip: Throughout the set up process, keep an eye on the top center of the screen when you hit save or submit changes. Status messages will flash up there. If you get an error message, it will flash red just long enough to see that there was an error, and not quite long enough to read it, so pay attention.
As part of the set up process, you’ll need to set up one or more e-mail addresses (users). Here’s where the dashboard will lead you astray. It implies that the set up process has four steps, with the last step being “Direct email to Google Apps Mail.” You would think that this would walk you through changing your DNS settings, but you’d be wrong. It actually takes you to a screen on how to set up your mobile device with your Google Apps account.
The real fourth step is to set your DNS records so that the MX records are pointing to Google’s e-mail servers.
- Log in to your DNS host.
- Change your TTL (time to live) on your mx records to 300 seconds (5 minutes). If you screw up, it will only take 5 minutes for changes to take effect.
- Change your mx records to point to Google’s servers. Namecheap.com is particularly nice in this regard, because they have an option “Google Apps” that will automagically configure your mx records correctly. If your DNS host does not provide this useful service, then you should enter the following:
- Once your DNS records have propagated, you can set the TTL back to whatever it was before.
- You can now access your e-mail by going to mail.google.com/a/yourdomain.com, but you probably would prefer to go to mail.yourdomain.com. You can customize your mail, calendar, contacts, and documents (GoogleDocs) in the same way.
- Log in to your Google Apps dashboard and in the center of the screen under “Your Google Apps” click on the settings link to gmail.
- Under web address, click change link, and choose the url you want to use, such as mail.domain.com, and click continue.
- It will direct you to create a CNAME pointing mail to ghs.googlehosted.com. (some DNS hosts require the ending period for CNAMES)
- Then click done. Now rinse and repeat for calendar, contacts, and documents.
- Now you just need to set up your mail clients and mobile devices to check Google’s servers instead of your own.
Note: Google has pretty extensive help online, but it’s organized in an obtuse way that makes finding what you need almost impossible. They also have help records for specific DNS hosts, but in the case of NameCheap.com, they didn’t mention the automagic way of doing it.
Google’s directions for setting up custom urls for mail, et al with a fancy video and everything.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to figure out how to set up a custom URL for the main login page—only the individual apps mentioned above.
Now enjoy and regret the fruits of your labor. I had been getting 200+ spam messages a day despite training spam filters, and now I get less than five.
In future installments, I’ll talk about:
- Setting up a Linux VPS
- Making the move
by Pat Heyman | Oct 3, 2012 | Essays, Pat
The essential steps in moving are:
- Move your domain name to an alternative registrar (if your web host registered your domain name for you.
- Move your nameservers/Edit your DNS as appropriate
- Consider your e-mail provider
- Choose a new account
- Set up the account and migrate data
- Test the site
- Point your DNS records to your new account
- Cancel your old account
This article will deal with steps 1 – 3.
Move your domain name to an alternative registrar
If your domain is registered by your web host, transfer it to a Registrar. There are several very inexpensive companies to choose from, and transferring extends your domain’s subscription for a year with most registrars.
All registrars ultimately send your information to ICANN. It costs them about $6.50/year to do so…so you should expect to pay at least that much. Many registrar’s make most of their money by upselling you on other services, such as private registration and webhosting (just say no to web hosting).
The basic steps are:
- Find out from your web host how log in to their domain management module.
- Once logged in, make sure that your domain is not locked.
- If it is locked, you will need to request an EPP code, which will be sent to the e-mail on file. (This is designed to prevent someone from hacking your password and stealing your domain name.
- Create an account on your new registrar, and provide them with your EPP code.
One thing to be aware of is that some registrars also provide DNS services which will help to simplify the next step, but is certainly not necessary.
Some registrars that have gotten multiple positive reviews on webhostingtalk.com are listed below. This is neither a recommendation nor a complete list—just a convenience listing. Like the phone company, some companies hide fees in their quotes to make them appear lower.
- namecheap.com (includes DNS services)
Here are some registrars that are recommended against:
- Godaddy (unreliable as of late)
- Network Solutions (expensive)
- Your current or future webhost
When/if you changed Registrars whatever name servers you were using were automatically put into the new registrar. If you are currently using your web host’s name servers, I recommend using alternative name servers (DNS hosting). DNS stands for Domain Name Server, and works like a phone directory for the internet.
When you type a website into your web browser, the request is directed to a DNS (name server). The name server tells your browser what IP address to go to. Most websites have multiple name servers in different geographical regions so that if the first one fails, the second (and third, etc.) act as a back up. You can host your own name servers, but unless you have multiple VPS or dedicated servers throughout the country, you’re better off using a DNS hosting service.
The directions below should work for most simple websites. If your needs are more complicated, then it should at least point you in the right direction.
Before we begin, there are some definitions we need to cover:
- A record: These are the “main records” and are directed at an IP address.
- CNAME: These can be thought of as a redirect to a website (or other server). For example, www is usually a CNAME that redirects back to your domain so that domain.com and www.domain.com will both go to the same place.
- MX: The MX record is the mail record that tells mail servers where to direct e-mail sent to your domain. Ideally you should have several mx records with multiple mail servers.
- Redirects: allow you to redirect a server name to almost anywhere. For example, you could point support.domain.com to www.domain.com/support/contact.html. A records and CNAMEs cannot point to a website folder or page—only servers.
- TTL: Time to Live. Your name servers are communicated to other name servers throughout the internet, and they are all sharing their records with one another. The TTL tells the other servers how long they should wait before refreshing the information. The TTL is set in seconds.
Setting up your DNS hosting
- Find out what your current DNS records are.
- Create an account with a DNS hosting service if your domain registrar does not provide it.
- Re-create your DNS records in the new DNS host
- Double check your DNS entries.
- Change the name servers listed by your domain registrar to your new DNS host.
- Test and make sure they work.
Choosing a DNS host
There are many reliable DNS hosts and many domain registrars provide free DNS services to customers. Namecheap.com even provides them for free to non-customers. Most of the free DNS hosts have a limit on the number of domains they will host. Some host as few as 1 for free, while others will host as many as 50.
Some free hosts that have received good feedback on webhostingtalk are listed below. Same caveats as with the registrars above.
- Lowendbox.com has a page with a list of more free DNS hosts
Testing your new DNS:
Once you change your name servers with your registrar, you will need to wait a little while for the changes to “propagate” throughout the internet. It’s like a rumor spreading through a crowd. It can supposedly take as long as 48 hours to fully propagate, although I have noticed that changes begin to be reflected within 5-15 minutes and within a two hours, it seemed like for all practical purposes, they were propagated enough.
So with the above in mind, be aware that different testing services may have different results based on how propagated your nameservers have become. And even then, sometimes one DNS testing service comes up with weird errors when the others are reporting just fine. So if you’re receiving e-mail, and you can visit your websites, and there are no security issues, I wouldn’t worry too much about one weird DNS report.
The following sites provide free DNS testing:
Choosing a mail server
The next step in preparing for a move is choosing an e-mail provider. There are basically four choices:
- Use your web host provided mail server (usually only for shared hosting and managed accounts).
- Administer your own mail server. Not recommended for newbies. Yes, it can be simple to set up with tutorials and scripts, but learning how to manage and secure it as well as deal with spam is not simple. Moreover, running your own mail server may decrease the performance of your
- A third party mail service. There are free and paid e-mail services. List of known free services here.
- Google Apps: Yes, I know this belongs to number 3, but it’s really deserves it’s own section, because the choice to use it is so complicated. I’ll cover it in some detail in the next installment.
I would personally recommend going with either option 1, 3, or 4 unless you really know what you’re doing. If you go with option 1, there’s nothing you need to do at this point. If you go with option 3 or 4, you’ll need to create your account and then point your mx DNS records to the mail servers they provide you with. I’ll cover how to do this with Google Apps in some detail in the next installment.
At this point you are completely mobile. It should be a smooth transition to whatever web host you choose.
In future installments, I’ll talk about
- Considering Google Apps
- Setting up a Linux VPS
- Making the move
by Pat Heyman | Oct 3, 2012 | Essays, Pat
These best practices apply no matter whether you keep your current account, upgrade your shared account, or move to a VPS or Dedicated Server. (Many of these were gleaned from readings on webhostingtalk.com and lowendbox.com.)
It can be very attractive to pay annually or even prepay several years in advance because hosting companies often provide deep discounts or “freebies” such as a free domain registration. This can be a mistake for a number of reasons:
- You may be happy with your host now, but service or performance may deteriorate over time
- The company may go bankrupt taking your prepaid money with it.
- The company may be bought out, and you may not like the new management.
Make your own automated backups
Many web hosts make tout their automated back ups, but relying solely on them is not a good idea unless you like Russian Roulette. See points 2 and 3 above.
Use a host that allows shell access
Even if you use a shared account, you should still choose a host that allows shell access. This greatly facilitates making your own automated back ups.
Do not register your domain with your webhost…even if they offer free registration
It is slightly less convenient, but it tremendously adds to your mobility. If you leave web hosts, but your host registered your domain, it adds another barrier to leaving. If there is a dispute with your host, or if your host goes out of business, you still have access to your domain name, and since you made your own back ups it’s fairly easy to get back up and running without losing too much in time or content.
I’ll go over the steps in how to do this in the next installment.
Consider an alternative DNS host (nameservers)
Some web hosts, such as Lunar Pages, make it very difficult to customize your DNS records. Managing your own is slightly more complicated, but it is vastly more flexible.
I’ll go over how to do this in the next installment.
In future installments, I’ll talk about:
- Steps to take in preparing to change webhosts
- Considering Google Apps
- Setting up a Linux VPS
- Making the move