Reclaiming My Domain (since August 2016)

This is a post that I started writing back in 2017. I thought I should finish it off and post it for posterity. Some of these details have also been added to my about page.

rh make some noise gif

Reclaim Hosting

Back in August 2016, I moved my domain from Bluehost to Reclaim Hosting, which was co-founded by Jim Groom and Tim Owens. It grew out of the Domain of One’s Own project at The University of Mary Washington; providing space for students and educators to take control of their web presence. The migration was efficient and hassle free. A couple of issues arose as these things do and the support Reclaim provided was unparalleled.

Jim and Tim are legends and I am very happy to support their work. The ethics and aesthetics of the company chime with my own; not least due to a youth spent listening to punk and new wave. Two years on, I remain more than satisfied. Auto-updates; easy back-up and detailed documentation have allowed me to keep my various sites running with ease.

German Server

When I first signed up to Reclaim Hosting all of their servers were based in the US. As someone one who cares about privacy, I was ecstatic when I read Jim’s post: ‘Reclaiming Europe’. Jim and Tim’s success meant that they had to keep adding server space and this included the addition of their first European server in March 2017. I immediately made contact and took them up on the offer to move my domain to a Euorpean server. The server is called Kraftwerk and has been reliably serving my domain ever since.

Kraftwerk

On making this move, I realised that it had been quite some time since I had listened to everyone’s favourite German synth pioneers. I put all of their records on rotation and even made a playlist of their best material. This quickly began to punctuate my Saturday morning runs and the walk home from work.

Long Live RSS

Finally, like many of my web peers, I value open web standards; particularly RSS. In May 2017 Manton Reece and Brent Simmons released a feed format similar to RSS and Atom called JSON Feed. Based on the “developer’s choice for APIs” it “is much simpler to read and write” than XML, “and it’s less prone to bugs”.

This has been added to my blog using the WordPress Plugin giving readers an additional way to subscribe alongside the built in XML feed that comes as standard in WordPress. If you want to know more about why they created it, Manton and Brent discussed it on The Talk Show with John Gruber.

“We’re functioning automatic / And we are dancing mechanic / We are the robots”

~ Hütter, Ralf, The Robots (1978)

Make Some Noise Gif CC: Bryan Mathers (2017)

Cultivating a brand (caring for your digital self)

Since part way through last year, I have been working on leveraging control over both my digital identity and digital self. This has included closing a number of accounts, redesigning my home page, this blog, and leaving Facebook again. It has entailed making some tough decisions about which social networks I will invest time into; which apps and services I am prepared to share my data with.

This process has, and continues to be motivated by two values:

First, it is important to own as much of your own data as possible. Too many of us invest time in various apps, networks and other online tools, without considering whether or not we will be able to get that data out, should we decide to stop using them.

Second, it is important to give mindful consideration to the information that you publish online, as this is how many people will form their opinion of you. For all intents and purposes, your digital self is like a brand. It needs to be cultivated and cared for. It is therefore, my intention to ensure that brand ‘James Michie’ is well cultivated.

Home Page

Blog

It was with these principals in mind that I decided to move my ‘other’ blog ‘Et cetera’ from Posterous and integrate it with my main blog.

Twitter’s recent acquisition of Posterous, provided the final push I needed to make this move… one that I had considered doing last year. Do I think that Twitter is going to shut down Posterous? I am not sure but the signs are not great. Recent trends on the web would also suggest that either the service will fall into neglect or eventually close.

In making the move, I decided that it was also an opportunity to do some cleaning up. Before importing the blog, I removed any content which I felt did not fit in effectively with my main blog; this included the remnants of a failed #365 project and a few other posts.

If you were a subscribed to Et cetera, then please consider subscribing to this blog either by RSS or Email.

Owning your data and caring for your digital self is very important. Putting in, what I believe to be a reasonable amount of effort, has allowed me to take (greater) ownership of my data, and to better establish the version of my digital self that I wish for people to engage with. I encourage you to do the same.

Redesigning jamesmichie.com(blog) – CSS FTW!

I’ve been tweaking and redesigning aspects of my blog ever since I started it, attempting to balance clean/minimal design while trying to provide visitors with an enjoyable reading experience and straightforward navigation. I feel that I’ve finally achieved this and in doing so learned a lot about CSS. Completing work on my blog resulted in me redesigning my homepage from scratch, creating a greater sense of uniformity between the two. As I’d done before, I called upon the excellent site: w3schools.com for help in figuring out padding, margins, borders and floats, amongst other attributes.

jamesmichie.com/blog

blog 26.02.11

My blog is built upon the ‘Plainscape‘ theme. It is a very simple, two-column theme with very few unique features which makes it highly adaptable. I have made some minor edits to the layout and have completely overhauled the header and footers to suit my needs.  This included moving my sidebar buttons and search box into the header. From my research this seems to be a more common place for them to be. While I was making these adjustments I also added a new photo to my about page, tidied up my categories and moved the Evernote, Delivr and Instapaper buttons to the top right of my posts, a position that I feel is more intuitive for their purpose. Also, I have made significant changes to the css of the blog creating a strict colour scheme. I’ve added borders around menus and the different sections of the sidebar to improve navigation. Overall, I am more satisfied than I have been for a while, feeling that the blog has a far more consistent/professional look.

jamesmichie.com

home 26.02.11

To bring my homepage up the same standard as my blog, I began by deleting Concret5 and installed WordPress instead. I then looked for a one column theme and settled on F8 Lite. Being fairly confident in editing html and css it didn’t take me long to match the css of my new homepage theme to that of my blogs. I then went about stripping many of the features from the header and footer sections. I made use of the themes widget placement being at the bottom to add my blog feed, tweets and lifestream. In the settings I changed the front page from ‘latest posts’ to a ‘static page’ and went about creating one, adding the same photo I had selected to use on my about page. I matched the buttons from my blog to direct people to the parts of my web footprint that I feel they would be most interested in visiting. And with that I was done. I now feel that my homepage does a much better job of representing me and gives a much clearer picture of the key parts of my web footprint.

Understanding and taking control of css was the biggest win during this process. It made a huge difference as it allowed me to make design changes with greater ease and far more consistency. I have included, below, the css attributes which are consistent accross both my blog and homepage. If you would like to know about specific aspects or features, feel free to ask me in the comments.

CSS attributes:

background:

  • color: #f8f8f8

header, hmenu, sidebar header text:

  • font-family: ‘helvetica’, arial, sans-serif
  • font-weight: bold
  • text-transform:uppercase
  • color: #000000
  • a: #000000
  • hover: #34c48f

body, sidebar, footer text:

  • font-family: ‘helvetica’, arial, sans-serif
  • color: #333333
  • a: 34c48f
  • hover: #9a9a9a

meta text:

  • font-family: ‘helvetica’, arial, sans-serif
  • color: #9a9a9a

borders:

  • weight: 1px
  • style: solid
  • color: #9a9a9a

Writing: From idea to published post

For the second time in less than a month I find myself inspired to write a blog post after sharing a screen shot via Twitter. Last time, it focused on how I was using Evernote to organise my notes for my MA. This time is slightly less direct in that the item I’m going to write about had nothing to do with why I tweeted out the screen shot.

T4M and NV

The screen shots purpose was to document the fact that I was giving Twitter for Mac a try and was enjoying the small amount of screen real estate that it consumed; meaning I could have other apps open and visible at the same time. In this case Notational Velocity. Not giving a great deal of thought to this at the time I grabbed the shot not realising that the image also offers an insight into my writing process. What is revealed in the image is the earliest written draft of a blog post. I call this the earliest “written” draft as the first draft is the version in my head. Rarely the version that ends up on my blog though.

Ideas for blog posts come to me at all times of the day, from many different directions, but more often than not – after a day of work. At that time I’m not usually at my most productive so save writing posts for the morning or weekend. What I do though is write down the idea, usually as a series of points. This some times translates directly into the paragraphs that will make the post and other times the final post has no resemblance to the initial idea that was written down.

Most of the posts on this blog have gone through either 3 or 4 drafts. After making my notes (draft 1) I will leave the idea to simmer a little. I then return and flesh it out (draft 2). This is all done in Notational Velocity. At this stage I may have collated some links but certainly have not thought about visuals if I choose to use them at all. I have simply focussed on the writing – the most important part IMO.

If I am happy with this draft I will copy and paste it into WordPress, add all of the links and any images/media that is to be included; check the code; add categories and tags; and voila a post (draft 3) ready to be published. From time to time however I will get this far, read back over the post and decide that something is not quite right. If that is the case I will leave the post as a draft for 24 hours and return to it with fresh eyes. Nine times out ten I will realise what was niggling me, correct it and then hit publish (draft 4).

There are times that I’d like to be one of those prolific bloggers who posts daily, pushing out first draft after first draft but I just can’t do it. Partly because I’m a perfectionist and partly because many of the things that I choose to write about need a little gestation time. That said, I have found using Posterous for a more personal / non #edtech blog has given me a bit more freedom to post with a little less need for polish, but then that blog is not as widely read as this one.

Writing is a very personal process – it deserves focus, time and more than a little TLC. F,or anyone who is thinking about starting a blog the most important things you must do early on are: 1. Find a writing methodology that works for you and: 2. Find the right writing tools that will help you focus on the writing, whether that be pen and paper, direct into your blogs editor or on a dedicated writing app. Making your blog/posts colourful; embedding media; adding buttons and feeds are not as important as the writing. All of the bells and whistles can be built up over time but for people to return to your blog regularly the writing must be good.

Why I believe an 11″ MacBook Air is the ideal laptop for me

I briefly posted on my Posterous blog that I hope to make the new 11″ MacBook Air my next laptop. After considering what I want out of my next laptop here is why I believe that the MacBook Air will be the ideal machine for me. Due to the quality of a number of web based apps and a handful of open source, light weight, desktop apps the 128GB (with 4GB RAM) 11″ MacBook Air offers more than enough power, speed and space for me. I thought I would share what I plan to use the laptop for and the apps that I would install. It offers some insight to the way I maintain my productivity, write and keep up with my day-to-day life. Here goes:

  • Surfing the web – Google Chrome (and here’s why)
  • Email – Gmail / Sparrow
  • Calendar – Google Calendar
  • RSS – Google Reader
  • Twitter – Twitter for Mac
  • Managing my iTunes library – Have added less than 300MB this year in comparison to 30GB over the previous four. 128GB is more than enough space for me to maintain my iTunes library.
  • Blogging – Notational Velocity (I run a forked version which can be found here at elastic threads)/ WordPress
  • Making Notes and Lists – Notational Velocity / Evernote
  • Writing papers for my MA – Notational Velocity / Evernote / WordPress
  • Presentations – Google docs / Preview

The footprint of the free and open source apps that I will be installing (Google Chrome, Sparrow, Twitter for Mac, Notational Velocity and Evernote) is very minimal – less than 300MB. This small footprint combined with the fact that the laptop is light weight (1.06kg), small and yet durable with a full size keyboard makes it the perfect laptop for a minimalist like myself. In addition to this, it is simply a beautifully designed machine. Now, I’ve just got to save up the cash.

Image: Dan Taylor