The COVID situation last year meant that we really didn’t get to go away as much as we usually would have and as a result I had lots of annual leave left. Colliers permitted the carry-over of five days leave to 2021 on the condition it is taken before the end of March. With the current national lockdown we aren’t going to be using those days to go away. So, I plucked a week out of thin air and booked it off…
It’s actually been quite refreshing to have a week off with no rush to do anything in particular or with a set agenda. I can’t say I love it, I much prefer the hustle and bustle of a full calendar, but that’s not an option. In my week off I have managed to get quite a few things done that needed to be done.
In the house I put up some new blinds in the conservatory. When we moved in there were some vertical blinds installed which were not great, so we took them down. We have lived with no blinds for a while now, but it’s a bit annoying having to close the lounge curtains when it gets dark outside. The new blinds were only cheap, £25 quid each from Dunelm and do the job, the all needed to be adjusted to the right width which took about an hour and a half per blind since they were “not adjustable”. I also had to install some spacer blocks so that they didn’t catch on the window handles. After having installed them I am really quite happy with them, certainly £100 happy, it feels a bit warmer in the conservatory and the neighbours can no longer see me rowing either. We installed “party mode” for the conservatory too, with 10 meters of cheap LED lights which I ran around the inside edge between the window and the roof. I was surprised, the lights are actually really fun, although I have no idea what the neighbours must think - from the outside it looks a bit like a shady nightclub. They will be really good for parties when we’re all allowed to see each other again.
With that all done I also had a bit of a digital cleanse. I have been using Google Apps/G-Suite since about 2012, I moved from the personal Gmail service to GSuite because it enabled me to use my own domain name. This was great for a while, it gave me a few different capabilities and everything played well, I could have any number of email aliases and victoria had an account too. More recently, it’s become a bit of a pain.. Aside from having to pay for it every month, it has grown into a very enterprise-focused platform rather than a bit of a workaround that let me use my own domain name. Since moving from Google/Android to Apple/iOS I have also slowly realised that Google isn’t the right cloud for all my things to live, while things work they just don’t integrate as well. Photos was the big one, the Apple Photos app is just better if you’re in the ecosystem. Mail, Document Storage and Calendars were less important, they all worked but not quite as well as things could work. This week I have been chipping away at getting my precious data out of Google closing G-Suite.
Moving email was relatively easy, I signed us up for Fastmail and shifted the domain/s over. I debated moving all the email data out of Google and into Fastmail but in the end just moved everything to a local mailbox on my Mac. There it’s backed up it’s not just taking up cloud storage and it’s going to be a hell of a job to filter genuine email from marketing spam. One of the benefits of the COVID situation is that I have no reservations or emails that I might need while I’m out and about, so that’s kind of convenient to have a fresh start. To get mail working I changed the default mail app on devices and deleted all the email that was left in Google. The setup process from Fastmail is really good, it sets up the profile and does everything for you.
Calendars was pretty easy too, we have two shared calendars in Google, one for Events and another for Birthdays & Anniversaries. These I simply exported, added to the native mac app and merged. Apple has a calendar for anyone in a ‘Family’ already, and I just added another for the birthdays calendar and shared. Again, just , I had to adjust the default calendar app on devices too. I really like the native calendar app, I probably should have synchronised Google with it a while back, but hey! I know that if you add a birthday into Contacts it also adds it to the calendar, but these aren’t shared so we’d have to both manage everything.
Getting documents out of Google was a bit more tricky. It seems that when you initiate Google Takeout and instruct the export of everything in Google Drive it includes all of my photos too, as Google used to present these as a folder (and still do, although it doesn’t update). The folder isn’t displayed as something that you can unselect but selecting everything else seems to exclude it. Downloading the takeout files is a complete PITA on my internet connection, the files just seem to timeout and fail but once they are down it’s fine. Helpfully Google converts files from their format into Microsoft and those files that I used to use frequently still seem to work. I haven’t yet deleted all of these and am particularly curious if it will let you delete the Google Photos folder, once I have everything backed up I will be deleting everything here.
The one Google service I completely overlooked was YouTube which I will still need to use. I don’t have many YouTube videos but I do have some, erasing them from the internet would be a little frustrating. What I managed to do in the end was to move my channel to a new brand channel called ‘Laurence Andrews YouTube’. This moved all of my videos and subscriptions into a separate channel but retained comments/likes and permalinks. I then created a new personal google account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and added this new account as an owner of the new brand channel. This seems to have worked quite nicely, I am signed out of my G-Suite account and still have access to all my content and surprisingly still have my subscriptions too. The final thing to do is to make the new personal google account the primary owner of the new brand channel, this can only be done once it’s been an owner for 7 days, which seems to be a safeguard Google have implemented. Of course, I will still need to have a google account, but there’s not much I can do about that and at the end of the day, it’s going to be difficult to live without YouTube! Here’s a link to moving channels
Moving Photos has been a whole thing, I have shared a blog about the process I used to export from Google and ingest into Apple. Fair to say that this was one of the most painful things I’ve done in a long time. Good news is that I am almost there, Apple now has essentially all of my pictures and once I go through the few that are remaining it’ll all be in one place. This makes me very happy. I look forward to some product improvements with Apple Photos, it’s absolutely better but it’s crying out for better integration into the “Family” functions within Apple. I can share Albums with Victoria but I can’t make that the default for most things, which I’d prefer. The lack of Folder management for Shared albums is annoying too. Another function that would be really helpful is to store a full copy of my library on an external drive but an iCloud optimised library on my local storage. This isn’t a problem yet, but will be if the album grows much more. Certainly a consideration when buying a new mac too, as the internal storage needs to be able to manage the full library.
Aside from the Google shift I have signed up to Backblaze in addition to managing TimeMachine for backups. I’ve been putting this off because of the cost, I have so many subscriptions to services I just couldn’t justify another one but with Google about to go away and save £17 a month (1TB storage + 2 G Suite licences) it makes sense to sign up and cover ourselves. Backblaze has been doing it’s thing on both mine and Victoria’s computers for the last three days, our piddly 6Mbps upload is frustrating for things like this. Still, I think we should almost be there by this time next week. To help it along I spent a good while going through my mac and deleting a load of stuff that I don’t need any more (I have a crazy amount of screenshots and screen recordings stored) and got rid of all the one time applications I installed and no longer need - including Chrome! I did the same on my iPhone too, no more Google things there any more.
All in all, a busy week or so but happy that there is some order in my digital life. :) Now, back to work.