This episode of the Hourlings Podcast was one I could only contribute to in indirectly. We have a new YouTube channel, Channel 137—which I hope you will follow—and you may be wondering where the 137 comes from.
This morning, I had set up The Hourlings on Zoom early, before I went to bed, hoping, if I ran late, the meetup would already be set up, Marty would be early, and I could make him co-host in case I still needed time to read before we began at 10:00.
Instead, to my delight, my friend Cynthia was the first to log in around 09:30 and we had a few minutes to chat about life and her adorable Clove. I really admire Cynthia, or Max as she’s sometimes called. She writes some great LGBTQ literature and is a great guide of conscious for me. She’s also an ex-Marine. Sempre Fi, my friend!
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get her video working, so, thinking that it would be as simple as restarting the meeting, I did just that. She promptly requested to rejoin and I accepted, looking forward to continuing our conversation.
We tried again. No dice. I created a new Zoom event. That didn’t work. I asked the account owner to try. Still no success. It was already 10:00 and almost everyone was waiting to get in. I accepted them all, but none of them could connect.
Finally, our unofficial moderator, Evan Friedman brought up an instance of Microsoft Teams. He, Marty, and I verified its feasibility a while ago, so I knew it could work and joined the Teams meeting. The nice thing is now Teams allows virtual backgrounds, which was cool. But, unfortunately, Teams was as wickedly hard to invite people into as before.
Meanwhile, Marty set up a Google Meet account. Back when we tried Google Meet before when I created a Google Apps account. Back then, you had to pay for a Google Meet account by having a Google Apps account, and the Google Meet didn’t have a grid view, however, it already accommodated a lot of people.
In the end, we went with Google Meet and decided to make that Meet event out official backup for whenever Zoom misbehaves again, though we shall still default to Zoom. Unfortunately, my nightmare hair isn’t hidden by Google Meet’s cameras like it is in Zoom, so I must have looked atrocious today. I wish the Hypochondriac would let me use my hair trimmer.
We found out during the meeting that we weren’t the only ones straining for Zoom capacity. Fortunately, there is a Zoom Status we can check the next time this happens, so we’re not left trying so hard to beat a dead TimeHorse. And the Zoom system was back up, just in time for us to finish our meeting.
Unfortunately, because of all the kerfuffle and notifications, I missed a 13:30 Zoom I was planning to attend. But at least I got to hang out with my fellow writers. Thank you for reading, and I should now get back to writing.
Today, at Reston Writers Review, we had a major Zoom snafu. One of our writers was having a dickens of a time trying to communicate through the Zoom interface when we were reviewing her piece. We had a similar problem on Sunday with The Hourlings but were able to solve that with the person being reviewed just shutting off her video and only using the microphone.
Today, even that didn’t work. One member had to leave the meeting, the connection was so bad and even when the woman being reviewed turned off her video, her voice was still astoundingly choppy.
The only thing for it was to use the backdoor option provided by Zoom: the telephone interface. I hastily logged into the Zoom account provided to me, copied the full meeting info from the Zoom side—including the dial in numbers for connecting to Zoom on the telephone—and, finally, our author was back in the meeting.
Overall, it took about 10 minutes for us to fix all the difficulties listed above, but fortunately we only had five more folks who wanted to give their review, and we were still done by 21:00, our normal meeting end time.
All in all, it was a great and successful meeting despite the glitch. It’s more than likely Internet bandwidth is getting frayed due to an upswing in online meeting. But we adopted and adapted, and improved, just like the motto of the round table suggests.
From about 2020-03-23T14:30:00Z (10:30 am, Monday) to about 2020-03-23T23:30:00Z (7:30 pm, Monday), Google was redirecting all my email and either bouncing it or deleting it.
Let me repeat, google deleted or bounced my email for Nine Hours, as a part of the setup of my setup for a paid Google Apps account. The setup for these accounts are a bit weird. They require you to create a new google entity with your own company URL. Fortunately, I have multiple domains I own and maintain, including this one, TimeHorse.com.
I probably should have used my writing group domain, RestonWriters.org. After all, the whole reason I wanted to get a paid Google account is because Meetup was moving to Online-Only meetings, following the outbreak of SARS-COV-2, and I needed a tool that allowed for video conferencing.
Skype was a non-starter. For one thing, it’s great for person-to-person communications, but for group chats, it has this annoying habit of muting everyone except the current speaker and you have to wait until that speaker stops to get a word in edgewise. My understanding is WhatsApp has the same problem.
Meetup actually suggested using Google Hangouts or Zoom. I happen to like Zoom. I use it for my regular NPVIC Grassroots strategy meetings and for Toastmasters and it’s always worked great. Zoom does support up to a hundred participants, both free and Pro. The only problem is, each of those Zoom sessions are either limited to the free forty-minute block or are using an up-to-24-hour Zoom Pro Account. Since most of my Meetups are at least an hour, breaking meeting up into forty-minute chunks would be tedious. And, at $14.99 a month, the professional account is well out of my price range.
Just before the first week of Virtual meetings began, my writing colleagues and I, including Elizabeth Hayes, who runs The Hourlings, tested both free Zoom and Google Hangout. Despite being limited to ten people, we decided on Google Hangout and I mapped it to our official Virtual Meeting URL.
Ten people worked fine for Reston Writers and for the Saturday Morning Review. The Saturday Morning Review actually worked out quite well because Meetup, despite suggesting we move to a virtual platform, still won’t let you delete the venue from your event and mark it as virtual, which, when editing events can cause some confusion. But when the Library cancelled all our events, I just deleted them all from the Meetup Calendar, and recreated them with no Venue and just announced them as occurring in Cyberspace.
Stay with me folks, I’m getting to the email…
As Sunday approached, I new ten participants wouldn’t be enough. Google Hangout would be fine for Bewie Bevy of Brainy Books and Saturday Morning Review, and likely The Science Book Club, as they all usually have fewer than ten participants for each meeting. The Hourlings, on the other hand, often had twelve, and sometimes as many as sixteen!
I new Zoom was $14.99 a month, but I read that Google App accounts could up the number of participants to twenty-five. Unfortunately my 2TB Google Drive account didn’t qualify. I had to get a Google Apps account.
And that’s where my troubles began.
At first, I could only sign up for the $12 per month account, even though I’d read it could be had for $6. Since the setup has a fortnight trial period, I didn’t worry about the financial discrepancy. I set up the account with my business email address for TimeHorse, LLC. I associated it with with that email, it connected to my Gandi Registrar, and my account was ready to go. I created a Google Hangout and assigned it to the Virtual Meeting URL, hoping it would allow twenty-five. The plan was to use it with the Hourlings to verify that fact.
It failed! We still could only get ten people into the meetup despite it being a paid account.
Unfortunately, since Monday I’ve been on Weather and Safety Leave from work because my Telework agreement was revoked, but that’s a story for another day as this post is long as it is! However, it did allow me to speak to Google and they suggested I try Google Meet. Meet was included with all Google App paid accounts, and it would allow for up to a hundred people and could be as long as I needed. Also, I could downgrade to the $6 per month account and I would still be able to use it. I thus downgraded.
We tried it with Reston Writers Review and it worked wonderfully. We had up to twelve connections simultaneously! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
At around 10:30 am, that Monday, after chatting with Google, I was examining my Google Apps account more closely. It was telling me I had one last step I needed to complete: integrate me email with Gmail.
That’s when my troubles began. You see, what this innocuous, turn-key step says it does is it says it sets up GMail for your company. What it actually does is obliterate all the MX Records (email routing information) of your DNS (Internet routing information) Zone File (routing configuration file) on Gandi and replace it with MX Records that point to Google. The setup wizard doesn’t actually tell you this and I’m totally oblivious.
At current writing, I have 188 forwarded email addresses set up on Gandi with their MX Servers. One of those is my business email, the one Google took over and is my Google Apps login. That’s the email google set up as the official email address used in GMail. Once the GMail setup goes through and I send an email from the GMail interface to my personal email address on the timehorse.com domain.
It never arrives. All day long, I watch my email and, strangely, nothing arrives after 10:30 in the morning. I refresh and refresh, and it’s still nothing. Where have all my emails gone?
It’s not until I’m setting up for Reston Writers that I decide to contact Google about this. I’m crazy-busy setting up the Google Meet, opening up the pieces we’d be reviewing on my computer, and, simultaneously, chatting with Google, trying to figure out why I’m not receiving any email.
Eventually, Google Tech Support starts talking about MX Records and a chill runs down my spine. As you probably gathered by now, I am well versed in DNS records and Zone File manipulation. I even have a Python script which updates my DNS A Record when the IP Address for this server changes.
With trepidation, I logged into my Gandi account and saw the damage. Google had modified my Zone file and added a bunch of strange new MX Records pointing to Google. They had nuked all my Gandi Email forward since they’d redirected all email traffic to google. As google only had one account registered on the domain, timehorse.com, namely my business email address, every other email address I possessed was either being deleted or bounced by google!
Fortunately, Gandi’s Email Forwarding page provides a warning when the Zone file doesn’t point to their email server, listing the correct MX Record settings to use Gandi as the mail hosting server. I quickly commented out the Google MX Records and pasted in the Gandi MX Records around 7:30 pm, in the middle of my Reston Writers meeting.
Needless to say, I was miffed that I could not give my full attention to my writers during our weekly writing gettogether. But it’s good I finally did figure out the disastrous actions committed by Google after only nine hours, and not a day or more.
I may never know what was contained in those nine hours of lost emails. I suppose there is one blessing, though. I get too much email already and still have dozens of unread messages I’m desperately trying to catch up on. One Covidapolis, novel-length email after another from every business under the sun. STFU companies, you’re all doing the same thing and I don’t like reading the same message again, and again, and again! You have a plan, that’s all I need to know!
Maybe Google was doing me a favor?
In the end, I was able to solve the problem because I got skills and I’m available for hire!