NORTH WILDWOOD, New Jersey (GBT) — Tim G.'s new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, went online this week, rendering his original domain, restorationsbytim.com, obsolete. The domain transfer from Wordpress to Bluehost was finalized this morning. Tim enabled the change after subscribing to Zoho's Mail Lite professionally hosted email plan. He now receives email at both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org via his Zoho account.
The origins of RestorationsByTim.com
Tim originally launched RestorationsByTim.com through Wordpress in 2012 to promote his side hustle of digitally restoring damaged photographs. When he lost his job as a Digital Resource Specialist for the Free Library of Philadelphia in late 2013, his photo restoration work offered a modest but significant source of income. In 2016, after finding employment as a substitute teacher for the School District of Philadelphia, Tim suspended his photo restoration work. As Tim was promoted to a full-time math teacher for the district in the fall of 2018, his interactions with RestorationsByTim.com slowed to a trickle.
The year 2020 brought new opportunities for Tim. He moved into his own apartment in January of that year and assumed full control over his apartment's internet services. The work-from-home paradigm of the COVID-19 epidemic offered Tim more time to pursue personal interests, including the launch of a personal genealogy website on a self-hosted server. Tim documented the building of his server in his final four posts for RestorationsByTim.com, which occurred in June and July of 2020.
Tim's new website, rechristened GenealogyByTim.com, was initially launched in the summer of 2020. The new domain name was purchased on June 29th of that year.
Vision of self-sufficiency delays email service
Despite ceasing to perform photo restorations for hire in 2016 and ceasing to update RestorationsByTim.com in 2020, Tim continued to use email@example.com through mid-2023. The primary reason for this is that Tim wanted to self-host an email service on his home server, but the challenge proved daunting. Tim allowed Wordpress.com to continue forwarding his emails while he worked on the project.
"Since initially launching my web server during the summer of 2020, my vision had always been to self-host as much as possible," the family historian and amateur web administrator said. "It was actually a kind of response to some of the deplatforming that went on during that time. It didn't sit well with me that service providers like AWS could pull the plug on my project if they took issue with what I had to say. Granted, I'm not really saying anything too controversial on Genealogy By Tim G., but it's the principle. I'd I made it a mission to run my site while relying on as few outside services as possible."
Tim dabbled in Postfix several times since 2020, but didn't prepare a working prototype until November of 2022. "The Gentoo Wiki has a very useful article on setting up a complete virtual mail server, but it was more difficult than I had anticipated." Tim recalled. "My day job got in the way. I could work on it only in fits and starts. I eventually managed to send outgoing mail though genealogybytim.com, but I could never receive emails. I never set up spamassassin or any other useful addons. It was unfinished."
One of the challenges facing web administration hobbyists is that providers of residential internet service usually close the ports that email servers need to operate, like port 25, to prevent the proliferation of spam email.
"It can get pretty bad. Apparently spammers can actually get into your email server, if it isn't configured correctly, and relay spam emails under your domain without you even knowing. Many ISPs put a stop to this by simply blocking the ports." Tim described how he was able to circumvent the blockage.
"I was able to relay SMTP emails to SendInBlue, now Brevo, through port 587. They have a pretty neat service that throttles your emails to a certain number per hour. This protects your online reputation if your email server ever gets commandeered by spammers. I used the free tier, which relays up to 300 emails per day, but it kind of defeated my primary purpose for running my own email server, which is self-sufficiency."
Self-Hosted email service didn't survive hardware upgrade
Tim upgraded his server hardware in April of 2023, citing lack lack of newer software support for older 32-bit processors.
"I changed operating systems when I moved. The old server machine was an old laptop with a 32-bit processor. It was literally fifteen years old when I spun it up in 2020. By then a lot of more popular operating systems, like Ubuntu Server, Fedora Server, and Arch, had already dropped 32-bit support. I went with Gentoo because I'm familiar with it. It actually builds software from source. I figured that might give it the edge in supporting 32-bit for longer. It did last, for three years in fact. It could have lasted longer, but lately I've encountered some individual software packages that lacked support for 32-bit. It started with the Discourse forum software. When Nextcloud dropped support for 32-bit with Version 26, I knew it was time for an upgrade."
The Postfix email server, Roundcube client, and accompanying databases did not make the transition to the new machine. Tim explained, "When I set up the new server, I went with the Fedora operating system rather than Gentoo. Gentoo is really cool, but a web server has enough to do without also having to compile its own software. So I installed Fedora Server on the new box, and Fedora is different in a few ways. For example, Gentoo calls the Apache service 'apache', but Fedora renames it to 'httpd', for some reason. I have no idea how the email server might be different. With such a complex configuration, I thought it wiser to rebuild that one entirely than to transfer the configuration from the old server.
Tim opts for managed email service
By the summer of 2023, Tim had become more involved in his local genealogy scene. He renewed his membership at the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and launched a Twitch channel to showcase his work. Increased exposure renewed in his work sparked new interest in launching an email service.
"By the summer of 2023 I was getting antsy for an email address that matched my web site URL, but I still lacked the confidence to set up the server on my own. My old server could never receive email, which was a problem, and I still couldn't run a fully independent email server anyway without either doing an SMTP relay or upgrading to business class internet."
In light of the challenges facing private email servers, Tim decided in mid-July to subscribe to a professionally managed email service. Tim explained, "On a recent episode of 2.5 Admins, the guys were talking about how almost nobody spins up their own private email server anymore. Even if I did spin up my own server, I'd still have to worry about my emails getting ensnared in spam filters. I basically shopped on price. Zoho was near the top of several 'cheapest email' lists. The single-user Mail Lite plan costs a dollar a month. Literally for the price of a hamburger at the local pub I could get a year's worth of managed e-mail—and I can have multiple email addresses for multiple domains."
Restorationsbytim.com is deprecated
Having purchased a subscription to a professional email service and configured it to work with his domains, Tim was finally free to transfer RestorationsByTim.com away from Wordpress and close his Wordpress account. The domain is now active on Bluehost. Emails to firstname.lastname@example.org are currently being delivered to the Zoho inbox, and restorationsbytim.com URL now redirects to Tim's self-hosted Wordpress installation at blog.genealogybytim.com.
"I was paying Worpress $19 a year for the domain and $48 a year for the blog. Now that I transferred to Bluehost, I pay $25 a year for domain plus privacy protection. I self-host the blog, so that's free, and the e-mail costs $12 a year. All told, I have all the same services I had before, plus an email address at my new domain, and I'm paying about $30 less annually, so it's a good deal. I should have done it two years ago.!"
Tim did not indicate how long he intends to maintain the restorationsbytim.com domain.
"It still is an expense," the 42-year-old web administrator admitted. "It will be up for a while, though. I've signed up for numerous services through the old address. I've got to change all of them over. People should start using the genealogybytim.com email address as soon as they can, though. I know of at least one relative who saved some bookmarks at my old blog, so I'd like to keep that functional. It ought to be up for at least a year, but there will come a day where I won't want to shell out the bucks for that domain anymore."
Two days after signing up for Zoho, Tim discovered that No-IP offers email for two dollars less per year, but doesn't include a web interface or android app.
"I considered switching for about two seconds. I could get all my domains on there, save two bucks annually on email and have a dynamically updated IP address, but nah. I think I'll just enjoy what I have for while before messing everything up again!" ⬮