Plexing with Apple TV – Amazon Fire Sticks and TVs Suck for Plex

For the last couple of years, my household has been an Amazon Firestick and FireTV household. It made sense, the sticks were cheap, they had access to all the streaming services and I could use them with Plex, which is now our preferred way to consume most entertainment (we have our own NAS Plex server, have ripped all our movies, TV shows, and music onto it).

The problem, though, is that the Firesticks have gotten worse and worse. Between a new user interface and buggy software updates, they constantly crash, they’re SLOW, and the biggest problem we had is that Plex would just not work a lot of the time. We even had instances where we’d turn off our FireTV and it would be off – but the audio would still be playing!

I use Plex for several hours a day and I was getting increasingly frustrated. Watching Plex on our Samsung SmartTV was so much better, so I knew it wasn’t Plex itself.

I kept thinking it would get better with more software updates between Plex and Firestick. Firesticks just continue to get worse. The software is just way too buggy and slow. And honestly, I think it’s because Firesticks are just bare minimum ‘computers’ – the chips are underpowered, there’s not enough memory and they simply cannot handle modern streaming.

There had to be another way, right?

I didn’t want to go back to Roku – mostly because their sticks and boxes have the same problem. They’re cheap, which means they’re crap. I also don’t like Roku’s habit of advertising to you.

Other than building a dedicated streaming box from scratch and hooking it up to my TV, what were my options?

It looks like the two options are Apple TV and Nvidia Shield. Both cost about the same. I researched both.

Since I’m firmly in the Apple ecosystem for computers, phones, and tablets, I figured, the Apple TV was the best option. When I looked at the specs, I got excited. The current iteration of the Apple TV uses iPad chips. When I use Plex or any streaming service on an iPad, the experience is great. So, maybe it’ll be great on the TV?

I took a leap and bought one. Quite a leap as they’re expensive, almost $200 when you add in taxes. A Firestick is $50 (sometimes less) but you get what you pay for!

I plugged it in and set it up. And within hours, it was like that moment when you put on glasses for the first time after getting a prescription – I suddenly realized what I was missing out on – frustration-free streaming TV!

The Apple TV is FAST. So incredibly snappy. Switching between apps is like the blink of an eye.

Was Plex any better?

Hell yes, it was. The interface is better, it’s so fast and snappy. In the almost three weeks of usage, it hasn’t crashed once. It’s never slow, and it’s not buggy at all. It does what it’s supposed to do and it does it well.

The Apple TV remote takes some getting used to – it’s very sensitive so you end up selecting many things by mistake. I also love the screensaver feature, which adds some color and character to the room when you don’t want to watch TV. I haven’t used the Firestick in weeks and I don’t think I ever will again.

The Apple TV is expensive, but the benefit is that it’s basically a small, powerful computer. The software is great, and crucially, Plex finally works that way I’ve always wanted it to work.

As time goes on, I will be replacing all our Amazon Fire-based TV devices. I’m so done with buggy, underpowered products that just don’t get any better.

So, if you want to use Plex on your TV and want the best experience, do it on Apple TV. Spend the extra money, it’s very worth it.

Update: After I wrote this, I also added another Apple TV to our bedroom TV and, while I bought the ‘slower’ HD version, it’s a substantial improvement over the FireTV. If you’re considering the Apple TV – I recommend getting the 4K version as it has a faster chip and is noticeably snappier than the HD version. 

What was it like to flight across the USA in the ‘Post-Covid’ era?

Strange is the word I would use to describe it. My wife and I canceled a special trip three times during the plague year. So when we got confirmation of our COVID vaccine dates, the first thing we did was rebook this ‘lost’ trip.

America is in a bit of a strange place right now – vaccination numbers are high, ‘normal’ life is resuming. But COVID is still an ever-present threat and dictates everything you experience while you travel through the air in the United States.

I’ve always liked flying, it used to excite me. It did not this time. I just wanted to get it over with so I could get to where I wanted to go. The problem is that we were flying across the country – so it was going to be a long flight.

So, as I’m writing this, despite the CDC saying you no longer need to wear a mask when you’re inside or outside if you’ve had the vaccine, you still have to wear it on an airplane and going through an airport.

The flight from ORD to LAX is at a minimum of four hours. You’re supposed to arrive two hours early and add time at the end for your arrival and you’re looking at at least 8 hours wearing a mask with few breaks.

I was not looking forward to this.

So first, our airfare was extortionate. Airlines are operating as full flights as possible. We’d booked the trip with a flight credit, but because we decided to go over Memorial Day weekend, it was $800 additional to get the seats. We figured we deserved it after everything we went through in the last 14 months.

We were very leary of our flight leaving as we’d watched the news and it kept saying how it was going to be so busy and whatnot. We expected long waits at security. Honestly, it was not long at all – we practically sailed through security.

But once through, we were with more people than we’d been with in the same place in the last 14 months. It was terrifying and my anxiety levels were quite high. We had to tell ourselves that we had the vaccine, this was low risk. Everything is fine.


It doesn’t help that the United terminal at ORD is rather cramped so people were very close, even when people attempted to respect the social distancing rules.

We had an extra set of hands as a friend arranged for us to be guided through the terminal with a greeter from Air General Travel Services. He helped us through security, helped with our bags, and kept us company, making sure we got on the plane and departed. It was comforting and helped! If you’re unsure about returning to flying or need an extra hand getting through the airport – I highly recommend getting in touch with them! Check out their website here.

Everything went smoothly, our flight was on time. People boarded the plane in an orderly fashion. I applaud for United staff for handling it so well and keeping people in line. They did well! Throughout the airport and on board, there were ample warnings about how you were legally required to wear a mask and that there were very real penalties if you refused to comply.  For the most part, everyone listened to directions (a few people didn’t listen when the flight attendants told people to remain seated until their rows were called to deplane).

The plane was a 737-900 and the flight was full. I’ve become rather claustrophobic as I age and I will admit that when you combine wearing a mask, it felt like the walls were closing in. We left on time, flight time was about 4 hours.

So, the mask.

This was by far the worst part.

The elastic on masks always make my ears hurt after a while. It was never really much of a problem because I never had to wear them for extended periods. But on the flight, my ears were screaming after an hour. There were, however, short breaks. You get a break when you eat or drink. I also took it off in the bathroom and gave myself a chance to breathe.

I don’t mind doing my part, but it’s irritating that we have to keep the mask mandate on air travel when we don’t anywhere else. I watched a movie on my laptop and that helped keep my mind off the confined space and the mask. Before I knew it, we landed in LA and once we got into our rental car, the mask went off and it was heaven to breathe fresh California Pacific air.

Coming home was a bit stranger. When we’d left the airport in Chicago was heaving with people. We were flying home on a holiday, so we expected LAX to be the same.

It was a ghost town!

The terminal was practically empty with only a couple of flights. Most of the restaurants and stores were closed, which was irritating as we had only one option for lunch and it wasn’t very good. We wish we’d stopped somewhere before we got to the airport.

Waiting for the flight was leisurely. People respected distance. Mask wearing was 100% except when people were eating. United staff once again handled things perfectly and before we knew it, we were on the plane and heading home.

I learned a trick the second time around. I put the elastic loops of my mask around the headphone cups on my noise-canceling headphones, this took the strain off my ears and made the flight home much more pleasant. I watched another movie to keep my mind off things. Despite a bit of turbulence, we arrived in Chicago early. The United terminal was again empty and we were in our car quickly. We were in bed by midnight.

So, all in all, everything was a bit weird but everything went smoothly. It was definitely worth the trouble for a quick weekend away. It was an odd experience sleeping somewhere not my bed for the first time in so long.

I have another trip later this year that we’ve rescheduled several times. This one is transatlantic though. After struggling with the mask-wearing for so long on a flight half as long, I’m not sure if I want to do a transatlantic flight until the mask mandate has been lifted. Problem is, no one knows when that will be. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to go on the trip anyway. So much is still in flux. I’ve been waiting three years to take this trip, so I might have to be a big boy and deal with it. We shall see.

That being said, we had a wonderful time finally going on a long-deferred trip and any mild inconvenience was very much worth it.

How To Get Your Website out of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine

The Internet Archive Way Machine can be an incredible resource. But it can also be bad for your publication. For several reasons. One being that they’re literally copying your content without your permission. That’s reason enough to not want to be included. But the novelty of being in the Internet Archive meant that I honestly didn’t really care. It was fun to see old versions of my website that I remember from the ‘good ‘ol days.’

When your site has been around for 14 years, it’s changed a lot!

However, recently I had my websites removed from the Internet Archive. The main reason? It’s evidence. Evidence that can be used against you. There are bots patrolling the internet looking for usage of content – whether it’s images, videos, or audio. And even if you’ve legitimately licensed something, that doesn’t stop these bots and the lawyers they employ to patrol ownership of content.

Even if you delete something, a record of it exists in the Internet Archive forever. After being at the receiving end of several legal threats related to content we’d removed years ago, I decided that the novelty of being in the Internet Archive had worn off.

So, I looked into how to get it removed.

It turns out, the process is rather straightforward. You don’t need to file a DMCA notice or anything (but you can if you want to go nuclear). Blocking their bots doesn’t help. It will just stop them from crawling further if they even follow what a robots.txt file says.

All you need to do is ask.

Simply write an email from the domain you use for the website to and ask them nicely to remove your website. This opens a ticket in their system, and they will respond to you, usually within a day, with instructions on how to do so. You will have to provide several bits of evidence that you’re the actual website owner.

I had to put pages on the websites, that only they could see indicating I had ownership rights. I had to provide a photo ID and also proof from my domain registrar and hosting service that I, indeed, owned my websites. It took five minutes to gather the info. Within a day, they’d responded and removed my websites from the archive. When I checked, sure enough, they were gone.

So, hats off to the Internet Archive for making the process smooth and relatively painless.

Rolling Your Own Link Shortener With the .IM Domain and Automating it With WordPress Jetpack

Link shorteners were very in vogue in the early 2010s but they seem to have fallen out of favor somewhat since most social networks now automatically shorten links (and don’t count links against your character count) and popular networks like Instagram don’t really even allow links at all. Bitly was the elephant in the room for link shortening and they do offer a white-label service. But it’s expensive. A link shortener is a ‘nice to have’ for a business but frankly, it’s not worth paying $29 a month.

As always, I was keen to find my own solution, to fit my own specific needs, and pay as little as possible for it.

At the most fundamental level, a link shortener takes a long link, and shortens it and redirects it to the long link when it’s clicked. It’s basically a fancy .htaccess redirect script.

Jealous of my boss’s very, very short link shortener ( I set out to have my own for my business brand, Anglotopia.

I tried lots and lots of combinations. I wanted the shortest version possible that had at least the word ‘anglo’ in it. The problem was that since it’s a common word, there wasn’t a lot of TLD’s still available using anglo. Eventually, I settled on It seemed ideal as it had most of my company name in it and it was still relatively short. I registered it and then set up a link shortener. I was informed shortly after that .TOP is actually not a very good domain to use for something like this – because it’s has a heavy association with SPAMMERS – so if you use the links in email or social media, it is more likely to get blocked or filtered out.

So, back to the drawing board.

After some digging, I found that was available directly from the Isle of Man Domain Registry (but strangely not through my register of choice these days – Blacknight). It was a bit pricey – £40 a year – but that was still cheap enough to be useful for this project. I could also use it for other things. Short domains are great! And versatile – I may even use it for email one day. I was able to secure ‘’

So, how do you go about setting up a link shortener?

First, you need a server. Any Linux server will do. I happen to have my own dedicated server with Blacknight, so I can put whatever I want on it. I used Softaculous to install YOURLS in seconds, which is an open-source PHP URL shortener. While the tool is pretty basic, with a very dated interface, it works really, really well. It makes the links and tracks the links so you can get stats on how many times something was clicked.

You can set up bookmarklets and Google Chrome extensions to make short links without even having to log in to the service because it has a handy little API.

I’m a fan of automation. With a full-time job and a side-business that takes a lot of spare time, I really didn’t want to have another thing to do – that being creating short links every time I publish or share something. Thankfully, YOURLS integrates easily with WordPress. If you install the BetterYOURLS plugin, you can then automatically create a short link when you publish a post (and customize it if you wish).

When I publish an article on Anglotopia or Londontopia, it’s automatically shared to Twitter and Facebook, so I wanted the links that were shared there to also be the short link. This proved a bit trickier. But I found a workaround.

How to use YOURLS with Jetpack URL Shortener

  1. Download and install Jetpack
  2. Enable the Jetpack URL shortener under the sharing settings.
  3. Install BetterYOURLS, activate and setup with your API key
  4. Then, this is the key part, now go to Jetpack and then deactivate the Jetpack URL shortener
  5. Then, when you publish an article it’ll use your own custom short URL on Twitter and Facebook. If you don’t do this, it won’t work. It took me a few hours to work this out…

Initially, I ran into issues that when these posts were published to Facebook or Twitter, it was not pulling the right Open Graph image, or none at all and when you tried to ‘refresh share attachment’ on Facebook, it still wouldn’t work. I never found a solution to this problem, but a while ago the problem seemed to fix itself.

So, for minimal investment – just £40 (about $50), I was able to set up my own branded URL shortener for all my links that I publish and when people share links from Anglotopia, it uses the short links as well. There’s really no reason to do this, other than to have another way to be branded on the internet. But as we know, links are the currency of the internet and if they’re something you can control, you absolutely should.

I also recently registered, which are my initials, to have the shortest possible URL for when I share links personally or on this personal blog. It’s not 4 letters, but five is close enough! I also found this really short domain useful for setting up a 1 letter email address for registering for things quickly or logging into accounts on smart tv’s – a painful process when you have to type in a long email address.

Finding a Better Way to Make eBooks – ePub Files and Learning Sigil

I dislike eBooks. Well, I don’t dislike the idea of them, they’re fine. I dislike having to make eBooks. I’ve been publishing books for years, and the worst part of publishing a book is making the ePub file (the standard eBook file). It’s hard. It’s fiddly. It’s a pain in the arse. And it takes forever.

But making the eBook version of any book these days is critical – often you will sell as many copies of the eBook as you will of the print version. Making the ePub file, however, is such a pain in the butt, it’s always the last thing I do when prepping a book for publication. Because I bloody hate it.

Laying out a book for print is a lot of work too. But I’ve done it so much for Anglotopia’s books and our magazine, that it’s a breeze compared to making an eBook. With the print layout, you have complete control of the end product. How it looks when it’s printed, how many pages it is, what pictures are included. Everything. The book will look exactly when printed how you’ve laid it out on the computer.

With an eBook, none of these things applies.

You can no control over the end-user experience. When you make an eBook, you have to strip the text down to its base thing – which is just words organized in a linear fashion. There is no design. There is no layout. There are no pictures. How it looks to the reader depends entirely on their e-reader, tablet, platform – and what font they prefer – whether it’s lit or how large it is. You don’t even know how many pages it will be because it will be different for every user. So, an eBook has to be as little as possible, to work on every platform.

This is ridiculously hard to pull off.

I learned this early on when I was formatting Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English. Having paragraphs is one thing, having a listing of words and definitions with different fonts and boldness and size, is entirely too much for ePubs.

And that’s what’s weird. ePub is the standard for eBooks. It’s what all the platforms use. But what it really is, is an HTML file, filled with code. With as little formatting as possible.

When making an eBook you need just two things – the book itself and a table of contents, so users can navigate the book. Making that is really hard. Over the years I’ve used KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), Createspace (before it was fully swallowed by Amazon), Ingram Spark, Nook. All made it terrible to make an eBook despite all having software that tried to make it easier. With them all, I’d have to spend days formatting the damn thing. When you’ve reached the end of writing a book, rewriting it, editing it, editing it again, crying a few times, and then laying it out for print, doing it all over again for the eBook is that last thing you want to do.

There has to be an easier way.

I’m in the process of publishing a new edition of one of Anglotopia’s old Guidebooks – 101 London Travel Tips. The 1st edition was written almost a decade ago, it was time for an update. But I wanted the print version to be a beautiful print guidebook, with lots of pictures. It’s turned out great. I can’t wait to release it. But this past week, with all the other tasks done, one task was left: make the ePub version. I didn’t want to do it so badly, that I considered hiring someone to do this one task, but I’d already spent enough prepping this new book.


I guess we’re going to have to do this.

First I tried to convert the InDesign document into an ePub. But that just made an unformatted mess that didn’t recognize chapters existing. I tried to find an online web-based tool to make one. There just isn’t one – ePub tools are built into the publishing platforms, no one has just made one that works independently.

Finally, after some googling, I downloaded Sigil. I’d tried to use in the past but found the software impenetrable (just look at the interface in header screenshot – no icon is even labeled!). But I read some articles that told me what to do and sat down on an evening this past week to just make the damn eBook. I followed the directions and…. It was a breeze. Once I accepted the fact that everything nice I’d designed for the print version would be stripped away and mastered how to make the table of contents, it was easy to format the 101 ‘chapters’ in the book and make an ePub file.

I finished it in two hours while watching TV, uploaded it to Ingram – was told there were a few validation errors that were easy to fix (Sigil and the original Word Document for the text had added extra crap to the code that was breaking things). And boom, it was done. Uploaded and ready to go. You can already pre-order it.

When I tested it on my tablet, sure enough, it looked like an eBook. Which is, as I said, not great for this page designer. But it looks fine for an eBook, and that’s all that matters. Slightly irritating that all the time I spent selecting the 101 perfect pictures for the print version, was useless here as they are completely absent from the eBook (pictures always look like shit in eBooks, because you can’t control layout, size, format, they’re just THERE and increase the file size of the ePub, better to leave them out altogether). Never underestimate the benefit of taking the time to learn a new process. I’m still going to hate making eBooks, but I’ll hate it a little less and it will take a lot less time than it took before.

And best of all, Sigil is free!

How to Roll Your Own Linktree Link Landing Page and Control Your Brand

I’ve been using Linktree for a while now as my primary link on Instagram. For those that don’t know what it is – since Instagram only allows links in your profile, the trend is to have a landing page full of relevant links in your profile. Linktree is probably the ‘biggest’ of the link page services. I’ve used it for a while and honestly, it’s great.

But I read this tweet the other day that gave me pause. Why are large Instagrammers trusting their important branding to a third party? Look, there’s nothing wrong with Linktree. But as someone with a large following and an established brand, this resonated with me – I should have my own branded link page, that sells me – not someone else. Linktree offers white label branding, but it costs money. I also want analytics, which Linktree charges for.

I’m not one to do something that costs money when I can do it myself for free.

I already have a dedicated server with Blacknight. It has plenty of capacity and could easily support a 1-page website that only hosts links. It just has to look nice.

So, here’s what I did to set one up.

  1. Bought – I bought my brand name with the .LINK gTLD. It cost like $5 with Blacknight (my primary domain registrar now).
  2. Pointed it at my server.
  3. Installed a clean WordPress install with Softaculous.
  4. Installed Genesis and the Genesis Sample Themes.
  5. Switched to the Landing Page template in Genesis for the homepage.
  6. Installed Atomic Blocks and Kadence Blocks plugins.
  7. Created a block of buttons, customized them to how I wanted it to look.
  8. Installed Google custom fonts (I use Lato)
  9. Installed an SSL
  10. Installed Matomo Analytics
  11. Installed WPSupercache12. Set up all the links, added a background, added my logo, and social media icons.

And this is the end result – check out here – for best results, load it on your mobile:

A simple one-page landing page that does one thing, show links to the stuff I mention on my Instagram account. With Gutenberg blocks, it’s a little more flexible and I can add new features as needed. I now have free analytics and can see how each link does. And, I must say – it looks rather nice. It has my logo and my stock image I use for most of our marketing. When you load it on a mobile phone, it looks great. The page is easy to update and I can easily add new links for each new marketing campaign that comes down the line.

There was a bit trial and error before I settled on this approach. But once I got things set up, it took about an hour to have a finished landing page. It’s certainly wasn’t as easy at setting up a Linktree. But now I control every aspect of it and it cost me nothing more than a new domain and an hour of my weekend.

A B-17 Flying Fortress Visits Laporte Indiana

Recently, well last weekend, a B-17 owned by the Commemorative Air Force recently stopped at the local LaPorte Municipal Airport. It was quite a surprising thing to happen – I didn’t know about it until the day before. The plane flew low and loud over my house. I’m an AVGeek so I was thrilled. It’s one of only 9 airworthy B-17 Flying left in the world (though this one did not see service in World War II).

They offered flights and tours of the plane while it was parked in LaPorte. Because of the ongoing pandemic, I didn’t want to go on a tour or one of the flights – too close quarters for my comfort right now. But the airport was allowing anyone to have a look at the plane. So, on a hot summer day, I ventured over there with my new camera to take some pictures. I was lucky to get very close – and then got to see it take off.

It was thrilling!

Here are some video highlights and some pictures. Hopefully, it will come back one day, and I can take a flight.

Why You Need Your Own ISBN Numbers

So, I’ve published quite a few books on my own over the years. I’ve always had ISBNs with my books (international serial book number – basically the ID number of your book so it can be found anywhere). At one point, a few years ago, I bought 10 of them from Bowker, the main company that sells ISBN numbers, with the assumption it would take me a while to use them. I have finally used them all, and with several books in the pipeline for the rest of this year, it became clear I would need more.

But they’re expensive! Bowker now charges $295 for ten numbers (or just $125 for a single number!). It’s a high upfront cost, and I know it’s a small cost when you project the revenue from 10 books. But it still bites.

I’ve moved recently to using Ingram Spark for publishing Anglotopia’s books (I may write about the switch eventually). Happy with it so far – it offers hardcover options which Amazon KDP doesn’t offer (plus many different trim sizes). They offer a free ISBN if you use their system to publish the book. I did a few books recently with this feature.

But then, I wondered, what’s the cost of free? What’s the benefit of having your own number versus just using one provided by Ingram (or KDP).

After a little research, I discovered why.

You need your own ISBN so that you’re listed as the publisher, not Ingram or Amazon KDP. They become the publisher of record if you’re using their numbers. As I run a corporation that acts as the publisher, I’d much rather my company be the publisher.

I wondered what this meant in practical reality.

So, I looked up Adventures in Anglotopia, where I had my own ISBN, to see who the publisher is listed as on Amazon. It was Anglotopia LLC.

I looked up a book where I used the ‘free’ ISBN and sure enough – ‘Indy Pub’ was listed as the publisher.

You can bet I will no longer be doing that. It’s mostly a vanity thing, but Anglotopia is pivoting to publishing more books, and we want to be the ‘publisher’, not the platform we’re using to actually print the books.

And when you use a service like Ingram or KDP and use their ISBN’s you’re locked into using them for printing copies. And if someone comes in for a bulk order, they would contact your publisher – you’d rather that be you directly instead of Ingram or KDP.

So, spend the $295 on 10 ISBNs. It’s a small investment up front but will pay off in the future as your little publishing house grows.

How to Roll Your Own Invoice Website With WordPress to Process Your Own Invoicing Payments

As someone who runs a small business, I need to send invoices quite often. For a few years, I had a solution that worked fine. I used GoDaddy Bookkeeping to keep my business’s books and to send invoices to clients. They had a built-in invoicing feature that processed payments through Stripe.

It was a very simple system, and it worked very well. My clients never had anything bad to say and getting payments quickly through Stripe was nice. Occasionally someone would have to pay with a check, and that was fine as I could manually mark the invoice as paid. But it could only do it in in one currency because it was simple software. So, when I needed to send invoices in GBP, I had to use something else (like Zervant).

Then GoDaddy Bookkeeping basically stopped working.

After GoDaddy acquired Outright, they proceeded to continue to run it, but never improve it or add new features. Then, the one thing I relied on this service for, invoicing – stopped working well. Two things happened when I sent an invoice to clients – they got prompted to log in to GoDaddy, something they never had to do before and why would I assume my client would WANT a GoDaddy account to pay me? Second, something fundamentally broke – there were two instances where a client would pay the invoice twice accidentally and wouldn’t receive a confirmation that they paid at all.

This was very bad. One invoice was for several thousand dollars. Thankfully I was able to reverse the charge right away. But this was enough to make me look for an alternative mostly because I need to occasionally send invoices in other currencies and that didn’t really work with various invoicing alternatives.

In the meantime, I resumed sending invoices through PayPal, which does the trick. But then again, they also have high fees and it isn’t that professional.

What I really wanted, was a simple invoicing service that used Stripe. There are plenty of invoicing services out there, but they all charge a monthly fee, on top of charging fees per transaction. I looked at them all. But I’m trying to cut my business’s costs and adding another monthly bill to just send invoices was a non-starter. I just wanted something simple that made an invoice, sent it to someone and let them pay with their credit card through Stripe.

Eventually, I came to a solution: I made my own payments website.

Years ago this would have been prohibitively expensive. But not so now. There are several WordPress plugins that let you send invoices. I found a couple paid solutions that were pretty cheap – most give the core invoicing feature away and charge for add-ons (like specific payment gateways). After investigating the various plugins, I decided to just build my own payment processing website.

Here’s the process I went through:

  1. Bought a specific domain just for this – ( just seemed too flashy but I also registered it so no one can spoof it)
  2. Installed WordPress on my Blacklight Solutions Dedicated Server.
  3. Installed an SSL
  4. Installed Sliced Invoices
  5. Set it up
  6. Tested
  7. Purchased 5 Sliced Invoices extensions, totaled $105 and installed them.
  8. Linked to Stripe
  9. Sent several test invoices and did a test payment.
  10. Sent the first invoice to a client (which was promptly paid)

It took an afternoon over the weekend to set up and granted, I already know what I’m doing in this regard. The website is very simple, with a 1-page homepage that says it’s a payment site and you should only be there if you were sent there. I blocked search bots because this site doesn’t need to be indexed in search engines.

Sliced Invoices sets up its own backend and creates secure links for invoices. Only the client can view the invoice. It also gives them an area to login to view their invoices and current statuses. The invoices are basic and nicely designed. They do the job. When you send an invoice to a customer, they get directed to the page on your website to pay. You can have the page be public or use a secure link only they can access. You can track and see if the invoice has been viewed. You can send reminders for payments due.

This is the page the customer sees when they get notified they have an invoice.

I can send invoices in US dollars, British Pounds, and Euros (and also let British customers Pay via bank transfer). It does everything I need an invoicing service to do. And now I don’t have a monthly fee (other than hosting which I was already paying for). I might have to renew these extensions in a year, but we’ll see if it’s necessary.

So far, I’m very pleased. I’ve solved a particular problem that I was having. And it didn’t cost that much. I’ll report back in a few months and see how it’s going in practice.

Thoughts On Using My iPhone 11 Pro as My Primary Camera on a Recent Trip to Ireland

For as long as I’ve been traveling, I’ve always brought a ‘proper’ camera with me. First an SLR and for the last ten years, a Sony Nex-7 mirrorless camera. I’ve been happy with the quality of my pictures for this time. However, the camera is showing it’s age, and I cannot justify buying a new one (for now – a replacement will be about $2,000). Late last year, I succumbed to temptation and bought an iPhone 11 Pro.

Now, I was making the jokes the same as everyone else when it was announced with its three cameras that looked like a stovetop. But when I played with it in my local Apple Store, I was smitten. I quite liked having all the options the iPhone 11 cameras presented. I bought one shortly after that. I’m not going to review the phone in general other than to say, coming from the iPhone 6s, the 11 Pro is a revelation. I love it.

In December I went to Ireland for a business trip (as in my employer was brought me over for a head office visit). Normally, I would take my camera along with me. But this time, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t take my proper camera. First, it was a business trip; my primary purpose there was to work. So, while I would have a couple of days to explore and photograph things, it wasn’t my primary purpose there. I also wanted to travel light – I try to travel with a carry-on only. The camera would have taken up quite a bit of space in my suitcase or made my backpack heavier. When I used to go on trips for Anglotopia, the pictures and video I captured were a business asset, so it made sense to make room for the camera. This was a non-Anglotopia trip, so any pictures I took would be for fun. I simply didn’t need my big camera.

So, I left it at home.

Here’s a summary of my thoughts after using the phone heavily on my days off when I could take pictures.

Portrait Mode is Amazing

By far, the biggest strength of the iPhone 11 is portrait mode. It uses software and camera trickery to take amazing portrait photos with a perfectly blurred background. Great for both selfies and portraits of other people. However, it’s really annoying that Photos in MacOS doesn’t import the ‘portrait’ version, it just imports a flat version. This is infuriating.

The Three Lenses Give Options, too many options.

The three lenses are versatile, but you find yourself taking three versions of every picture, and why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t take much more time, and one of them is bound to look great. It would be nice if there was a setting to just take three versions from each lens all at once.

Holding Vertically becomes the standard

Hook Head Lighthouse

On a regular camera, the standard is horizontal aspect ratios when you take photos, and that’s how I generally do it. I hardly flip the camera. When you’re holding the iPhone 11 for pictures, it’s just natural to hold it vertically. It’s easier to keep a hold of, and the pictures are easy to compose that way. It takes more ‘work’ to flip the phone and compose a horizontal picture. This led to a weird unintended consequence in my photo library, where there were so many pictures in an unfamiliar aspect ratio.

Live Photos can be annoying still

When Live Photos came out, I thought they were a gimmick, and they still are. Are they a video or a picture? You can’t decide. And it’s weird, on your phone, they are live. In Photos on your computer, they are not live. It’s a weird user experience with no continuity. I’d rather they just keep videos and photos separate.

Night mode is incredible

Duckett’s Grove Ruin

In the original Apple demo, they were not lying about night mode. It is pretty incredible. I took some great pictures in low light conditions. BUT. It achieves this by simply amping up the ISO settings and using software to soften the noise. This is not perfect. Low light pictures still end up a bit muddy and grainy. While the pictures look all right on your phone, they will not look great if you print them. They are simply good enough.

It’s fast

Taking the phone out of your pocket and pressing the camera icon on the home screen is fast. I would argue a bit faster than picking up your camera, turning it on and composing then shooting. You also have quick versatility my taking three different shots in quick succession.

Good case is critical; you will be dropping it

When you’re traveling and moving quickly, you will drop this thing. Especially when you pull it out of your pocket too quickly without a good grip. You must have a good case – I use an Otterbox. I dropped my phone quite a few times, and it didn’t even get a scratch. There were also a few hairy situations in the wind. (especially at Hook Head Lighthouse) where a good case ensured I had a good grip on my phone and didn’t lose it in the sea.

Video is great too.

Videos are fine, just as all iPhone videos are fine. But I was so enamored with the still photos; I didn’t take much video.


The Battery is Incredible

I used my phone heavily while I traveled and with previous iPhones, I would struggle to keep it charged all day. I never had that issue with the 11 Pro. It never dipped below 50% even on days where I used it the most.

They Look Great on the Phone but…

And this is my biggest criticism. The iOS software is definitely designed to make the pictures look their best on the iPhone and to a certain extent, iPads. The resolution of the display makes them look great at all angles and is very forgiving to the flaws of the photographs. But when you load these images up on a proper computer and begin editing them… I found a lot of the pictures I thought were ‘good’ we’re just pretty meh. Low light images were muddy and grainy. Even pictures with plenty of light were a bit muddy and grainy. When you enlarge the images to the size of an iMac 5k Retina screen, most of them look like crap. The image resolution just isn’t there. I work a lot with print, and it’s infuriating that the iPhone still outputs pictures at 72 DPI when in print you need 300 DPI. The iPhone uses software trickery to give you the appearance of a good picture while a good camera uses optics to actually give you a good picture. The iPhone 11 very much relies on software here, the optics are just OK, and that’s the design compromise they make to fit three cameras into 1 square inch.

So, the iPhone 11 Pro is great for taking pictures as a bit of fun and for everyday picture taking. But would I completely replace my ‘proper’ camera and shoot exclusively on the iPhone? Hell no.

Here are some of my favorite pictures I took!

Inistioge Postbox
Duckett’s Grove Ruin – Great Example of Low Light
On the drive to Inistioge
Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle
Trinity Library Dublin
Trinity College Dublin
Temple Bar, Dublin
The Roman Door Outside of Carlow
Hook Head Lightouse
Tea at Hook Head
My favorite picture from the whole trip – through one of the windows at Hook Head lighthouse
Trim Castle