Late last week this blog vanished from the web.
Some people cheered.
Some people wept.
The earth shifted slightly in its orbit.
And a great wailing and gnashing of teeth swept the globe. The seas rose, the sky rained fire and death and poisoned toads, and the Four Horsemen rode the land upon their undead steeds.
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit, but for the last week folks attempting to reach www.stonekettle.com got a variety of weirdness, from links to various stones and kettles to a generic busty blonde Hot Chick™ who sadly explained how Stonekettle Station didn’t exist on the web but how about these other, nifty, sites?
Given the volume of email and instant messages I received, apparently more than a few of you noticed the huge gaping hole in the Internet where Stonekettle Station used to be. Which, to be admittedly smug, was a more than a bit self-validating for me – i.e. the fact that so many of you would write expressing massive dismay at the sudden and unexpected disappearance of Stonekettle Station made me feel all warm and happy inside.
Which was nice, considering the volume of unpleasant surprises I’ve gotten lately – the least of which was the implosion of my blog.
Thanks for missing me, I sincerely appreciate it.
At first, I tried to respond personally to the messages, but eventually I just had to give up. So, if you wrote and I didn’t respond, consider this an acknowledgement of my sincere appreciation. Thanks for caring. Really.
So, what happened?
The short answer is that I didn’t pay the bill and Google turned off the lights.
It really was just that simple.
In my defense, it wasn’t my fault.
OK, actually, it was entirely my fault. But, I’ve got an excuse.
The longer answer is that I own the internet domain www.stonekettle.com along with a number of other domains (a domain is a specific site somewhere on the internet).
This isn’t anything unusual, for the price of a couple of large lattes anybody can own a domain.
And there’s a whole industry, in fact, of unsavory jerks who go around buying up likely names and then attempting to charge people for the use of their own name or business and so on. It’s called Domain Squatting and it’s an asshole thing to do.
But anyway, as I said, anybody can own an internet domain.
Here’s how it works: basically you brainstorm up a super-cool keeno incantation, then you contact a wizard service and the sorcerers check to see if anybody else is using that same name-of-power, if not then there’s usually an exchange of money and/or sexual favors and then geeky computer types in strange robes and pointy hats sacrifice small animals in certain highly dangerous blood rituals and engage in other various powerful arcane magics to insert your domain name into the bowels of the internet. Then you can lay a website over the top of it and add subdomains and perform various witchy juju of your own. There’s a bunch of technobabble mumbo-jumbo that describes the process in sleep-inducing detail and the only people who care about the actual specifics are those who already know how it works. So, I’ll spare you the grisly details and we’ll just say you hire a wizard and magic happens.
The long and short of it is that periodically you have to renew your registration. In other words nobody really owns a domain, you just sort of rent it. If you don’t pay the rent, the registration service turns off your domain and for all practical purposes, your website simply ceases to exist.
That’s what happened to Stonekettle Station.
When you went looking for www.stonekettle.com last week, it didn’t exist. Depending on the service you used to look for me, Google or Yahoo or directly via a DNS address (like a bookmark) or by typing in the actual numeric IP address or by performing some form of animal sacrifice and beseeching the gods, you got a variety of errors – some of which looked a lot like somebody had hijacked my domain. They hadn’t, it just looked that way, which is an artifact of whatever software logic you employed to find me. In other words, you typed in “stonekettle” and the internet said, “I can’t find stonekettle, so here’s a hot chick with some nice kettles.”
So how come I didn’t pay the rent? What am I? Some kind of internet deadbeat?
Yes. Sort of.
I’ve owned stonekettle.com for a number of years now, and right from the first day I set up an automatic payment process and basically forgot about it. Every year Goggle bills me for my various domains, my computer talks to their computer, various arcane magics occur in various banking computers, and I get an email receipt and everybody is happy. If there’s any problem, say an expired credit card, I get an email notification and I wave my arms and curse a lot and that generally fixes things, and again, everybody is happy.
Except that this year I missed the email warning.
In my defense, one of my family members is gravely ill and I was somewhat distracted.
Also, I get a lot of email. Now, knowing that, I should have moved this particular process to a dedicated email notification account instead of my general purpose one (and given that domains generally allow for their own email process, creating dedicated email addresses specifically for certain transactions is pretty simple), but again, I was distracted and somehow never got around to it (that’s since been corrected).
So, I missed the deadline.
There’s a grace period, but I missed that too – but again, as I mentioned, I’ve been distracted.
Google therefor assumed I didn’t want the domain anymore, so they reset my admin controls and notified their contracted registration service to shut down the domain.
Which is all perfectly normal and aboveboard and automatic.
First I knew about it was when I got up Sunday morning and my email and Facebook Messages were overflowing with “Holy Crap! What Happened?” and “Dude! You’ve been hijacked! Call Homeland Security!”
It didn’t take me long to figure out what had happened, and it should have been a simple matter of logging into my administrator account to update the billing information and then requesting an automatic reinstatement of the domain.
Except I couldn’t log into the administrator account.
Because there’s some kind of weird bug, which I won’t go into because you don’t really care about such arcane magics and technobabble mumbo-jumbo. Suffice it to say that it took many phone calls and emails between myself and a nice lady somewhere in Kowloon or Bangladesh or wherever Google’s tech support is located, plus help from a number of folks on Google’s tech support forum, to sort it out and give me the various required incantations to mollify the various moat monsters of Google’s patchwork kingdom.
Also, in the middle of this, I suddenly had to drop everything and jump on an airplane and fly to Michigan.
I literally got a phone call from my brother telling me to come, NOW. It was 10PM Alaska time. My wife called the airline, my son packed my electronics (and did a damned fine job of it), I stuffed whatever was handy into a travel bag, in less than ten minutes from the call we were in the jeep and my wife drove me sixty miles to Anchorage while I explained to my son that this was an emergency so it was okay if mom was speeding like a maniac but I’d better never catch him driving that fast or else, I waded shamelessly through a hundred Chinese tourists in front of the Alaskan Airlines desk shoving left and right and using my elbows mercilessly, claimed my ticket, sprinted through security with the grateful help some really awesome TSA agents, and ran the length of Ted Stevens International Airport to make my plane just as the door was closing. Total elapsed time from notification to strapping in, 90 minutes – and that included a 60 mile drive, I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of record.
Once in the air, I was able to connect to my wife via Skype. She got me a rental car in Grand Rapids and texted me the confirmation number.
Then I had nothing to do but worry for the next six hours as we flew south over Canada, headed for O’Hare.
So naturally, I thought of you, Gentle Readers, and used my time and the magic of WiFi in the Sky to finish sorting out the domain problem – because I damned sure wasn’t going to get any sleep and worrying about what was waiting for me on the other end wasn’t going to do anybody any good.
Frankly, if the the sheer ridiculousness of attempting to fix the internet by squinting at a small phone screen while reading tech data off my slightly larger tablet transmitted by a nice lady in Kowloon or Bangladesh or wherever speaking arcane technobabble in fractured English while onboard an airplane hurtling though turbulence at 500 miles an hour somewhere over remote Canada had actually hit me, I might have quit right there and availed myself heartily of the drink cart.
But it worked.
By the time I landed in Grand Rapids, Google’s accounting department had been mollified and the various arcane magics of the internet worked their spells and the computers did the proper handshaking, sexual favors were exchanged, and somewhere between the time I roared out of the rental lot at the Jerry Ford International Airport and arrived at the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital (a massive modern complex of interlocking advanced medical facilities built around the old brownstone Butterworth hospital that I was born in 50 odd years ago) Stonekettle Station was back online.
And that wasn’t the only good news.
It’s been a rough couple of days, but it appears that my dad is going to make it.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t go into the details, and I’d really appreciate it if you don’t pry, but things are looking up and that wasn’t even in the cards two days ago. We’ve still got a long haul ahead of us, but if Stonekettle Station can come back from oblivion, anything is possible.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook had some idea of what was going on, and I truly appreciate all the offers of support and goodwill. Thank you. All of you, who wrote or left messages on my Facebook page. I am truly grateful.
I’m currently camped out at my folks’ house in rural Michigan.
I have no cell connectivity here, let alone high speed 4G. I’m tethered to a very low speed DSL connection, and between the hospital and fixing things around the farm, I doubt there’ll be much time for blog posts, but you never know.
We’ll just have to take it as it comes.
Thanks for hanging in there.