The Next Evolution of Reclaim


Yesterday Tim Owens announced that he’ll be going full time with Reclaim Hosting in the new year, and that is pretty awesome. His post delineates all the amazing work he’s accomplished at UMW over the past three years—it’s a truly impressive resume. And if you worked with him you’d realize that he moves fast and furious —and it seems to me that Reclaim Hosting is the next evolution of his work. What he’s doing currently with virtualized, container-based server environments is a likely future for how university IT will start re-imagining their infrastructure—and he’s digging in to make the new web affordable and accessible to as many faculty and students as possible.


As I blogged about yesterday, the technologies on the fringes of conceptual understanding for a majority of faculty and students may very well be the not too distant future of the web more generally. I got my first glimpse of this back in January of 2013 thanks to Brian Lamb’s “Squamous Mind,” which pointed me to Boris Mann’s discussion of the “New Hack Stack.”  He argues the shared LAMP stack is laborious and outdated, noting the new hosting stack will be amenable to new ways of versioning/collaborating (a la GitHub), will support the prevalence of Rails and Node applications, and provide server environments for self-contained apps. It’s a post that made very little sense to me when I first read it almost two years ago. In fact, I was immediately put off by it given we were piloting giving everyone at UMW their own domain and LAMP web hosting. But long after I first read the post it stayed with me. In fact, just about everything of interest to me since (Node apps like Ghost, Ruby apps like Jeykll, versioning platforms like GitHub, and container-based virtualized server platforms like Docker) was right there in that post. I don’t claim to understand it all just yet, but I do see it as the next evolution of what’s possible when it comes to building cheaper, more flexible and ultimately accessible infrastructure in higher ed. And Tim Owens is going full time with Reclaim Hosting to try and build out some version of what that might look like. And I have no doubt he’ll do it. Hell, if all goes well, I might even join him at some point :)


Reclaim and the Translation of EdTech

Jim Groom on Reclaim and the translation of edtech from UCalgary Taylor Institute on Vimeo.

D’Arcy Norman posted this one video that parts of a larger documentary project he started while at UMW for the Reclaim Your Domain Hackathon. I don’t get to see D’Arcy nearly enough, and unfortunately I was running around like the proverbial chicken all weekend trying to organize the hackathon which meant any focused time together was limited. I consider D’Arcy one of my oldest and dearest “edtech” friends, and sitting down with him for 15 minutes allowed me to try and articulate what’s important about the Reclaim movement for me.

This is my fourth Reclaim Your Domain event, the others being the MIT Hackathon March 2013, Atlanta Domain Incubator April 2014, and LA Reclaim Hackathon July 2014. These events have been by far the best professional development I’ve had over the last two years, and much of that is owed to the vision Audrey Watters and Kin Lane turned me onto near on two years ago. I’ve effectively been spending my copious spare time trying to wrap my head around things like Amazon Web Services, GitHub, and APIs. And as I suggest in the video, these are the platforms and technologies I’ve trying to understand so I can translate how they reflect some of the more seismic shifts in how the web works over the last few years. Kin and Audrey are a brilliant one-two punch in this regard, framing the technical, social, political, economic and more. Add to all this the IndieWeb movement, and Reclaim really feels vibrant and full of possibility. So, I want to thank D’Arcy, Andy Rush, David Kernohan, and Grant Potter for taking the time last weekend to try and capture some of it. Big Fan!


s02e09_container 01

The above GIF is from an episode of The Wire during Season 2. The docks are ubiquitous in season 2, and this particular image is a visualization of a cloned machine that captures the vanishing container—presumably filled with illegal cargo. I’m fascinated by the representation of technology throughout the series, but season 2 in particular is really interesting. There’s the highlighting of a cultural move to digital cameras, the increasingly popularity of the web, GPS, and much more that’s constantly being discussed, but there’s also the radical changes to the physical technology of the dock. The first part of the following video features the presentation from Season 2, Episode 7 about the automation of the port of Rotterdam.

Frank Sobotka refers to this as a “horror movie” noting the eroding need of stevedores, but more generally labor. The automated container technology becomes a sign of labor’s vanishing past.


At the same time the container systems that have redefined the way shipping works have metaphorically come to servers thanks to Docker.


To the degree I fully understand it, Docker provides an open platform for building, running, and shipping distributed applications. In other words, you can get a pre-configured container through Docker that has the proper server environment for running a specific application. For example, if you want to run the the forum software Discourse or the blog engine Ghost (which is what Tim Owens has figured out recently for Reclaim Hosting), we have a server that has the docker engine installed which allows us to quickly fire up different application environments and run them for anyone who requests it.


And we are grabbing those application images from an open repository of virtualized possibilities that helps us avoid become overly dependent on a closed platform like Amazon Web Services, which is a major bonus. Additionally, Tim is playing with Shipyard, which allows you to manage various containers and resources on your server. What strikes me about all of this is how the metaphorical language of docks, shipyards, and containers helps me wrap my head around this technology. What’s more, it’s cool to see it both through the eyes of Frank Sobotka and Tim Owens—two of my heroes :)