Featured Applications | 02: Evernote

Don't forget to read about the first featured application if you missed out!

For me, Evernote has been that one application that keeps creeping back into my daily life without me ever making a deliberate decision to properly use it. Until (very) recently, this had been my relationship with Evernote since freshman year of college. 

At first I tried to take notes on it for classes, but there was always that one class every semester that had a totally backwards, wonky way of doing things that threw the entire system off. For example- 4 out of 5 professors (based on my experience) will allow you to bring your laptop to class for note-taking purposes. That fifth professor however, will stubbornly insist that you handwrite your notes on recycled paper while using pen ink that can only be found from the highest mountain top in Argentina. Or something to that extent. 

Granted, you can take pictures of or scan handwritten notes and place each page individually into your Evernote class notebook, but that means an extra step. And when you're a busy student that's constantly applying the most productive and efficient methods to do anything and everything, "extra steps" are a death sentence. 

I had always liked the idea of using Evernote & was determined to find a use for it. The interface was (and is) beautiful, and has only gotten better with each update. It appealed to the part of me that got overly excited when purchasing school supplies. It was an infinite supply of fresh, perfect notebooks. 

I tried to use it to organize my ideas for this website, for example. Post ideas, inspiration for design, business goals-- you name it. But after the Pinterest boom & handy, dandy "save as a draft" button, that didn't keep either. 

All of this is to say that through my years of playing around with it, Evernote is great if you have an actual purpose for it. If not, it will more than likely be an extra step. I guess this is technically true of all web applications, but I've just felt it more with this one. 


Using Evernote for Reclaim

Moving forward, I've found a use for Evernote & am super excited to talk about it today. As Reclaim Hosting's first hire, I didn't exactly have the normal training that a typical 'new hire' might receive when entering a new company. I was more or less thrown into everything with Jim & Tim as my safety net. I learned the rules of the Reclaim Road by asking a LOT of questions and by doing a LOT of research. During my first two months, I'd stumble through the work day, and then would give myself homework during the evening to better understand the concepts that I had been exposed to. 

I'm not stumbling as much anymore; I'd like to think I'm somewhere around a brisk walk. Tim & Jim, well, they're both sprinting. I'll catch up with them one day. ;) But since I've had a little more headspace here recently for analyzing methods instead of simply understanding them, I'd thought I'd make life easier for myself and possibly for the next hire that comes to Reclaim.

This is where Evernote comes into play. Right now I work primarily in support. Support is about fixing what's broken. In order to fix it, you have to know exactly what originally broke, how to fix it, how to prevent it from happening again, and then remembering it five weeks down the road when a separate individual has a similar problem. Sometimes this can be as simple as remembering a series of clicks to get from Point A to point K, other times it may be more complicated like looking at the different variables that may be causing an error. 

When I learn how to solve a problem, whether on my own or by studying previous conversations that my bosses have had with customers, I take screenshots of how to fix the issue at hand. Each solved problem then becomes a new "note" in my Reclaim Hosting Evernote notebook. I'll make my own comments on the screenshots, provide relevant links and tag the note for easy access in the future. The idea is that I can reference these notes on an as needed basis, or perhaps a future hire can use them as a starting point for their training period.



Getting started with Evernote is very self-explanatory. The Evernote team has also provided a great Getting Started Guide to walk you through the process. 

This is how a blank slate looks on the application:

click on the image for a larger version.

An archive of your notebooks, tags, recent notes & shortcuts can be found in the left column. In the middle column you can scroll through the current notebook's list of notes. The right side is for creating/editing notes and tagging & sharing them. 


Searching in Evernote

The search bar on the top right-hand corner allows you to easily search any tag, word, note-- anything, really. Check out an awesome example of this below:

First, take a look at the top right- I searched "password". Doing that led me to a note on resetting someone's password for them. Not only did the finder pull me to this note, but it then highlighted password in my comments AND in a screenshot. The area in the above photo with the blue box around it? Yeah, that's a JPEG file. How cool is that?!


Sharing is caring

The last awesome thing that I wanted to talk about is sharing from Evernote. It's super easy both for you and the person that you're sharing with, regardless if they have signed up with the app. 

Featured Applications | 02: Evernote

Sharing a note can be as simple as clicking "share" in the top right hand corner & sending it out to whoever you'd like. 

Featured Applications | 02: Evernote

However, you can also make a public link for anyone and everyone to view. ;)

Digital Pedagogy, Empowered Choice, and Personal Domains

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind the last week or so. I flew back to Virginia from University of Pacific Saturday morning and then dropped the family off at JFK in NYC on Sunday for our extended Italian sojourn. When it was all done and they were safely away, it felt like the end of that scene in Empire Strikes Back when the convoy from Hoth gets past the imperial fleet:


Thank god for those ion cannons!

I meant to write briefly about my presentation at Pacific, which I was lucky enough to be invited by Terri Johnson and Carrie Schroeder to give to a lecture hall full of students. It was the first time my audience was predominantly students, and I was really loving the energy in the room. The idea of owning the trace of your learning and pushing forward on the ideas of Personal Learning Spaces and Personal APIs continues to drive the work we are doing at Reclaim Hosting. Tim and I are fortunate enough to be heading out to BYU next week to further hone this vision and start imagining how Reclaim Hosting can help support these personal learning spaces.


Much of my recent thinking has been pointing towards the idea of empowerment as not so focused on ownership, but also the opportunities for deep pedagogical transformation —inspired by the deep, sharp thinking of Andrew Rickard. I also pull heavily from Mark Sample’s brilliant post framing how they’re rolling out year 2 of Domain of One’s Own at Davidson College. I’m also able to start exploring work happening at other universities beyond UMW, such as this brilliant blog post by Cody Alan Taylor at University of Oklahoma that captures the spirit of narrating your learning which is the key to the transformative spirit of Domains that could prove radical. Projects like Adam Croom’s awesome feature blog highlights the best around OU Create—which is how you build community, momentum, and a broader culture shift! This stuff matters, and there are great examples of amazing people making a difference at their schools.

I had fun with this presentation. It marks a bit of a departure from some of the talks I’ve been giving recently, It has enabled me to focus on the wider world of the Reclaim universe, and I can see already it is so vast and rich. I’m about return to some old school bava blogging about sites, projects, and people that inspire. Is there a better job for me? The video is 45 minutes, and it is interesting that I have become somewhat of a veteran presenter. I have “goto” moments and stories I bust out to bring the audience in (“Civil War current event in Freddy”) to connect with them and then get to the larger ideas across. I love to present, when I am feeling it I almost feel like I could pull off a full blown edtech comedy routine, and one of these times I just might 🙂

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.37.42 PM
Click image to be taken to a recording of the talk

Here’s some slides in the unlikely event you’re interested in following along.

Repo Edtech

It was pretty cool to see this recent post by Adeline Koh on ProfHacker sharing her experience with Reclaim Hosting. I particularly liked this bit:
It’s been four months since I’ve switched to Reclaim Hosting and I cannot say better things about the service and the people running it.
Tim and I aren't "businessmen" (though I joke about it), we're edtechs who have an intimate understanding of higher ed. We have a strong sense of where technology and teaching converge in interesting ways, and remain committed to augmenting what we've helped build at UMW and share it far and wide. [caption id="attachment_17538" align="aligncenter" width="475"]Jim and Tim discussing the Reclaim Code Tim and I at work[/caption] We don't advertise. We don't use our interface to play psychological games. We don't hate-sell through fear and uncertainty as so many in the web hosting world do. We don't and won't take VC funding. We won't be bought, which means we won't sell you out.  And while we do have the best service and cheapest prices around, more than anything we have an ethos that is rooted in the vision of helping people understand how the web works and use that knowledge to return teaching and learning to the scale of the individual---the only way it can be done right. That is what education is, and that is what we are all about.

Dr. Reclaimlove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Devops.

One of the best things (besides the /giphy function in Slack) about getting some time each month to work for Reclaim Hosting is how it has put tasks at my “traditional” full-time IT job into perspective; contrasting my full-time IT environment, which is pretty old fashioned (physical stuff), with an environment that relies heavily on Devops, virtual IT, and cloud administration. Fundamentally, Reclaim is really a model example of how to effectively run a lean startup, manage virtual IT, and stay mostly hands off, and it’s been a good introspective experiment for someone like myself who still grips precariously upon the edge of physical infrastructure and an old-school IT background.

Devops is kind of a contentious term for many “traditional” (read: mostly this means hands-on) IT people, because it represents a massive shift in the way IT work is defined and performed. Since people, especially IT people, are often prone to some degree of change-averseness (guilty) and paranoia (doubly guilty) about their precious hardware racks, “if my infrastructure goes away then my job will go away” is not an entirely unreasonable conclusion to arrive at. We are looking at a fairly unprecedented degree of change in our industry and at blazing speed. Our jobs, though not the same as they were 10 or 15 years ago, did not start becoming substantially different until about 3-4 years ago. Neckbeard the Elder would probably be a high performer at most existing IT generalist jobs in 2013 and 2014…maybe 2015, too. The next generation of IT generalists (and IT generalists will still exist) will not rely upon Neckbeard the Not-Quite-Elder (that’s us) unless we decide, right now, to acknowledge that these changes are happening and that we will perish if we don’t adapt.

So how do we embrace the changes if we’re in traditional IT and not Devops IT? First, we have to acknowledge what Devops actually means…and since the “real” definition of Devops is still up for some discussion, let’s try to define it in the context of traditional IT work:

Devops is a collection of hands-off methodologies designed to reduce the need for physical infrastructure in favor of virtual, managed infrastructure over a hosted medium.

I.E., “use the cloud, and write some scripts.” This is in comparison to the Wikipedia definition of Devops:

DevOps is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals.”

“Woah woah woah. I’m in IT. I’m not a software developer. I don’t want to have to deal with them.”

This sort of makes it sound like you have to be a software developer in order to be successful in IT, which is not entirely true, but I will stress this: if you want to be successful in IT in 2015+, you need to know something about how to code. Your code doesn’t have to be flashy, and you don’t need to be an expert, but it should be effective and reasonably efficient. And in “code” I recommend learning Bash, Python, or Powershell (if you are in a Windows-heavy environment). I dabble in all three of these languages, and though I am not terribly good, I understand some of the thought processes that developers go through when iterating on their previous code and it helps me “get into the head” of a developer a bit. It’s also a huge opportunity for me, and it can be for you too.

If you’re like me, you are an overworked, overstressed IT admin. I have began to embrace Devops because it gives me an avenue for working less…if I commit to the avenue. Basically, I don’t really want to do any work. I would rather be doing other things that are more fun, but I still need to have a job so I can do those other fun things. Some of those fun things are actually “work” but they’re not really “work” to me but I still get paid to do them? Anyway, I can turn this into a win-win using Devops, and I am actually going to use a very Windows-centric example because it’s the easiest to understand, and because most software developers I know do not use Windows and I am trying to keep something of a line there.

Setting up Active Directory and doing it well is difficult. Setting up AD well using Microsoft Azure is less difficult because I don’t have to worry about unscalable and unstable hardware, vendors, CALs, incredibly obtuse licensing, etc. So what is the opportunity? Setting up AD (in the cloud), integrating it with VMM (in the cloud), and creating a “developer hook” (could be as simple as a batch file run from the requestor’s desktop) so developers in the correct AD groups can request the creation of dev and staging machines (and having those machines created for them) without me having to really touch AD anymore, except also “literally” touch it because that hardware doesn’t exist in my universe. There is nothing for developers to break because if the OS gets completely destroyed somehow they can just request a new virtual machine. Microsoft does a lot of the “devops” work for you in this example because of their integration tools, but you could also Powershell a lot of that work away, intelligently, and then maybe you could even have a real lunch break! By the way, the work you do linking Azure (or AWS, or Google) VPN to your network? That will not be work software developers are going to be doing in the foreseeable future.

I am not some Microsoft fanboi, but this is a simple example of how “thinking” in a Devops way can be hugely beneficial and not so scary at all because it illustrates the need for traditional IT expertise with the development and automation expertise. Few of these opportunities existed even 5 years ago. (OK, so that is a little scary.) If you are reading this blog, you might be thinking “well, he’s preaching to the choir a bit,” but I promise you, based on the things that I have seen and heard, I’m not. If you’re not convinced, look around at what some IT specialists are doing on LinkedIn. IT needs to “get real” on these things soon, and start getting their people trained to think in a way that fosters collaboration and automation.

Instead of being wary of Devops, make it work for you, as we are doing at Reclaim. I’m currently deploying a network and server monitoring solution in the cloud for Reclaim (also a “traditional IT” task) and am creating an opportunity for myself to script or program away the SNMP configuration of hosts I’d like to add to the monitoring solution and making it as close to “zero-touch” as possible. In a more advanced environment, you could do something like this using Chef or Puppet, but for this task in particular, I don’t even really need that solution. I am greatly expanding on my Bash/Shell skills (Dev) while incorporating my security, file transmission, service configuration, and permissions skills (Ops). When the prep work is done, the operator will be able to go through a simple series of conditionals that will copy the SNMP config file over to the machines to be monitored, with no additional input needed from “the IT guy.” This is not scary. Self service is good service. Eventually we may even get to the point of auto-discovery. But that’s TNG, we’re still in Star Trek. 🙂

Jim and Tim have built the powerful engine of Reclaim Hosting using simple, powerful DevOps methodologies and thought processes. In doing so, they can focus on the customer and not let the hardware get in their way, and that is the essence of an effective business. “Think Devops” can be the essence of your IT infrastructure, support organization, and even your sanity, if you learn, as I have, how to embrace these changes and live by this mantra. If you can’t commit yet, just start with “think automation.”

I will post more, in the coming weeks, about the monitoring platform, what we are doing, and I will also post some sample config files either here or on Github that you can port right into your own Linux machines if you’d like to start experimenting with the SNMP daemon. Until then, happy reclaiming!

Reclaiming State U

Earlier this week we rolled out State University at Reclaim Hosting. What’s State University? It’s Tim Owens‘s latest project to showcase just how elegant and painless he’s made the whole process. What’s more, the site demonstrates the experience we have created for the 22 schools running the Domain of One’s Own institutional package. We set the site up as a trial space that provides inquiring minds a 30-day trial to experience the service.

Reclaiming State U

We did something similar last year when we rolled out http://reclaim.host, but that didn’t highlight the institutional experience, nor did it provide a simple, elegant login system for folks who want to try it out. That has all changed now. One of the coolest elements of this new space is the fact that anyone with a Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn can automatically authenticate through those services and get up and running with their trial account immediately. It literally takes seconds to setup and account, install an application, and start creating. This accurately represents the environment we have created for schools by hooking into a wide range of single sign-on environments.

Reclaiming State U

I inaugurated this site for a faculty workshop at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón designed to introduce them to the power of managing their own web hosting space. We had a great turnout, and everyone in the room had either a Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn profile, so getting them up and running literally took seconds. I’ve never had such a smooth on-boarding experience during a workshop. But once we started installing applications things slowed down a bit because we were running State U on Linode server with 1 GB of RAM (fine for a few folks, not so much for a room full). So while Martha Burtis worked her magic explaining the form and function of WordPress, I called back to the Reclaim mothership (Tim) and he scaled the server by 8x in less than 10 minutes. Virtualization is a powerful thing. By the time Martha was done, the server was lightening fast and we finished up the workshop which entailed getting them all up and running with a WordPress instance within a subdomain of their account.

I had also put the call out on Twitter leading up to the workshop, and a few folks tried it out. I was particularly pleased to learn that John Johsnton had given it a spin and was thoroughly impressed.

Reclaiming State U

What I really love about State U is how well it showcases the fact that managing your own web hosting space does not have to be painful. By making it increasingly easier and more user-friendly we’re empowering students and faculty everywhere to start reclaiming their piece of the web.That’s why we did this whole thing in the first place. State U reinforces the fact that our mission is firmly in tact, and it’s quickly becoming more and more difficult to refute the fact that becoming the sysadmin of your digital infrastructure is within the realm of possibility for everyone—and it need not be expensive either. That’s the reclaim mission we envisioned two and a half years ago with Kin Lane and Audrey Watters—and it’s alive and well. Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself. Go to http://stateu.org and explore the control panel or try installing your own WordPress. You’re mind will be blown.

Reclaiming State U

How I joined the #4life club

Hi everyone- in honor of writing my first Reclaim-related post, I'd like to officially introduce myself. Not as the sister to four younger brothers that originally acted as my online "hook" some eight years ago; not as the aspiring National Geographic photographer that took over my dreams from ages 15-19; not as the Creative Writing major that filled her purse with books instead of cosmetics; but as the Operations Manager for Reclaim Hosting. 

It's been quite the journey getting to this point as Reclaim's first hire, and it's one I'd like to share with you folks. Rewinding a few years back, I randomly (sorry, Jim & Paul) signed up for The Internet Course during my third year of college. I was needing credits after studying abroad, and decided that a course on the Internet would be interesting. What I did know about the Internet was fascinating, so I went for it. The discussion-based class was separated into many units that dove into the past & origin of the World Wide Web, moved to how the Internet is used today, and finally, explored the possibilities of the future. Our class conversation topics spanned from Tim Berners Lee to Bitcoin. I had my first experience using cPanel. I created my own domain & subdomains. It felt good. I had already joined the #4life club without even knowing it. 

Towards the end of the course, Jim asked if anyone was interested in working as a student aide at the University of Mary Washington's Division of Learning and Teaching Technologies (DTLT) office. I was always shy as a student, but remember surprising myself that day when I looked up and saw that my own hand was raised in response to the question. Thereafter, I began working closely with the lovely and very knowledgeable DTLT staff, and the other student aide, Patrick. Even in the midst of transitioning to a new building, there wasn't a day that I wasn't learning something new. Patrick and I did everything from recording serial numbers of old laptops, to using FTP to transfer data, to writing for Domain of One's Own wikispaces. I recall a point where I was even reading a four-inch book on C++... for fun. 

After an informative summer and a move to UMW's brand new Convergence Center, my position with DTLT changed to Student Aide Supervisor. On top of my current responsibilities of helping out in the DTLT office, I was also in charge of brainstorming & promoting for building events and managing the student aides at the info desk. This position brought me even closer to the DTLT staff; their passion for what they were doing was (and is) contagious. By mid-year, I had come to terms with the fact that I had officially caught the #4life bug.

Over the span of my last year in college, I had followed pretty closely with the great things that Tim & Jim were doing over at Reclaim Hosting. Constantly building, constantly growing, constantly brainstorming. They were pushing boundaries and accepting challenges. It was everything that I loved about the concept of "being online". They had combined professionalism with creative chaos. Open source platform with personal, one-on-one support. Others were seeing that too, and Reclaim Hosting continued to grow.

I stayed in contact with Tim & Jim after graduation, and accepted a part-time position with them a few months later. Even though my UMW journey has come to a close, my Reclaim Hosting journey has just begun. I'm being challenged and pushed every day, learning always. We've got big plans for Reclaim Hosting, and I'm excited to see where it leads us all.