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Reclaiming 2015

Image Credit: "Keep on Reclaimig" by Alan Levine

Image Credit: “Keep on Reclaimig” by Alan Levine

2015 was a rough year on many fronts. In the U.S. racial tensions continued to boil over; the richest few didn’t getting any poorer; mass shootings reached epidemic levels; and American politics have become even more farcical than many thought possible. Globally, ISIS continues to terrorize and their victims have become our targets. And to round it off, and the bizarre weather continues to freak us all out. I don’t live in bubble, and all these things effect me given I exist in this moment, but at the same time 2015 may have been one the best year on record for me personally. Which feels odd to write given everything that came before it. Anto and I have been dreaming of spending an extended amount of time in Italy with our friends and family their for more than a decade. This year we made it happen. I officially quit my day job at Mary Washington in June—where I worked for just under a decade—and the family got on a plane to Europe in September. I followed shortly after. The whole thing happened pretty fast, and the change has been refreshing on so many levels,* but watching the kids navigate a new language, culture, and extended family they’d only experienced in small fragments up and until now has been worth the risk alone.

But I’m not sure it was all that much a risk thanks to the insanely hard work and unbelievable organizational acumen of my partner and friend Tim Owens.
Reclaim Hosting went full blown in 2015, and thanks to Tim’s laying the groundwork for the previous year and a half we found ourselves in a situation where we both could go full time. We were also able to bring on UMW alum Lauren Brumfield and Joe McMahon this year, What’s more, we remain truly fortunate for the continued positive feedback and support from so many folks within the higher ed community of North America and beyond. We have built Reclaim entirely on word of mouth, and we try and repay the favor with exceptional support for whomever is trying to establish their presence on the web.

So for me 2015 has been humbling and exhilarating all at once. I love what we are doing,
and I think the Reclaim Hosting blog reflects the fact that we are #4life—long live the blog! And despite our blog, we still have individual and institutional partners who know who we are, what we stand for, and want to keep pushing on alternatives. We have a lot to be thankful for in that, and I really do think 2016 is going to see even more headway in making personal cyberinfrastructure, syndication, and the personal API easier and better.

And to echo Jennifer Vinopal, what better way to end 2015 then with a mention in William Fenton’s article “Beyond Academia.edu: Taking Control of Your Online Presence” in PC Magazine.

Happy new Year, everybody, and thanks for reclaiming!

P.S. Did I mention 2016 is Reclaim’s year? We called it first :)

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* Being outside the US has some real psychic advantages, especially given the list I started this post out with.

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Using External SMTP Servers for Forwarded Email with Google Apps Address

In the spirit of Documentation December at Reclaim Hosting, I’m following up on a tutorial I wrote about Sending Mail from a Forwarded Email Address through Gmail. I was having issues adding my jim@reclaimhosting.com email account to my Gmail account as a sender. I checked and double-checked my SMTP settings, but no luck. I kept recieving the error message “Authentication failed. Please check your username/password.” I was stuck in a weird authentication limbo, and according to this forum thread I was not alone.

What was worse, none of their suggested solutions worked for me. I then went to the oracle Tim Owens who noted Google requires the use of external SMTP servers for sending to additional addresses, and given we are using Google Apps servers for our Reclaim Hosting email accounts, they’re probably not be considered external. And if there is anything resembling a theme in my life these days, it is the following: Timmmmyboy was right!

I used the SMTP servers and credentials for our Mandrill email account and it worked perfectly, the credentials look something like the following.

SMTP Host: smtp.mandrillapp.com
Port: 587
Username: your@mandrill.email
Password: yourmandrillpassword

 

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Reclaim’s Daydream Nation

Spirit desire.
– “Teenage Riot,” Daydream Nation

Last week we christened yet another host node server at Reclaim Hosting (Fugazi filled up quick!), this one was named after NYC’s indie rock pioneers Sonic Youth. It was interesting timing because the first school we got setup was NYU—their Library will be running a pilot web hosting service for their community through Reclaim. Last week was also when Audrey Watters released the aspirational Kraken that was her post on Indie Ed-Tech. It’s a brilliant follow-up on her year-end post about the Indie Web in 2014. I read the post several times while listening to Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (I recommend the experience), and what struck me is the strong, brilliant chorus of aspiration—a desire to challenge what’s peddled in the pedant realm of the possible, a bending of the very genre of what ed-tech is, was, and can be. And no one sees that spirit of desire more clearly; articulates what we can’t hear more soundly; or sings the story of our field better. #NOBODY!!!

…indie ed-tech underscores the importance of students and scholars alike controlling their intellectual labor and their data; it questions the need for VC-funded, proprietary tools that silo and exploit users; it challenges the centrality of the LMS in all ed-tech discussions and the notion that there can be one massive (expensive) school-wide system to rule them all; it encourages new forms of open, networked learning that go beyond the syllabus, beyond the campus. It’s not only a different sort of infrastructure, it’s a different sort of philosophy than one sees promoted by Silicon Valley – by the ed-tech industry or the (ed-)tech press.

We may fall, but not with giving those bastards everything we got!!!

It’s an anthem in a vacuum on a hyperstation
Daydreaming days in a daydream nation

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Where Did All My Disk Space Go?

Sometimes you may find that you just plain need more disk space. Perhaps you're regularly uploading large files to build an online archive for a project or you work with video files that need to be stored locally. As Reclaim Hosting has grown over the years we've consistently increased our storage options and luckily upgrading is an easy process! That being said we always encourage folks to diagnose the source of disk space issues to be sure there's not any other issues at play. Automated backups you weren't aware of in a folder on your account because of a plugin, or a log file that has grown rapidly could be the source and simply deleting a few files could free up large amounts of space in your account. But how to find that large needle in the haystack?

cPanel has a rudimentary tool in the control panel called Disk Usage which is found under the Files section. Disk Usage will calculate the size of every folder in your account and display it in a nice graph. However the biggest caveat that makes this a poor solution is that the Disk Usage tool will not let you navigate to subfolders. More often than not you'll find that the public_html folder which houses all your web content is the largest, but that could still leave you searching blindly for more information on where within that folder the culprit is.

Disk Usage in cPanel

Disk Usage Detail View

Because of the limitations of this tool we add a program to our servers called Ncdu. Ncdu runs from the command line so you'll need to be logged in via terminal with your SSH account, however you'll find the interface pretty friendly. Once logged on simply navigate to the folder you want information about and type the ncdu command to get a text-based graphical representation of the largest folders.

ncdu

Because the folders and files are ordered by size I recommend starting at the root of your account and running the tool. You can use the arrow keys to move up or down and enter to navigate into a folder and get a readout of the size of its contents. In our experience it makes quick work of analyzing disk space issues and finding any opportunities to clear out the cruft. When you're finished simply hit the q key to quit.

We've added ncdu to many servers but if for some reason it's not available in your account on Reclaim Hosting put in a support ticket and we'd be happy to make sure it gets added.

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Where Did All My Disk Space Go?

Sometimes you may find that you just plain need more disk space. Perhaps you're regularly uploading large files to build an online archive for a project or you work with video files that need to be stored locally. As Reclaim Hosting has grown over the years we've consistently increased our storage options and luckily upgrading is an easy process! That being said we always encourage folks to diagnose the source of disk space issues to be sure there's not any other issues at play. Automated backups you weren't aware of in a folder on your account because of a plugin, or a log file that has grown rapidly could be the source and simply deleting a few files could free up large amounts of space in your account. But how to find that large needle in the haystack?

cPanel has a rudimentary tool in the control panel called Disk Usage which is found under the Files section. Disk Usage will calculate the size of every folder in your account and display it in a nice graph. However the biggest caveat that makes this a poor solution is that the Disk Usage tool will not let you navigate to subfolders. More often than not you'll find that the public_html folder which houses all your web content is the largest, but that could still leave you searching blindly for more information on where within that folder the culprit is.

Where Did All My Disk Space Go?

Because of the limitations of this tool we add a program to our servers called Ncdu. Ncdu runs from the command line so you'll need to be logged in via terminal with your SSH account, however you'll find the interface pretty friendly. Once logged on simply navigate to the folder you want information about and type the ncdu command to get a text-based graphical representation of the largest folders.

Where Did All My Disk Space Go?

Because the folders and files are ordered by size I recommend starting at the root of your account and running the tool. You can use the arrow keys to move up or down and enter to navigate into a folder and get a readout of the size of its contents. In our experience it makes quick work of analyzing disk space issues and finding any opportunities to clear out the cruft. When you're finished simply hit the q key to quit.

We've added ncdu to many servers but if for some reason it's not available in your account on Reclaim Hosting put in a support ticket and we'd be happy to make sure it gets added.

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Using Google Apps with your Domain

Managing e-mail can be one of the harder parts of reclaiming your space on the web. While building a web presence is easier with modern applications like WordPress, the state of email clients and protocols is much less advanced. You'll have to grapple with getting your IMAP accounts setup and all the settings correct, webmail options are limited in functionality, and deliverability is always a concern with shared hosting servers.

Many users for this reason decide to use a service like Google Apps with their domain. Google Apps allows you to have email addresses based on your domain but completely powered by Google using Gmail as a webmail interface and connecting to any Google-supported client. Luckily it's absolutely possible to push mail to Google while still maintaining complete control of your domain for building out content on Reclaim Hosting. This is done by editing several MX Records which are a type of record for your domain that tells our servers who is in charge of handling email for the domain.

Google outlines the necessary records for setting up Google Apps on your domain at https://support.google.com/a/answer/33915?hl=en. Essentially we'll be editing the MX records to reflect the following:

Priority Mail Server
1 ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
5 ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
5 ALT2.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
10 ALT3.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
10 ALT4.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.

To make these changes you'll log into cPanel and navigate to the Email section and choose MX Entry.

Email Section in cPanel

By default cPanel creates a single MX entry that points to your main domain as the server for email (so if your domain is hosted by Reclaim Hosting mail will be routed through the server your domain is on). We'll need to change that to take advantage of Google Apps for email. Each MX record has two items, a Priority number which tells the server which order to check for email records, and a Destination which is a domain that will serve the email.

MX Entry Editing Interface

You'll need to edit the existing one (or remove it) and then add a few additional ones from the table above. When you're done the records should look like this:

Completed MX Records

You're all done! Keep in mind changing records can take 24-48 hours to begin working, though it typically will happen much sooner. Once the records have propagated globally all email will be routed to Google and you can use their system to handle all of your email functionality while still maintaining control of your domain from Reclaim Hosting.

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Using Google Apps with your Domain

Managing e-mail can be one of the harder parts of reclaiming your space on the web. While building a web presence is easier with modern applications like WordPress, the state of email clients and protocols is much less advanced. You'll have to grapple with getting your IMAP accounts setup and all the settings correct, webmail options are limited in functionality, and deliverability is always a concern with shared hosting servers.

Many users for this reason decide to use a service like Google Apps with their domain. Google Apps allows you to have email addresses based on your domain but completely powered by Google using Gmail as a webmail interface and connecting to any Google-supported client. Luckily it's absolutely possible to push mail to Google while still maintaining complete control of your domain for building out content on Reclaim Hosting. This is done by editing several MX Records which are a type of record for your domain that tells our servers who is in charge of handling email for the domain.

Google outlines the necessary records for setting up Google Apps on your domain at https://support.google.com/a/answer/33915?hl=en. Essentially we'll be editing the MX records to reflect the following:

Priority Mail Server
1 ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
5 ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
5 ALT2.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
10 ALT3.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.
10 ALT4.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM.

To make these changes you'll log into cPanel and navigate to the Email section and choose MX Entry.

By default cPanel creates a single MX entry that points to your main domain as the server for email (so if your domain is hosted by Reclaim Hosting mail will be routed through the server your domain is on). We'll need to change that to take advantage of Google Apps for email. Each MX record has two items, a Priority number which tells the server which order to check for email records, and a Destination which is a domain that will serve the email.

Using Google Apps with your Domain

You'll need to edit the existing one (or remove it) and then add a few additional ones from the table above. When you're done the records should look like this:

Using Google Apps with your Domain

You're all done! Keep in mind changing records can take 24-48 hours to begin working, though it typically will happen much sooner. Once the records have propagated globally all email will be routed to Google and you can use their system to handle all of your email functionality while still maintaining control of your domain from Reclaim Hosting.

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Domains as Ground Zero for the Struggle over Agency

BYU’s Bold Plan to Give Students Control of Their Data

BYU’s Bold Plan to Give Students Control of Their Data

I was really pleased with Marguerite McNeal‘s article in edSurge on Brigham Young University’s Personal API experiment. It can be hard to explain (at least for me), but she does an excellent job providing an accessible frame for the project by looking at it in terms of students finally being able to manage and control their own data. I think the following paragraph summarizes the idea behind a personal API as clearly as anything else I’ve seen:

A personal API builds on the domain concept—students store information on their site, whether it’s class assignments, financial aid information or personal blogs, and then decide how they want to share that data with other applications and services. The idea is to give students autonomy in how they develop and manage their digital identities at the university and well into their professional lives

The idea of autonomy in relationship to our personal data puts the discussion in a far broader context, and its immediacy is anything but academic. That said, I think it’s telling that a number of universities have been pushing hard to bring the importance of controlling your data to their academic communities. BYU’s work around the personal API is a really exciting early attempt at what this might look like. I could listen to Phil Windley talk about what he calls “sovereign source identity,” an idea he credits to Long islander and UMW grad Devon Loffreto:

“We want to teach students that this isn’t the only way identity happens online. They can create their own,” Windley says. This fall BYU introduced its Domain of One’s Own pilot to 1,000 student and faculty participants. But offering personal Web spaces is just the beginning, Windley says. “Domains help students understand their personal identity. The next step is understanding your personal data and how you control that.”

Absolutely right! And Adam Croom, who has been going gang busters with University of Oklahoma’s Domain of One’s Own project OU Create, frames this argument along the lines of a negotiation that should be taking place but isn’t:

“It’s the idea that tapping into one’s data should be a negotiation that the student gets to make,” says Adam Croom, director of digital learning at the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Oklahoma (OU). “Why can’t I manage what apps tap into my data, whether that’s the learning management system or the bursar’s office? Why aren’t there terms and conditions for students to understand who has access to their data?”

Another article I found alongside this one, thanks to the Cassandra of Ed-Tech*, was the article in Education Week proclaiming 2016 will be “The Year of Agency.” If that’s right—and I hope it is—that means more an more universities will need to start rethinking their infrastructure, and APIs have helped BYU and University of Oklahoma do just that. And so much of that work has been make possible thanks to the tireless evangelism of Kin Lane who has provided a vision of what APIs can be for Higher Ed. One we desperately needed.

At the same time, giving students, faculty, and staff more control over their data will be without some serious struggle. A response to this article published today on EducationDive illustrates why giving students control over their data might be an issue for some:

Schools are tracking student movements around campuses, incorporating data about how many times they visit the library or the tutoring center into performance data, merging that with student information system and learning management system data, and then developing predictive models to help counselors and students themselves. Giving students access to their own data is one thing, but letting them block others from seeing it is a different beast that could derail retention efforts.

Derailing retention? It’s strange to see the idea of allowing students to decide who gets to see their data, for how long, and why as somehow antithetical to keeping them? There is a joke in there somewhere. Fact is, the realities behind the learning analytics applications that have been relentlessly tracking student’s personal data may very soon be coming to a head. I would bet there has been little to no transparency about what student data universities are tracking, and whom they are sharing it with. Hell, I’m sure a number of universities aren’t even aware themselves of what data these third party applications are collecting. The idea that someone empowering students to opt-out of these unilateral relationships with various technology vendors is somehow preventing them from doing their job is demonstrative of just how much of the job of teaching and learning they’re offshoring to third-party technology solutions. And I won’t even get into the insane idea that tracking a student’s movement around campus is a sound academic counseling strategy.

Reclaim Hosting was born out of a movement that is grounded in the principle of empowering students and faculty to take control of their teaching and learning. And as Phil Windley notes, understanding who has access to their data and how it is being used will be ground zero for that struggle if we are, indeed, entering the year of agency.

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*I found this article thanks to the all-knowing, all-seeing Audrey Watters, who linked to it in this week’s Newsletter. You’d think given I was quoted in this I might know about it, but Audrey actually reads the web—all of it—unlike me :)

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Reclaiming Your Addon Domains

Today’s entry in Reclaim Hosting’s #DocumentationDecember brings you a guide on how to set up and manage your addon domains! We’ll go over what an addon domain is, why it might make sense for you, and we’ll walk you through how to get an addon domain activated on your Reclaim Hosting account.

What is an addon domain?

In our documentation on how to set up and manage your subdomains, we make the analogy that owning a domain is sort of like having a piece of “territory” on the web, like a tract of “web land.” Using a subdomain (like docs.reclaimhosting.com or domains.reclaimhosting.com) is a great way to develop your land and put different kinds of property on it, but if you want more land for an entirely different purpose, an addon domain might be a better choice for you. Eventually if you have enough domains you can start building houses on them, and then if you have enough houses you can build a hotel.

Obtaining an addon domain

You can buy a new domain name directly from us through your client portal, or you can transfer a domain you have from another registrar to your Reclaim Hosting account. For this post, we’ll go over how to set up a new domain (purchased from us) first, and go over how to transfer in a domain from another registrar at the end.

Setting up your new domain

You don’t need a new Reclaim Hosting account to get another domain, and you can manage all of your domains from the same account portal. For example, let’s say you have an awesome blog that you’ve been posting to for 10 years, and you want to ride the success of your blog to new heights by opening Javatuesdays, a gourmet espresso shop. You decide you’d like to buy javatuesdays.com to commemorate the grand opening of your new shop.

To start, log-on to your Reclaim Hosting account, hover over “Domains,” and click “Register a New Domain.”

Reclaiming Your Addon Domains

Reclaiming Your Addon Domains

In this screen, simply type in the domain that you’d like to register and select a suffix (.com, .net, .org, etc) – our system will confirm that the domain is available (or not); in our case, javatuesdays.com is available, so I’ll click “continue.”

The next screen will give you a couple of options.  The first option is to purchase identity protection for your domain at a cost of $7.00. ICANN (basically the governing body of the Internet) requires you to identify yourself when you register a domain with your name, address, email, etc. Without identity protection, another Internet user can use a tool called whois to look up your information and contact you personally about products or services. Identity protection masks this information on your behalf, and if there is an issue with your domain, ICANN will contact the registrar (that’s us) and we will contact you on behalf of ICANN. Personally, I recommend the identity protection unless you are registering a domain for an Internet business and want your personally identifiable information to be “easily found.”

The second option asks if you’d like to change the nameservers for your domain. If you are hosting your website through Reclaim Hosting, you do not need to change these settings. You would only want to change your nameservers if you were hosting your website with another provider (like Squarespace) but wanted to keep your domain registered with Reclaim.

In our example, we’re hosting javatuesdays.com with Reclaim Hosting, and opted to purchase the Identity Protection. After clicking “Continue,” you can review your order and check out by putting your credit card information in the bottom right under “Payment Method.” When you’re all set, click the “Complete Order” button on the bottom. When your order is complete, you will see a link to return to your client area.

Starting up a site for your addon domain

As mentioned earlier, you don’t need a new hosting account for your new domain! Once you’re back in the Client Area, click on cpanel, and then click “addon domains.”

Reclaiming Your Addon Domains

In “addon domains,” fill in the “new domain name” field with the domain you just registered; the “subdomain” and “Document Root” fields will populate automatically. In our case, I am going to remove the “.com” from my “Document Root” folder, but that is only for my convenience, you do not need to do this.

Reclaiming Your Addon Domains

You also have the option of creating a new FTP account that has access to the content on your domain. You also do not need to do this, but you may want to if you’d like to give someone else FTP access to your site, so I am going to go ahead and set that up. Your existing FTP credentials will allow you to get access to all of your Reclaim sites, and a refresher on how to use FTP can be found here.

Once you’re done setting up your domain options, click “Continue” and wait a few seconds for your changes to process. That’s pretty much it!

Installing applications on your new domain

Once your domain is set-up, back in cpanel, you can select a featured application and install it to your new domain. For javatuesdays.com, I’d like to install WordPress, so I’ll click “WordPress” and then click “Install this application.”

On the install page, click on the drop-down menu at the top and select your new domain, then enjoy your new site!

Reclaiming Your Addon Domains

Transferring a domain from another registrar

Transferring a domain you already own is not too much different from registering a new domain, except the transfer process requires an EPP code, which is basically an agreement code obtained from your registrar that allows the registrar to release your domain. Basically, to start the process, click on “domains” in the client portal, but instead of clicking “register a new domain,” click “transfer domains to us.” You will be prompted to enter your EPP code on the same screen where we ask if you’d like to buy the identity protection. The process is pretty standard across registrars, but there are a couple of “gotchas” (these are the rules set by ICANN) to be aware of no matter what, and it’s worth noting that these rules also apply if you would like to transfer out of Reclaim Hosting (but we know it won’t come to that!):

  • If you have whois protection enabled through your registrar, you must disable it (temporarily) before you initiate the transfer. This is because we will send a confirmation of authorization email to the email address on your domain that you provided to the original registrar. (think of it like a “are you really sure you want to transfer? message)
  • You must click the confirmation link in the email we send, or you will have to start the process over!
  • Your domain must not be less than 60 days old, and you must not have previously transferred your domain in the last 60 days.
  • The domain transfer process can take up to 5 days.

Here are the transfer/EPP code instructions for some popular registrars:

Namecheap (they provide some of the most comprehensive info on this process, if you’re interested)

GoDaddy

Network Solutions

Hover

If your domain registrar doesn’t appear here, you can do a Google search for “epp code” and then the name of your registrar, and remember, if it’s helpful to you, it’s probably helpful for others, so send us a support note and we’ll feature your suggestion here!

We will confirm once your domain is transferred, and then you can follow the same directions (starting with cpanel) to set it up as an addon domain. Happy Reclaiming!

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Managing Databases with cPanel

cPanel Database Tools

cPanel includes several tools for managing databases in your account. The MySQL Database Wizard is a quick way to create databases, database users, and associate the two. The MySQL Databases area will show you all the databases and users you've created an help you manage the creation and deletion of them. But when it comes to management there are two tools that I use often for editing, searching, importing, and exporting content within your databases.

The first tool is built right into cPanel called phpMyAdmin. This is actually a third-party piece of software that cPanel has integrated into the control panel to manage your databases. You'll still create and delete databases and users with the previously mentioned database management areas, however phpMyAdmin shines at allowing you to see and modify the content within databases as well as good import and export options.

Screenshot of phpMyAdmin

While the look and feel of phpMyAdmin hasn't changed much over the years, it does a good job of showing you what you need to know. A list of your databases is available on the left sidebar. Across the top are all the various tools to interact with the selected database from browsing or searching the data, running queries on the database, or backing up and restoring the database. You have the option of running commands on particular tables here as well as the entire database. While some of the terminology can tend towards complex jargon, I do find some of the tools pretty straightforward, this backup section for example:

phpMyAdmin Backup Screen

Although phpMyAdmin can be convenient because it's built right into cPanel, there are also desktop applications that you can take advantage of for management of your databases. A popular one is Sequel Pro for Mac (and best of all, it's free!). In order to use Sequel Pro or any tool external to cPanel, you'll need to give your internet connection permission to access the databases. This is done using the Remote MySQL section in cPanel. The way your computer's connection is identified is by its IP Address which is a unique address assigned to your computer by your network provider when you connect. You can find yours by going to http://ip4.me/ or even asking Google. Once you have your IP address you can enter it into the Remote MySQL section and you'll now have permission to connect to your databases from your internet connection. If your IP address changes you'll need to update it in that area.

Remote MySQL

In Sequel Pro you can connect to individual databases by putting in credentials that have access to that database (as well as your domain as the host). Keep in mind this is not your cPanel username and password, rather the username and password for a Database User that has access to the database you want to manage. Once connected you can take advantage of the tools in Sequel Pro to manage your database in the same way as with phpMyAdmin.

Screenshot of Sequel Pro

Database in Sequel Pro