A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

It's no secret that one of the true highlights of my time at the University of Mary Washington was working with George Meadows of the College of Education and Rosemary Arneson in the library to build the ThinkLab Makerspace. There are few things that were able to spark and capture the imagination of such a broad audience as this simple machine did in 2012

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ
MakerBot Thing-O-Matic

Some may criticize 3D printing as a solution in search of a problem, a gimmick at best. In the worst implementations I suppose I can understand the skepticism. But for me the true power was always in the ability not just to download and print a bracelet, but to show someone how they could truly make something their own. The ability to design and make physical something that exists in the digital still feels magical 6 years later.

One of our visions when we got our own office in addition to the coworking space and the video store was the idea of infusing some of that creative culture through a small makerspace, so with the time being right to renovate a small section of the office and Jim having a project with a need for it, I knew the first piece of equipment I wanted to get.

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ
Ultimaker 3 3D Printer in the soon-to-be renovated CoLab Makerspace

I had reviewed several top lists and talked to a few trusted folks running spaces currently and all signs pointed to Ultimaker as the top brand to buy for reliability. They're not cheap, but they're workhorses and if the past week and a half is any indicator it lives up to all expectations.

Jim has already blogged the exciting developments of working through a project to build a 1-dimensional adventure game using an Arduino, LED lights, and a 3D printed enclosure and joystick. In addition to that project we've tested prints with low quality, high quality settings, even getting comfortable enough to go an entire weekend printing a high-quality vase.

Today Jim and I jumped on an episode of Reclaim Today to talk more about it all and to show the thing in action. During the episode it's printing brackets that would end up being mounted to the wall in Reclaim Video to display Laserdisc videos. It's a gorgeous and practical application marrying futuristic tech with the aesthetic of the past in very cool ways.

Over the coming weeks the space will be renovated with a fresh coat of paint and some construction work as well as new furniture with an eye towards making it a hub for creativity. We're calling it CoLab, an extension of CoWork, and we'll be partnering again with the College of Education as well as possibly a few other key folks to continue fostering a culture here in Fredericksburg of making. We've only just gotten started and it's already a blast so I can't wait to see what's possible as others join in the fun and help us build it.

Commons in a Box comes to Reclaim Hosting

Commons in a Box comes to Reclaim Hosting

We are excited to announce that we have partnered with the Commons in a Box project to bring an automated installer to the Reclaim Hosting platform. This follows on the heals of their 1.1.0 release which introduced the concept of "packages" that allow for different community types to be automated. As part of that effort a new "OpenLab" package (used by OpenLab at City Tech) is available during install with a focus on teaching and learning.

Commons in a Box comes to Reclaim Hosting

The work to bring CBOX to Reclaim began over a year ago as part of an NEH-funded grant and we couldn't be more excited to make the software available to our community. This installer is not exclusive to our institutional clients, rather all servers will have the ability to quickly install and run Commons in a Box. That being said, we recognize that for many the potential of the software is to build a space for large communities and so we have a focused Managed Hosting option at Reclaim where we can run a dedicated server for your CBOX project including options like single sign-on.

A huge thanks to all the fine folks at the Commons in a Box project for working with us to make this happen!

Honest Pricing for All

Reclaim Hosting recently celebrated it's 5th birthday in late July, and during that 5 years we've only had to increase the cost of an account 1 time as a result of adding WHOIS protection by default to all accounts which came at a cost (which Jim wrote about here). As we've grown we've done our best to increase functionality by adding things like offsite backup servers, plugins that allowed advanced Ruby, Python, and Node.JS support, and free SSL certificates for all accounts via Let's Encrypt. All without doing what is very much the industry norm, which is to monetize all the things, luring people in with loss leaders and then hiding costs behind renewals and basic features. We have also always included a free domain registration with the purchase of a hosting plan making it dead simple and extremely inexpensive to get started with an account. For a student hosting plan this means that half of the cost of an account is subsidized by Reclaim Hosting before things like storage and server costs are even calculated. And that's something we plan to continue to do because remaining inexpensive for students and faculty is a key part of why we do what we do, and we want to build a company that can help folks get started in an honest way with clear pricing.

You were probably reading all of the above waiting for the shoe to drop that we are raising our prices. We're not. What you see at Reclaim Hosting is what you get and for now until our costs rise significantly and force our hand, we have no intention of raising the cost of our hosting plans. However one frustration we've had in the past is that despite our low costs, we are often asked if we have any discounts. Despite absorbing a lot of the cost to keep the student plan low, we do have folks mention they are in education as justification that a $30/year plan should be further discounted. Or a faculty member plans to have a group of students sign up and wants to see if they can get the price lower. I get it, I really do. But the harsh reality is that in a world where the norm is to artificially raise prices higher than they should be and then offer supposed "discounts", we are taking an alternative approach and offering honest pricing for everyone. And that means having to say no to discounts.

For years now we've tried our best to balance the rising cost of registering domains while keeping our prices low and to still occasionally throw out a discount here or there for 10% off. Early on we even allowed folks to set themselves up as "affiliates" and provide codes to others that would give both them a discount and credit back to the person who provided the code. In order to maintain a superior level of service and keep to our honest pricing model we need to deprecate these features.

So at the end of the year we will be terminating and removing any outstanding discount codes that are currently floating around (note that this does not apply to bulk purchases made by groups to waive the cost for their students). We will be closing out the affiliate program and processing any outstanding credit for users that took advantage of it. Going forward we will stick to clear and honest pricing without discounts with the hope of being able to continue providing the best deal in the industry without the upsell or hidden costs. We appreciate the support that the educational community has given us over the years and plan to continue to make our service better while keeping costs low for years to come.

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

Reclaim Hosting has long been a big fan of the work that Alan Levine is doing with SPLOTs (Smallest Possible learning...object...tools? Who knows what it actually stands for). The idea, born out of the work Alan was doing with Brian Lamb's group at TRU, was to make simple tools built on top of WordPress that solved simple problems. For users in Canada it was especially important that no logins be required. A suite of tools were developed and Alan has gone on to continue maintaining them and even developed additional ones like "Calling Card" themes for personal sites and packaging up the DS106 Assignment Bank and Daily Create into standalone packages.

As Jim wrote about earlier, we had visions of bringing Alan on in a fellowship role to work with us on developing many of these tools into standalone installers in our Reclaim Hosting environment. I'm happy to announce that the first of many goes live today, the Big Picture Calling Card.

Big Picture is a theme developed by Alan and based off of an HTML5UP theme of the same name. It's a single page landing site that works well for personal sites as well as small projects where you may want all the information on a single page. Now, installing a theme isn't necessarily hard, and Alan has done a lot of work documenting both in his Github repository as well as on his blog how to get up and running. But for users brand new to WordPress even the act of installing themes, activating plugins, and configuring settings in Customizer can be a hell of a learning curve (a great learning opportunity in my opinion, but a curve nonetheless). In the same way that creating an installer for Omeka has opened the doors for many more folks to work with that software we have seen time and again how building applications for our environment can simply the amount of onboarding necessary to build out amazing stuff.

Big Picture Calling Card is rolling out to servers over the next 24 hours for all Reclaim Hosting users and available directly in Installatron. And the great news is that this is the first of many SPLOT-based applications that we will be making available including additional calling card themes as well functional applications like the TRU Writer and TRU Collector.

Today

Today

I recently got back from a lovely weeklong vacation in Myrtle Beach where amongst all the relaxing I got nostalgic while showing some old DTLT Today videos to a friend. Right on the heels of that I read Jim's post about Reclaim's 5 year anniversary and while doing some digging in my Twitter archive (I'm no longer on Twitter but have a full archive of my stuff here) I found that Jim and I must have put out an episode the day we went public with the idea of Reclaim Hosting narrating our thoughts on the formation of it. Luckily Jim is the best kind of pack rat and had a copy since the original post I wrote had a broken embed from a media server that no longer exists at UMW and I was able to get it back online. Seriously, if you're a Reclaim fan and have some time to spare check this out:

It never ceases to amaze me when I go back to watch these videos how they become a time capsule of a particular moment. I cherish every one we did because just like blogging it helps me understand not just the relationships and the interactions I've been privileged to have in my career but also the political, commercial, and cultural changes that were influencing the work we were doing as a group. So needless to say the bug was starting to bite hard and I know better than to fight that feeling.

So yesterday after floating the idea to Jim and thinking it really could happen I rearranged some furniture in our back office and spent the evening developing an opening sequence (I'm such a god damn sucker for branding, I can't help it!). In an homage to DTLT Today we are calling it Reclaim Today and we recorded our first episode today in meta fashion talking about why we're doing this and what our goals are for the podcast.

As a geeky colophon to that I wanted to write a bit about the technical aspects of building both the opener and how we're currently managing the podcast as a distributed company with half of the team of 4 remote.

For the opener sequence like many video projects I started by checking out what was available on Videohive. I have an Adobe Suite license and I've played with After Effects with a few other projects so I find these templates a great way to get something professional up real quick. I also found a decent audio track on Audiojungle (same marketplace, part of the Envato network). So for ~$35 and a few hours time finding images and editing text I had the pieces I needed to build the video you see at the top of this post.

For the actual recording we leaned towards Google Hangouts on Air, which you can setup to livestream but also record straight to YouTube. Hangouts are awesome in that it's dead simple to act as a standalone switcher between folks, people can share their screens, and no one has to "control the feed" as it were. Hangouts suck in that sometimes you might want that control. Great example was that I had to download the YouTube video, insert our intro video and outro, and reupload as a new video because apparently you can't play videos within a Hangout. The quality also leaves a bit to be desired. So we'll see if we stay with that or move towards something like Wirecast which we used extensively at UMW for a variety of projects including DTLT Today and it was very powerful but a complex and expensive piece of software (and we talk a bit about this conundrum on the first episode).

Another nice piece of the setup I got working was that we had a mobile TV cart on one end of the room with a long HDMI cable to a standalone mac mini that was driving the hangout. The mini had a Yeti mic and Logitech HD webcam connected to it and we ran a long audio cable from the Yeti behind the couch with a splitter so Meredith and I could both hear everything without any echo. It ended up being a pretty nice solution allowing us to look right into the camera while interacting directly with the screen behind it and managing audio in a way that allowed for now echoing. I do want to start breaking out the audio in a separate recording so we're not left with the compressed stuff Hangouts gives us for the final recording (thinking about Audio Hijack Pro for that).

So anyways, we're having a blast and we've launched this thing. As the kids say these days, like and subscribe for more!

The Next App: Nextcloud

The Next App: Nextcloud

You may have noticed in my last blog post a bit of a tease in that I've become a bit more comfortable recently with building installers. Of course not every application is going to be compatible with a cPanel environment or work well in the context of automating the install, but when possible we want to continue to build out a rich and robust library of applications for our users beyond just what is offered stock by Installatron.

Our newest installer is for Nextcloud, which is an app with a pretty interesting history. Nextcloud is an open source storage program that acts very much as a replacement for Dropbox and services like it. They have applications for desktop and mobile and you can keep your files in sync. They also have a variety of applications that can be run from inside the program. It is a fork of the ownCloud software created by the original developer of ownCloud and many programmers that were working for the company in 2016. There was some disagreement in ownership and the direction of the software and so being that it was open source they decided to start anew under a new name. Installatron has offered ownCloud for awhile now stock and it is still a supported application being developed with regular updates. I can't answer for you whether ownCloud or Nextcloud is a better direction, but I can say after playing around with Nextcloud it is a really slick experience.

The Next App: Nextcloud

Look for Nextcloud to be available on all servers on Reclaim Hosting in the next 24-48 hours. If you have a burning desire for another application that is not currently available as an installer, I would love for you to post in the Feature Requests category of our community forums. I'm an active participant there and use that as a way to gauge interest for what to work on next.

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

It all begins with a tweet (pay not attention to the fact I'm no longer on Twitter)

NewsBlur unfortunately is indeed not compatible in a shared hosting environment, great hosted service though so check them out! However instead of just letting Mark down I wanted to at least find an alternative. I personally love TinyTinyRSS but my needs are pretty simple, I have a Google Reader skin (because nostalgia) and I can j/k my way back and forth through articles with the keyboard. But in my search for options out there I stumbled on FreshRSS and the demo looked really interesting. If nothing else it's a fresh coat of paint for a self-hosted reader. And the site proudly proclaims it's open source nature. Given it was compatible with cPanel I wanted to see if I could get an installer going for it.

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

I have to say I'm starting to get into a bit of a groove building installers. While the announcements have not been too frequent on that regard, that will be changing in a big way in the coming months as we push out potentially 7 more apps to our environment by the end of the year. Our goal is to really make Reclaim Hosting not just an environment but also a library for educational tools. 4 hours later I've got a working installer and I'm publishing it out today.

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

FreshRSS is first and foremost a free and open source RSS aggregator. In my testing it's fast, mobile responsive, and pretty easy on the eyes. You can import an OPML of all your feeds to get started on the right foot and it's even got bookmarklets to interact with. Lots of cool stuff here and if you're not already on the RSS train or you're looking for a new ride, this might be it. It was published today on all Reclaim Hosting servers and should propagate within the next 24-48 hours.

Got an app you wish we supported? The Feature Requests category of our community forums is a great place to make your voice heard! I read and respond to every one.

Node.JS comes to Reclaim Hosting

Node.JS comes to Reclaim Hosting

I'm very excited to announce that starting today it is now possible to build and run Node.JS applications on Reclaim Hosting. Similar to the Python and Ruby features that make running Django and Jekyll possible, Node.JS is a third party plugin integrated into the Software area of cPanel. We have the latest versions of Node 6.x, 8.x, and 9.x available to build on and creating a node application gives you shell access to npm to integrate packages. Through the use of Passenger, applications can be built and run directly over Apache allowing you to run your application proxied to a top level domain or subdomain without port numbers.

Node.JS comes to Reclaim Hosting

This integration is very much developer-focused given the strong push by many to move beyond a basic LAMP stack and we're excited to make these tools possible. We have put together a tutorial on using this system to build a Ghost blog on your domain which can be accessed here. I should caution that not all Node applications will work in this environment, many of which also require things like Redis, MongoDB, etc which are not (yet) available within cPanel. But for developers looking to learn how to build and run server-side Javascript this is an excellent way to do that on a domain of your own.

*Node.JS support is available to all shared hosting plans as well as Domain of One's Own servers that currently utilize Cloudlinux. If you are a program manager and would like access to this, please reach out to discuss adding this feature.

A Personal Private CRM

A Personal Private CRM

Last month I forgot to call my dad on his birthday. It's certainly not the first time I have forgotten something important. I'm not wired in the necessary way to piece together all the important bits of information that would make me "thoughtful". Maybe that's a red herring and I'm just not a thoughtful person, but I'd like to think that's not the case and life just gets in the way like I'm sure many reading this can sympathize.

Today I came across a really interesting application called Monica and while I'm certainly reticent throw software at all my problems, I can't deny the possibility that having a smartphone or email or even shudder Facebook has helped me stay in touch with people. Monica bills itself as a "Personal Relationship Manager" and if you're familiar with the CRM acronym (Customer Relationship Manager) in the context of running a business, you can start to see where this could be useful. In Monica, you can add family, friends, and others you meet in your walks in life along with any information you have on them. Monica will remind you when birthdays are coming up or other important events. If you saved gift ideas for them it would have those. You can see relationship connections to know who is married to whom. If you were really masochistic you could log all your interactions with all of these people there (spoiler alert: I won't be doing anything quite that crazy).

Best of all Monica is open source so I was able to install it on my own domain and start playing with it. All the data is private to me and not shared with any other social media platforms. Like any relationship manager, you likely get out of it what you put in so I will have to regularly add information to find real use there. But even if it's nothing more than birthdays that could be useful to someone like me. I hope to see more integrations to take advantages of the platforms like Facebook that already have a lot of information to avoid all the tedious data entry and perhaps better notification options beyond getting emails. But the core idea that I have space on my domain where I can keep track of the relationships in my life is interesting to me and gets at the heart of what I think it means to have a domain of your own. It's not all WordPress blogs out there.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

One of the biggest challenges for folks new to building a website with WordPress is that it feels very much like writing/blogging software out of the box. Yes, you can create pages, but as soon as you want to structure information in columns or do anything more complex than images and text you will quickly find you need to find a theme or a handful of plugins to get the job done (and if you don't know what you don't know, that's a huge hurdle). "Site Builder" plugins are becoming more and more popular and you even see more themes integrating them into their frameworks these days. Some are pretty good, some suck really badly. One I really like and wanted to demonstrate as a way to quickly get up and running with a WordPress site is Elementor which is both free (there's a Pro version that has more features I'll discuss in a bit) and incredibly user-friendly with a lot of great options.

Rather than just talk about the various features let's go through the process of building out a demo site to see what Elementor has to offer. To start we'll fire up a WordPress install on Reclaim Hosting. Nothing too crazy, you're typical TwentyEighteen theme with the big ass succulent.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Since this isn't going to be a blog I'm going to go to Settings > Reading and change the homepage to be the About page that WordPress creates by default.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Then let's install the Elementor plugin to really get to the fun stuff.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

If we were to look at our site at this point nothing much has changed. We have the About page showing by default on the homepage. Let's click that Edit Page button to start making some changes.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

In addition to your standard Post/Page editor functions we see a big Edit with Elementor button at the top. But before we hit that I want to also draw your attention to the Page Templates in the righthand sidebar. Elementor offers templates to go full width instead of being limited to the layout of the theme we're working with (if you look above at the previous screenshot all the content is pushed to the right which we don't want). They also have a Canvas option which is awesome because it essentially nukes the whole theme content and gives us an empty workspace to build from. I'll be using that so I select it and click Update.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Now let's hit that Edit with Elementor button and start building out the site. You'll see we're taken to an interface that looks a lot more like the WordPress Customizer than the traditional page editor. We can add and edit items via the lefthand sidebar and interact directly with them on the site on the righthand preview seeing the site exactly as it will look to visitors.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

WordPress added some demo content to the About page that I don't need so I highlight over that and click the X to remove that text block.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Now below that we can add a new section for content. Let's start by looking at the template options Elementor comes with which is a great way to kickstart building a site rather than starting from scratch. Click Add Template and you're taken to a library of different full page layouts complete with demo content to choose from. Fair warning here, you will find templates that are "Pro Only" meaning this is where you'd need a paid version of the plugin to use those (and hey, if you like the plugin maybe it's worth throwing some money at the developers!), but there are a lot of great free options.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

I chose a simple "About Page" template and now my editor interface has a variety of content that I can start modifying to put in my own information.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

You'll find you can simply click in the various boxes and edit text directly as well as modify things in more detail using the lefthand sidebar which dynamically changes when an element of the site is selected.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Elementor also has options in the lower left to see how the site will display on tablets and mobile devices.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Going back quickly to the same area where we added Templates you'll notice there's a tab for Blocks as well. Templates are full page designs whereas Blocks are just small snippets of content (an FAQ section, a Call to Action, etc).

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

You can also build from scratch and add specific elements to your page to build out your own layout. You would create a new section which it lets you choose how many columns you'd like.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Then you can drag elements from the left sidebar over and Elementor has a large library of widgets to choose from with everything from Text, Images, Videos, Maps, Buttons as well as dynamic content like Blog Posts or Tags and Categories from your site.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

When you drag an item out to a block you can then edit the content of that element in the sidebar.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

There is quite a bit more to Elementor but that covers the basics of the plugin and how you can use it with WordPress to quickly build out dynamic responsive websites that feel less like a blog and more like a full-fledged website. If you start on WordPress and immediately feel out of your element at getting what is in your head on the screen I'd encourage you to give this method a shot.