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Domus vindicare regnum tuum

One of the many cool things I took away from visiting Coventry last week was how they are re-working their support documentation to be more conceptual and visual. A teaching aide that leads you to a particular issue, rather than just a list of how-to articles. It is still a work-in-progress, but Charlie Legge has been doing some awesome work on this project. In particular, I love the choice of metaphor, namely comparing one’s own domain at Coventry to a house. Brilliant, right?! 🙂

This animated visual model of explaining what hosting is and why it matters is pretty awesome. I got a lot of guff about this metaphor back in the day, but I think history is on my side, and it is all but clear that I was right, at least metaphorically 🙂 Rent, lease, own, or squat,  your online data still needs to live somewhere. Thank you, Charlie, vindicare regnum, indeed!

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SPLOTting a Path to Coventry

I spent most of last week working from the UK. Coming off vacation I was back on the road, and a couple of days in London was a nice transition back. In fact, I even got to see Phantom Thread in 70 MM at the BFI IMAX theater.

And the next day I was able to catch part of a retrospective of Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s work—most of which was new to me. I got to see his very first film, Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca), and I was really impressed. The whole film was funded by his family and I believe shot on location at a relatives home, and it’s quite gorgeous—an impressive debut. The story focuses on a young man who is losing his mind, and the ways in which he rationalizes his increasingly psychopathic behavior for the “good of the family.” It reads as a full-frontal attack on middle-class, catholic values of Italy in the 60s, and uses a dysfunctional family as the vehicle. I must say the decaying mountain villa they live in felt oddly familiar 🙂 I like Criterion’s encapsulation of the film:

Fists in the Pocket was a gleaming ice pick in the eye of bourgeois family values and Catholic morality, a truly unique work that continues to rank as one of the great achievements of Italian cinema.

But it wasn’t all films and culture, I was working most of the time in preparation for a two-day workshop at Coventry University wherein I would be both exploring the Coventry Domains platform with technologists that support different schools/departments from around the university, as well as a deep-dive into the administration of Domains with the three-person crew at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL), namely Daniel Villar-Onrubio, Lauren Heywood, and Charlie Legge. As often happens with workshops like this, I often get more out of it than I give. As we were talking through cPanel, various application, and more, the conversation turned to SPLOTs given Daniel and Lauren have been doing an unbelievable job of promoting these small, focused teaching tools. What’s more, Coventry is the first school that has made SPLOTs available as part of their general Domain of One’s Own offering.

Daniel shared a couple of examples with me on how they’re using both the Image Collector and the Media Collector SPLOTs on one of their projects which provide excellent examples of how powerful these tools can be. The Open Web for Learning and Teaching Expertise Hub (OWLTEH) is a resource they are building for teaching and learning with the open web, and they are using both the Image Collector and the Media Collector as part of this site. The Image Collector in this case takes on the role of a catalogue of open tools faculty and students can use, it’s a resource that not only anyone can use-but also anyone can add to:

The other tool is the Media Collector, which is a similar, but in this instance it aggregates videos from a variety of sources (YouTube, Vimeo, Internet Archive, etc.) all in one place:

A slick tool that can not only collect and display, but also allow for communities to create and submit from anywhere—a quick and easy video aggregator for a course if you will.
And then there are the portfolio-based SPLOTs that are being used extensively to get graduate students up and running with a quick professional profile. There was continued interest in the various flavors of SPLOTs for this (Big Picture Calling Card, Dimension Calling Card (pictured above), and Highlights Calling Card) and one of the first of these will most definitely be Reclaim’s initial offering of a stand-alone SPLOT with it’s very own application installer independent of WordPress—though still built on it. 

But I want to return to the Image Collector SPLOT for a moment, just to highlight how these “tiny teaching tools” can really serve some interesting use cases. The above example for OpenMed is a straight up image collector that allows folks from the OpenMed project (which is project focused on creating open resources for various Mediterranean universities) to share photos, which comes in useful given there are numerous schools from across the Middle East and North Africa that are participating. Yet, Lauren showed another example of this same tool being used by an art professor for a project called WordBox.


What is WordBox? Well, it…

… is an activity to support participants to practice searching for discipline specific key terms, definitions and associated words. Submissions to the glossary space include commentary on how the definition was sourced and any benefits or negatives of using particular online spaces to source information. The idea is to learn from one another’s search practices and share experience.

So, a tool to define various key terms in the field highlighting process and sharing results in the form of a glossary. It’s a single assignment that becomes a long-standing resource, and it underscores brilliantly a focused application of SPLOTs, with added bonus of students not needing to login, leave personal data, or learn WordPress to simply share an image, some text, and a link.

Continued excitement around SPLOTs is timely given the day before heading to Coventry, Tim and I spoke with Alan Levine about starting to roll SPLOTs out as stand-alone application installers. Big Picture Calling Card will be the first, but hopefully more will follow given Tim is on an Installatron application installation roll. One of the big benefits of stand-alone apps is all updates Alan makes to the SPLOTs will get rolled out to users, through the current WordPress installation of SPLOTs there is no way to incorporate updates. Another thing we are working on is more documentation and examples, which hopefully this post will provide some fodder for 🙂

But when it comes to SPLOTs right now, nobody does it better than Coventry, they are an inspiration and everyone participating in the workshop could see the immediate value of having such tools in your back pocket as an educational technologist. 

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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.

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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.

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Summer 2018 Check-In

As my first official Account Manager duty, I’ve been sending out the first of many check-in emails to our Domain of One’s Own schools. I feel that it’s important for institutions to hear from Reclaim Hosting more than the occasional support ticket response or invoice reminder email. These check-in emails are separated primarily into two sections: What’s New and Account Analytics.

The What’s New section (which I’ve copied below) will essentially be a newsletter for our DoOO Liaisons to stay up to date on the latest Reclaim Hosting happenings. I’ll be sharing new documentation articles that are produced, new software updates/releases, upcoming events, and internal changes. The Analytics section will look a little different based on each institution, but the general format will include: number of cPanel accounts, number of installs within Installatron, total disk usage on the server, and top 5 high-bandwidth sites. As a side note- I’ve really enjoyed looking at these URLs! This isn’t a feature I check often, but I’m excited to have a reason to continually go back and look at these. It’s been keeping me somewhat in tune with individual projects at schools and I love that.

From there I’ll include suggestions for how a given DoOO school can be using their environment more efficiently. This may mean recommending that they delete Installatron backups, set user quota limits, or add more block storage to their server. Lastly, I’m using this email as a chance to confirm our contact information for Domain of One’s Own team members. We always want to make sure that emails and notifications are going to to the right people, so its good to check on this every now and then!

The goal here is to send this email out at the end of every Fall and Spring semester so folks will be able to track their growth over time. I’ll be keeping track of the data in an excel sheet that I’m sending to institutions so I can reference it in future correspondence.

You can find the newsletter portion below:

What’s New at Reclaim Hosting:

New Documentation. Creating an Account for a User Outside of Your Institution •  Detecting Activity Through Server StatisticsYour List of Installations •  Advanced User Analytics Tracking

Forcing HTTPS. Starting in July, Google Chrome will begin to display more prevalent warnings for sites not running on https. View Reclaim Hosting’s response here.

Node.js. As of June 15, it is now possible to run to build and run Node.JS applications at Reclaim Hosting. Read more about this here. As a small caveat, CloudLinux, which is required to run Node.js, is not currently on all servers. If this is something that you’re interested in running, please contact Reclaim Hosting support.

Digital Ocean Customer Story. Digital Ocean recently published a case study on Reclaim Hosting- feel free to give it a read.

As of Late. If you’re interested in reading more about what Reclaim Hosting has been up to recently, you can read Jim Groom’s blog post, Catching up with Reclaim Hosting.

Upcoming Event. Reclaim Hosting will be hosting another Workshop of One’s Own for Domain of One’s Own Administrators this Fall on November 1-2. Seating is limited. More information & registration details can be found here.

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Catching Up With Reclaim Hosting

I have been trying to capture as much of my latest stint back at Reclaim Hosting’s HQ as possible given it was so awesome. Everything from the Reclaim Video Grand Opening and Summer Movie Nights to a special visit from Michael Branson Smith to Centipede to the day-today video store awesomeness. That said, I have written little to nothing about the Reclaim Hosting core crew, although I imagine the goodness is everywhere apparent in my previous posts. But I imagine spelling that out a bit is never a bad thing. 

I wrote less than a year ago about our intention to build capacity at Reclaim, and I think this year we have definitely done that and more. We are a tight, streamlined crew of four, and while we could probably afford to grow over the coming year, we are holding off for the time being. We are all but done with our infrastructure migration to Digital Ocean—which has taken a fair amount of energy over the last year or so—and once we are finished that will be a major undertaking behind us. More than anything, Lauren and Meredith have been crucial to our steady growth and success, and we all agree it’s time for them to take on more responsibility and grow according to our needs. We did our yearly review while I was back, and it was a very good experience. We don’t pull any punches, we try and be honest about what is and isn’t working, and I think that helps everyone know where they are at and what we need to be doing. It also helps that everyone starts from a basic level of intense badassery.

Tim and I run a pretty casual office environment overall, but there are extremely high expectations of support and responsiveness that has really set us apart, and it’s clear that everyone at Reclaim takes pride in that fact—not to mention how much the Reclaim Faithful appreciate it. That is not going away, but we did realize we might be able to organize that process a bit better, so we’ll be experimenting with that over the next few months.

Lauren has also been instrumental in thinking through how we can better attend to our Domain of One’s Own schools’ needs. She and I will be dividing up the account management and I’m really looking forward to this because I have no doubt our the schools that run their hosting infrastructure through Reclaim will be the better for it. Lauren already talked about our clean-up and streamlining of this process, and there will be much more to come.

We also had the opportunity to dream about next steps for Reclaim Hosting’s Domain of One’s Own offering. Our vision is to free up Tim as much as possible to pursue a quite compelling vision he has mapped out for what the next generation of Domain of One’s Own might look like, and given the various requests we have been getting from schools over the last year, I think he may be on to something truly groundbreaking. It’s too early to over promise, but Domains 2.0 might be a bit deal on the ed-tech internet 🙂

Also, the co-working space Reclaim Hosting works from and operates, CoWork, has been taking off as of late (another post I am piggy-backing on from Lauren). It was pretty packed during my time back, and folks are renting the various available spaces on the regular. It is rewarding to see CoWork begin to live up to its potential, and I think we may even consider overhauling the last untouched area of the space as a kind of all-purpose incubator space that might second as a TV studio for a project I have burning a hole in my cerebellum.

In short, things have been super solid at Reclaim Hosting more generally. It’s like running DTLT without all the meetings and institutional bullshit—I love it. Reclaim Hosting is now a team that I would put up against the best of ed-tech groups. We still have some growing to do, but our core is super tight, and we are #4life! I could not be happier with the chance Tim and I took on venturing out 3 years ago, and so much of that has to do with the slow, steady building of a group based the basics: above-and-beyond support of and for faculty and students who need help exploring the web. 

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Centipede Reclaimed

Not only did I achieve on of my life goals by helping to run a Video Rental Store while back in Fredericksburg last week, but I also checked off another bucket list item: owning a classic 80s video game cabinet. That’s right CoWork is now the home to a gorgeous 1980 Centipede cabinet that works perfectly and is all original. 

Beautiful, indeed! The high scores were not registering, but Tim has already figured out the issue (a bad electrically alterable read only memory (EAROM) chip) and swapped it out which fixed it! I wanted the game cause I love this crap, but what we didn’t realize was how welcome an addition it was to our co-working space. The volume can be turned down, and folks will randomly get up and just play a game, and it is so fun. It is an object of shared attention at times, and it only makes me want another 🙂 Tim has been tossing out the idea of giving whoever has the high school at the beginning of the month free membership for that month. I love that idea, although productivity may go way down, and we might need to charge quarters to afford it 🙂

Another thing worth noting is the gorgeous artwork on the cabinet, it is really a standalone art piece apart from the awesome rollerball gameplay.

And then Grant Potter, as he is wont to do, drops this AMA Reddit thread in Twitter featuring the Centipede programmer, Dona Bailey, who donated her Centipede machine “to the VA hospital where the author Ken Kesey worked when he was a student in the writing workshop at Stanford.” The life of a Reclaimer is always intense!

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Reclaim’s In on the Kill Taker

In on the Kill Taker Thing

As chance would have it I stumbled across Joe Gross’s book in the 333sound series on Fugazi’s 1993 album In on the Kill Taker. I even got a note from one of the Dischord Records folks, namely Aaron, thanking me for the purchase, which is always nice. Thank you, Aaron!

Dischord Notes

The book is both a look at Fugazi’s remarkable career as the defining independent punk band of the 1990s, especially against the backdrop of these being the years that punk broke. There were many things I enjoyed about the book, Joe Gross is obviously a fan and the book is book a love letter and a chronicling of just how impressive Fugazi’s 15 year run was. I also loved that much of his recent source material is taken from Tumblr blogs, it was kind of like reading a book-length blog post, and I mean that with all due respect. It seems the most appropriate way to capture the DIY spirit that Fugazi, and their broader distribution network of Dischord Records have represented for over 30+ years—talk about a punk rock institution with an ethos. One of the best quotes from the book comes from Steve Albini, who produced the first, abandoned pass at In on the Kill Taker,  from a GQ interview in which he reflects on the impact of  Sonic Youth’s signing with Geffen Records in 1990:

Sonic Youth chose to abandon it [the independent music scene] in order to become a modestly successful mainstream band– as opposed to being a quite successful independent band that could have used their resources and influence to extend that end of the culture. They chose to join the mainstream culture and become a foot soldier for that culture’s encroachment into my neck of the woods by acting as scouts. I thought it was crass and I thought it reflected poorly on them. I still consider them friends and their music has its own integrity, but that kind of behavior– I can’t say that I think it’s not embarrassing for them. I think they should be embarrassed about it.

As Joe Gross points out, Sonic Youth would broker the deal between Geffen and Nirvana, and the rest is kind of 90s music history, the currency around the punk/post-punk scene is at its peak for much of the decade and Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker comes in 1993, what might arguably be a high water mark year for the grunge craze with the release of In Utero and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, both produced, interestingly enough, by Albini. Fugazi’s previous album, Steady Diet of Nothing, received lukewarm reviews being criticized for not capturing the legendary energy of their live performances—in many ways the album for many seemed like an afterthought (though I personally love it). So, in shot, the pressure was on with Kill Taker, and Fugazi did not disappoint—it is a masterpiece of the punk ethos—the band is branching out into new territory, the avant garde elements of their music (which defines their later albums) shines through, and they are even homaging titans of independent art like John Cassavettes and Gena Rowlands—in arguably the best song on an album filled with gems. But read Joe Gross’s take, he van actually talk about music intelligently, unlike me. But for many it is a turning point, a moment where Fugazi doubles down on who they are and what their music is all about, and you gotta love that. In 1993 they play two shows in NYC at Roseland Ballroom that Gross refers to (I think I saw them on the same tour at the Palladium in LA) and they were particularly amazing for an already stellar live act),  but as the story goes after one of these shows Atlantic Records music mogul Ahmet Ertegün met with the band backstage in an attempt to sign them offering as much as $10 million. Joe Gross talks about the episode, but does not mention a dollar figure. The figure comes from album’s Wikipedia page. It’s a big number, and I am not sure if it’s real, but you have to believe they offered them something significant, and Fugazi said no. And with that, the turning point in their career, the showdown with Satan in the desert, a high point for those of us who want to believe that not everyone will sellout when enough cash is put on the table.

They kept control of their music, they controlled the vertical and horizontal of their distribution and press, and they kept a sense of the integrity of “that end of culture” Albini refers to in the above quote. So, Fugazi has the distinct honor of being the first band to have its second Reclaim Hosting server named after them (they already had another we named after them which housed several virtual machines for Domain of One’s Own schools) because 2018 is our double down year on independence in educational technology! Cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-champions!

“If you ask me now what punk is, I would say it’s the free space. It’s a spot where new ideas can be presented without the requirement of profit, which is what largely steers most sorts of creative offerings in our culture.” — Ian MacKaye

CoWork Growth

It’s been a while since I’ve shared recent photos & updates on the happenings of CoWork, so I thought I’d take care of that now! Reclaim Hosting took over the space in November of 2016, and it’s been about a year since finishing renovations and opening the office to the public. In that time we’ve hosted multiple events, added 12-15 full-time members to the space, and currently accept mail & packages for another 10 or so businesses.

Awesome turn out for our first movie night!! � 📼

A post shared by Reclaim Video 📼 (@reclaimvideo) on

One of our recent events was a Summer Movie Night that was co-hosted with Reclaim Video! Seeing that it was our first one, I’m super proud of how it turned out. There were quite a few people there, and the showing of E.T. was awesome. And our new little popcorn machine rocked! For anyone in the area and interested, our next movie night will be on July 13th. Event details can be found here.

 

^Yesterday we had a two-hour seminar in our empty room next door and it turned out to be a pretty great success. Though the room hasn’t been renovated just yet, once we cleaned out our random boxes/etc. and set up chairs and tables for food, it quickly turned into the perfect space!

^Between the seminar event, CoWork members on the main floor and in the meeting areas, and then the occasional Reclaim Video customer, there were roughly 50 people in the space. For me at least, this feels like a momentous occasion! We’ve come a long way.

^Another recent addition to CoWork has been our Atari Centipede original cabinet arcade game!! Tim and Jim picked up this gem last week and it’s already been a huge hit for both the Reclaim team and CoWork members. Though almost immediately after putting it in the space, we all sort of agreed that it looks a bit lonely. ;)

^And lastly, Tim and I are headed to IKEA tomorrow to get a few more CoWorking desks for the main floor & to take a look at a new kitchenette design. We’re about at the point where we’re ready to take that area to the next level with a sink, dishwasher, and larger fridge so members can start to bring their lunch. CoWork also goes through a ton of plastic water bottles, so I’m hoping that a kitchen sink will minimize some of that. The refrigerator has already been ordered, the wall is painted with a chalkboard paint, and we already have wooden shelves ready to hang. I’m hopeful that the other pieces will fall into place quickly!

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Summer Cleanup: CRM

Reclaim Hosting summers have historically been our slower time of the year. This has allowed us to put some much-needed brain power towards special projects, personal growth, and organization of internal operations. While this summer has hardly felt slow, I think we’re all habitually using this time to reevaluate our responsibilities and how we communicate to make sure that Reclaim Hosting is still successfully functioning as a single unit.

Part of this process for Jim and myself has included a deep clean and organization of our client relationship manager, SuiteCRM. I have a couple of blog posts where I talk about manually installing this software, and then transitioning it and away from Asana. But I wanted to write a follow-up post today to summarize the work we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks as we’ve had a chance to really settle into it and make it our own.

Jim and I met last week to chat about upcoming account renewals and make sure we were on the same page with regards to the status of our DoOO accounts, WPMS instances, and bulk shared hosting customers. This quickly turned into a conversation about how and, more importantly, when we’re communicating with our schools. Do schools hear from us enough? Do they feel supported? Are we in touch with all of the individual projects going on? Are we sending our renewal invoices out early enough? And what’s more, after a school gets their DoOO server, what next? I think most would say that our customer service is pretty awesome when someone submits a support ticket, but should that be the only time schools are hearing from us? When they have a question? What about the other way around? Relationships are a two-way street, no doubt, and our aim over the coming months will be to make sure we’re being intentional about meeting our end of the bargain. </tangent>

Back to CRM. So on the theme of being efficient and intentional, Jim and I have been streamlining our CRM “process”. Sounds simple enough, but with CRM’s many functions & the several steps it takes for a school to go from inquiry phase to launching phase, this really does require a little organization:

General inquiries are known as Leads. This is the Q&A phase. If a lead never amounts to anything, its active status is changed to recycled. (Note: We don’t delete anything! This is important in case the lead comes back- we have a little history to reference.) At the point that we have a signed Institutional Agreement, the school is converted to an Account in CRM. Within each Account profile, we now keep the following data:

Right at the top of the account page, we have a summary view with clickable links to various other tools, renewal date, and contact address.

Next, we have a panel that keeps track of all server history. This can be helpful for a myriad of support-related questions, but also helps us understand an account’s change & growth.

Our contacts panel is super helpful for keeping track of who handles what. A given institution could easily have a contact for the head of the project, a supervisor that oversees, along with someone in the purchasing department, and someone in the IT department. Multiply 4+ times however many accounts we have and suddenly this panel is pure gold. While I’d like to think that I have a good handle on names, this is always nice to double check before making a mistake.

Finally, the last panel that we take advantage of is for keeping a record of documents. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I love that it gives an overview of when files were added, what kind of file it is, and who put it there. That way if any questions that come up, we can always download and reference these documents.

So that’s a little peek at how we’re staying on top of things! I’m looking forward to refining this process and putting in action over the coming months. Perhaps I’ll write a post here soon detailing our renewal reminder process and how we integrate other tools like Asana and Google Calendar.