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Reclaim Interview at OER18

I will be catching up on a large number of posts over the next week before I head out for vacation, so the bava firehose is going to be set to full blast!

Kurt Angle Firehose GIF by WWE - Find & Share on GIPHY

One of the things I’ve wanted to share was the following video Jöran Muuß-Merholz recently published of his interview with Reclaim Hosting’s Meredith Fierro and Tim Owens about digital literacy before things take a bizarre turn back to the future of ed-tech.

It’s a solid 10 minute video highlighting a few of the reasons why framing one’s personal online presence around web hosting represents an important shift for higher ed from the various third party, data sucking services that everywhere monetize digital identity. And while I am admittedly biased about both the topic and the folks interviewed, I dig Jöran’s style. He’s an edtech consultant from Germany who really pushes to capture as much of the conversations happening around OER throughout Europe in a variety of media: his blog, podcasts, videos, Twitter, etc.  His intense work ethic and fun-loving spirit are integral to what makes him such a good interviewer, he has a way of getting you to open up and chat more freely. What’s more, he truly produces the media he creates, which takes a ton of time and energy to do right. The above video is a good example of this, he reached out to me during the process to secure a Reclaim Video TV image in order to use the screen to highlight the various topics discussed—which is a really nice touch.

Jöran is one of the many good folks that are thinking through the broad implications of open education for Germany as that country works towards a national policy for OER.* So, special thanks to him for taking the time to sit down with Reclaim at OER18, and helping to make us a small part of that very important conversation.


*Another person doing some important thinking is Christian Friedrich, whose recent post “Is open the new organic?” is well-worth your time.

 

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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.

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Swimming in a Digital Ocean of Love

Yesterday Digital Ocean published a customer story featuring Reclaim Hosting. It was nice. A month ago Tim and I talked with Lisa Tagliaferri (a CUNY Grad Center alum-I love CUNY!) who is keenly interested in framing the power and possibility of Digital Ocean for the education community—a vision I can definitely get behind. She though Reclaim Hosting’s move to Digital Ocean might provide a solid case study, and we were happy to oblige because we have nothing but love for Digital Ocean. Not only have they made the process of spinning up and managing infrastructure simple, they allow us to geolocate servers, they have amazing guides and tutorials, and they even dropped their prices this year. Hard not to love all that.

So we had a discussion with Lisa to articulate why we’ve been so happy with Digital Ocean, and while the reasons are myriad (as mentioned above), probably the single most important element for us has been the introduction of block storage a couple of years ago. Mounting additional storage to droplets has meant we could move all of our shared hosting and Domain of One’s Own instances to DO, and over the last year that is exactly what we have done. We have just a few more servers to migrate over the coming months, and by the end of 2018 we will have completed what has been an almost two year-long migration schedule.

That feels good, but it’s by no means the only advantage. Beyond scaling CPU and storage instantaneously—which you come to expect of cloud solutions—the ability to geo-locate servers around the world has become increasingly important for us with increased interest in Domains from schools in Canada and Europe. But the thing that remains special to me about Digital Ocean is their work epitomizes the challenge of making something that has heretofore been extremely complex (not only with dedicated servers, but through other cloud providers like AWS) quite simple and intuitive. Digital Ocean provides a peek at a future where managing your own personal cyber-infrastructure will not be that much more difficult that setting up your own WordPress site.  I do like the schematics they provide (even if Reclaim Hosting’s is dead simple), and they do a great job in the article of breaking down how and why we use Digital Ocean. I personally could not be more happy with our choice to move there, and cannot recommend them highly enough to other ed-tech folks who are in a position of managing their infrastructure externally, I can’t imagine a more painless alternative.

 

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Hosting Futures

Yesterday I was part of a call between Reclaim Hosting, Cloudron, and Bates College to talk about what piloting a mashup of LAMP and Docker-container based hosting might look like for Bates’s newest academic program Digital and Computational Studies (DCS). It’s a fascinating program, and description below gives you an idea of what this program is all about:

It is neither a computer science department, nor a data science program, nor media studies, nor a digital humanities program… but instead, a bit of all of these. DCS is charged with bringing academic computing to the full breadth of the liberal arts at Bates.

This means that we hope to develop a program that introduces students to the fundamentals of programming, but also provides computational/digital space for students, regardless of discipline, to discover the intersection of their course of study and the networked, computational world that field is now and forever steeped in.

I really dig this description, the idea of making the fundamentals of programming and computational thinking the foundation of an interdisciplinary program seems truly unique. I was asked by a college-age student in Berlin a couple of weeks back what I would recommend in terms of programs, and I have to say this one strikes me as a very interesting disciplinary approach to the digital world. The first of what’s soon to be a triumvirate of faculty, Matthew Jadud, has a Computer Science background and studies the behaviour of novice programmers, and this summer mathematician Carrie Diaz Eaton (who focuses on Mathematical Ecology) and long-time Davidson Domains champion and historian Anelise Shrout (focusing on nineteenth-century American History and Digital Humanities) will be joining the program’s faculty.

To support this new program, they’re looking for a unique approach to infrastructure. They want to provide everything from publishing software like WordPress to integrated development environments (IDE) like Amazon’s Cloud9 or Eclipse CHE—with various options and offerings in-between. While a LAMP environment can take care of publishing apps like WordPress, Omeka, Scalar, etc. web-based programming environments open up a whole new world, as do applications like Etherpad, Gitlab, Rocket.chat, etc. So, this is where working with Cloudron to integrate their supported applications through our current Domain of One’s Own setup would be awesome. It will require thinking through managing user permissions, but enabling container-based apps would significantly augment our current hosting options.

During this discussion Carrie Diaz Eaton shared the work she has been part of with QUBES: “a community of math and biology educators who share resources and methods for preparing students to tackle real, complex, biological problems.” QUBES is built on top of a project that came out of Purdue University called HUBzero, a service which provides focused community sites, course spaces, open educational resource sharing, and access to applications used heavily in the sciences, such as R, Latex, Jupyter Notebooks, etc. That last bit blew me away, HUBzero effectively allows faculty to setup a course space and provide their students access to open source tools for various kinds of scientific data analysis with software like R-Studio, NetLogo, Mesquite, etc.

While Carrie was talking I was reminded how firmly Reclaim Hosting is planted in the Digital Humanities community—which has been very awesome to us. But seeing QUBES and how many focused tools exist for the sciences that I have no clue about was a wake up call. The world seemed big again.. What’s more, realizing instances like QUBES run on top of HUBZero re-focused the discussion to disciplinary communities sharing resources for teaching and learning (the tools being one part of that equation) which pointed to a more vertically integrated stack for courses. HUBzero is effectively providing a very targeted LMS for particular courses that expose their students to a range of tools in order to do the work. HUBzero sets up the server environments and does all the integrations—and from what I can tell this is possible based on a foundation model that looks for other schools to join and help support the initiative. I’m not sure they also offer one-off hosting for such communities,  but that is something I’ll try and follow-up on.

In fact, there is most definitely a bunch I’m missing and/or misunderstanding about all of this, but after hearing Matt explain what they are looking for as part of their DCS program and seeing the work Carrie has already been apart of it struck me that these virtual, cloud-based hosted environments for web-based programming, data analysis, and publishing are already happening (Reclaim is just one of them), the question that interests me is which of them will be able to make the process of integrating these environments for a campus clean, easy, and elegant. It will be interesting to watch (and hopefully participate in) the shaping of this next generation of online hosted learning environments. And from what I have seen there will be no one ring to rule them all, but thoughtful integrations to make them seamlessly work together.

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Reclaim’s VHS Splash

Bryan Mathers‘s developed a VHS splash page for Reclaim Hosting, and we really, really like it. I’ll let him explain the details, while I just revel in its beauty. I will note that the title on the VHS tape is automatically generated based on the domain someone signs up for, so before they install anything in the root of their domain, this is what they will see:

Who has more character than Reclaim Hosting, you ask? #NOBODY!!!!

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Wowee Zowee! A Pavement Server?

The migration email went out yesterday, so it’s official. We are retiring the Unwound shared hosting server after 2 and a half years of faithful service and will be migrating all accounts over to our newest server: Pavement. Sticking with the post-punk music scene of the 1990s, Pavement getting the nod was just a matter of time. Pavement is interesting to me because while they had a modicum of success with the song “Cut Your Hair” off their 1994 Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain album in the early 90s and could have easily signed to a major label, but they remained committed to small, independent record labels and their next album, Wowee Zowee, is considered their most bizarre and experimental. I love this bit from the Wikipedia article about the album framing why that might be:

Rolling Stone speculated that the relative success of their previous album [Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain] (having sold 169,000 copies by this time[citation needed]) was a reason for this album’s eclectic nature; the magazine’s review claimed Pavement were afraid of success. Stephen Malkmus refuted this, saying that while his judgment may have been clouded by excessive marijuana usage, the songs “sounded like hits” to him.[citation needed

As you can tell from the pull-quote above, citations are still needed—so be sure to fact-check this—but I love the idea of Malkmus saying they sounded like hits to him. It’s a brilliant retort, and frames beautifully the ridiculousness of chasing hits for success. That said, Pavement’s performance on The Tonight Show in 94 might be used to counter this argument given they don’t even seem to be trying, but honestly that has always been my experience when seeing them live 🙂

Pavement gets cited as one of the most influential bands of the 90s, and are probably the least popular band to have two albums highlighted in the top 25 of Rolling Stone‘s “100 Best Albums of the 90s.” Chances are most folks have heard of just about every other band on that list save Pavement, and their influence on the alternative music scene of the 21st century is everywhere apparent. But, if you ask were to ask the late Mark E. Smith of The Fall he would say: “it’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”* But it’s hard agree with Smith given how many awesome songs Pavement laid down, and below are just a few. Previously I would have implored you listen to them in a Pumpkin-free environment, but nothing gold can stay 🙂

And there are many more where those came from should you care to take the leap.


*After reading tone of Mark E. Smith’s final interviews before his death, it is nice to see he lost none of his spunk.

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Fellowship of the SPLOT

We are big fans of the SPLOT at Reclaim Hosting, and Alan Levine has been doing a ton of work developing and managing these tools o er the last couple of years. Not so much because folks are paying him too, but because that’s who he is. He follows his interests and over-sized heart from fun project to funner project, living the life of a nomad edtech. Not so much “The Man Without a Name” as “The Man without an Institution”—but damn that creep can blog! I guess if you have a good enough blog you don’t need an institution 🙂

Anyway, Alan’s tireless work around SPLOTs is something we have wanted to build on top of at Reclaim for a while now. Specifically, we want to be able to package up SPLOTs as individual apps that someone can install with one click. Alan has been maintaining a number of SPLOTs on our demo server StateU that are available as variables on top of WordPress:

StateU SPLOTs

But when Alan joined us in Fredericksburg for our Workshop of One’s Own to talk SPLOTs in March, we made some headway on making each tool a stand-alone app that can be showcased in cPanel alongside WordPress, Omeka, etc.

Big Picture Calling Card SPLOT as its own application

And the idea is to try and get a series of these SPLOTs in cPanel dashboards across our shared hosting and institutional servers, not only get give folks access to these tools—although definitely that—but also in hopes people will see what’s possible and make their own SPLOTs that can in turn be shared back for others to use. In this way Reclaim could help provide a hub to distribute these “tiny teaching tools” (to misquote Tom Woodward). So, that’s the plan, and to buttress Alan’s efforts and hopefully make it more widely available to others we have started a year-long fellowship at Reclaim in order to support Alan’s work with SPLOTs for the next 12 months. And, as it will be no surprise to anyone who follows his blog, Alan has been bobbing and weaving all kinds of SPLOT goodness.

 

The House that 106 Built

A post shared by Jim Groom (@jim.groom) on


Being able to support the efforts of independent edtechs like Alan Levine is exactly what Reclaim Hosting was born to do—it is, after all, the house that 106 built! And, hopefully, we can do more of just this kind of thing in the future.

Reclaiming Archiving

I’m headed to Stanford University’s campus tomorrow morning to begin a two-day chat with a variety of authors, digital preservationists, and technologists to strategize and formulate tangible gameplans for preserving and archiving digital projects. Everyone in attendance will be bringing a different perspective to the table, and I’m very much looking forward to the conversations that will flourish. I thought I might take a quick moment to blog a summary of my perspective, as I’ll be sharing it briefly tomorrow afternoon.

Reclaim Hosting was founded in 2013 as a way to provide affordable web hosting space for individuals and educational institutions alike. We’re set apart from the Wix’s and Squarespace’s because we encourage digital literacy and growth both in and outside of the classroom. Our support tickets go deeper than resetting passwords; we teach, advise, and converse with our customers about the tools available to them. In addition to fixing the problem at hand, we use these support tickets as a learning experience for the inquirer and provide the steps we took towards the solution so they might be able to do fix it themselves it in the future. For the last five years, supporting customers has been the very top priority for Reclaim Hosting. We keep out reply times lightning fast, our satisfactory ratings high, and regularly put answering support tickets before all other projects.

It’s important I share Reclaim Hosting’s priorities from the very beginning in order to show how they have adapted, changed, and grown, even in the last three years since I joined Reclaim Hosting in 2015. While we still place the utmost importance on our support, our growing team and comfortability with the infrastructure have allowed us to shift focus towards the future, but also towards preserving the past. Will we use cPanel forever? What will be the next ‘WordPress’? These are just a few of the many questions that have been floating through my mind, at least, especially over the last year or so. What’s more, Jim and Tim recently gave a talk at OER18 about Cloudron as a potential path for our future beyond the LAMP environment.

Technologies and softwares are always updating and advancing, and Reclaim Hosting obviously wants to provide the most relevant, up-to-date tools for users. But how do we do that while also hosting and preserving work that has been created on tools that are maybe no longer supporting themselves? Here’s another scenario: Reclaim now has institutions that have been with us for a couple of years and are racking up quite a bit of content from their community. How do they preserve the work of students and faculty members that are no longer institution?  These are the golden questions, I suppose, and likely ones that will be thrown around quite a bit in some form or another over the next few days.

While the answers are hardly black and white, we’ve already begun to address some of this in the form of migration strategies and site archive utilities. At the root, however, we believe that in order to make digital projects sustainable, we must make them portable and transferable so they are not restricted to the platform where they were created.

As an example, Tim began creating a Site Archive Utility plugin in cPanel that would allow the user to input their site URL, click import, and archive their site as static HTML on the server (essentially doing the work of something like SiteSucker.) The idea here is that you could do things like schedule archives, store them on a third-party service like Amazon S3, save them locally in a specific folder of your choosing.

But in the spirit of strategizing with others at the workshop, I think it would be incredibly fascinating to have the ^above feature on our Migration Assistance page for Domain of One’s Own schools, for instance. A student would be able to import their site as static HTML, but instead of saving locally or on S3, the files went to an actual archiving service. And, hypothetically, that archiving service would have a small corner of the internet dedicated specifically to specific institutions. Those schools would then be able to use that as a resource for work that they’re interested in keeping long-term in addition to the tools provided at Reclaim Hosting. But that’s just an idea. :)

 

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“Video Killed the Radio Star” at Reclaim Hosting

Lauren posted about this back in January when we first got the art because she is better than me, but Reclaim Hosting‘s site has undergone a subtle re-branding from vinyl to VHS. We launched the new art for our site back in April when we unveiled the Reclaim Video project at OER18. The idea is that the shelf is getting a bit more cluttered ? Next to the vinyl you have those upstart VHS tapes demand some of the real estate. The new logo is a VHS tape, but if you look close enough, all the elements of the vinyl are still there, which was quite brilliant on Bryan Mathers part—surprise, surprise.

The tape is now replacing the record on the site, but the easter egg is still fully operational:

The art is pretty much inline with our look, so perhaps rebranding is too strong a characterization—but it does feel like a new look for me. I particularly like the way shared hosting packages are re-imagined:

Almost works better than the albums, and the single VHS tape with a blank label is something we still need to play with. Bryan worked on a tool that would basically right a URL on the label, something like this:

Or even better , this ?

So, when you create your site for the first time at Reclaim Hosting the splash page could be this VHS tape with your domain name ? This might be something we need to return to sometime soon ? As usual, I am completely enamored with Bryan Mathers handy work, and it is the collaboration that just keeps on giving.

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Talking Cloudron at #OER18

Tim and Jim talking CloudRon

Image credit: Lauren Brumfield

I was part of two sessions at OER18 a couple of weeks ago. Lauren Brumfield already blogged and shared the slides of the session she authored on Digital Literacy. I say authored rather than presented because, unfortunately, she fell ill on day 2, and Tim, Meredith, and myself had to step in and deliver the talk. It went off seamlessly because Lauren had already written us into the plot, but the design and execution was all Lauren’s doing—we were just errand boys and girls sent by a grocery clerk to collect a bill ?

Digital Literacy: Reclaiming Your Space

Meredith also presented, and I will post about that separately, but it’s worth taking a moment to comment on the importance of having everyone at Reclaim Hosting getting comfortable with proposing and presenting their ideas at conferences. I know it was huge for me when I was encouraged to present as soon as I started working at UMW. I was pushed to work with the rest of DTLT to hone how we told our story, and that resulted in so much goodness over the years. It’s important to provide a space for exploration and narration as part of life at Reclaim, and OER18 provided an intimate, welcome environment for us to do just that—even beyond Reclaim Video ?

So, having some time to present with Tim about the possible future of Reclaim Hosting in beyond the LAMP environment was a lot of fun. We focused on our explorations of CloudRon, which was timely, given we have a couple of schools particularly interested in exploring a container-driven environment like this for their respective programs.

What is CloudRon? It’s an open source environment for running containerized applications, making it simple to run apps in Node.js, Ruby, etc. which do not run cleanly in a LAMP environment. Below are the slides from our 15 minute lightening presentation, not necessarily all that informative given they are screenshots, but basically comparing cPanel to the CloudRon experience—although to be clear it is not necessarily one or the other.

We discussed how folks have pared down cPanel to just WordPress to make things easier, as well as how software like CloudLinux for cPanel has made it possible to install Ruby apps like Jekyl or Node.js apps like Ghost, but the process is not easy. From there we looked at how dead-simple Cloudron has made it not only to install applications, but map DNS, and even copy and share applications templates. It’s an increasingly compelling space for us to be exploring, and we are fortunate enough to have a couple of partners interested, so I imagine you’ll be hearing much more on this front from Reclaim in the coming months.