WoOO Spring ’18 Recap

Not sure what happened here, I blinked and suddenly Reclaim Hosting’s second Workshop of One’s Own happened two weeks ago! It’s been a whirlwind past couple of days (ahem, weeks) but I wanted to take a moment to recap.

Overall, I thought this workshop was a great improvement from our first one last November. Our November Workshop was successful, no doubt, but it was our first one so we were definitely still working out the kinks. By this Spring, we had more than doubled our attendance, and the Reclaim Hosting staff fell into their stride. Bigger and better, people!

You can find a rough itinerary of the workshop below:

// Day One
8 – 9: Coffee & Light Breakfast
9 – 5: How best to use each platform; Understanding WHM & WHMCS; DNS Overview; Common Support Troubleshooting; Graduating Exit Strategies

// Day Two
8 – 9: Coffee & Light Breakfast
9 – 4: Strategies for Promoting DoOO; Case Studies for Omeka, Scalar & Grav; SPLOTs; Building your own project template; Free Workshop

Reading over the schedule now, I think we were probably a tad ambitious to push all of the technical content into Day 1, but it worked and I’m proud of what we accomplished. We didn’t make it all the way to 5 pm, but we paced ourselves, covered what was important, and made time for more conversation as opposed to just lectures. We broke naturally at 4 pm, which I think was needed after such a full, technical day. You can find recordings from bits of Day 1 below:

 Jim, How Best to Use Each Platform

Tim, Deeper Dive in WHMCS
Tim, Deep Dive WHM, Pt. 1
Tim, Deeper Dive in WHM, Pt. 2

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Lauren, Supporting Domain of One’s Own
Lauren, Understanding DNS

Meredith, Exit Strategies & Domain Transfers

After getting through most of the technical stuff on Day 1, we opened up Day 2 with a much more hands-on, critical thinking vibe. Jim led a conversation that navigated through the following questions:

Why Domain of One’s Own? What’s the significance? How can we push this project across campus? How will DoOO look different for faculty members with different levels of technological exposure? What about Freshmen vs. Seniors?

Jim works through some of this in his recent post, Why A Domain of One’s Own, but it was incredibly fascinating to hear from the folks that attended as well. While one goal of this workshop is to grant attendees with the ‘keys to the kingdom’, so to speak, and give them a conceptual overview for managing their Domain of One’s Own instance, the other goal is to connect participants with members of other schools running similar, if not identical, projects. Listening to them pass experiences and strategies around was by far one of the most rewarding parts of this Workshop for me.

Meredith, Tim, Jim | Beyond WordPress: Introductions to Omeka, Scalar, and Grav

From there the conversation led into an overview of other tools available to DoOO users besides WordPress, namely Omeka, Scalar, and Grav. This addition to the itinerary was a direct result of listening to feedback from our first Workshop. Since WordPress powers roughly 30% of the web and takes up a large majority of resources and time for DoOO administrators, it’s incredibly tempting to only focus on supporting WordPress. However, we agreed with participants from the first Workshop that supporting DoOO involves more than just one application. Administrators must be able to listen to faculty members and students, address their goals for a digital presence, and translate them into the proper web tool. And to do that, a general understanding of other applications is essential.

After lunch, Alan dove into an afternoon of understanding SPLOTs, how they came to be, and what you can do with them.  An overview of his talk can be found here, “SPLOTs? Don’t Worry”, says Madge, “You’re Soaking In It”. (His presentation links can also be found here.) I’ve written about the potential of SPLOTs before, but it was cool to see yet another group of folks get jazzed about SPLOTs for their schools. I teamed up with Alan by showcasing how one would go about creating their own SPLOT using WHM’s Template feature. The natural next step in this conversation, however, always leads to How can we easily share these between different schools?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t have a simple solution currently, but it’s most definitely on our radar for the near future. Tim has actually begun playing around with and building SPLOT installers. It’s a step further than templates. So instead of a drop-down menu item in your WordPress installer, i.e. this:

…you’d actually be installing your SPLOT instead of WordPress:

Pretty slick, right? Once the installers are built, this will allow Reclaim Hosting to easily share SPLOTs between schools/servers. But without getting too far off topic for this post, I’ll end here by saying that the afternoon’s conversation, questions, and feature requests definitely got our gears turning. Workshop participants spent the rest of the afternoon dreaming up ideas, building out SPLOT templates, asking follow-up questions from the previous two days, and working through strategies for approaching their communities about DoOO.

image via

Lastly, I can’t do a Workshop recap without mentioning our lunch-time activity on both days: an Escape Room. I can hardly take credit for this one- Tim was the mastermind behind building this out. We transformed our back private office into a dorm room, set up clues and locks beforehand, and then sent the players in. Tim addressed the players from a computer in the dorm room as a frantic IT support guy. He explained their situation: the players would have to solve a series of puzzles in order to rescue a student, Paul, who was trapped inside his computer due to poor code that he had written! Oh no! The escape room was a ton of fun to watch. It was also a great chance for participants to get up and move around, problem-solve, and work together.

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Whew, if you’ve made it this far, congrats! I’ll conclude with my takeaways:

-It’s becoming all too clear from the responses we received that these Workshops are beneficial for both the attendees and the Reclaim Team. I’m thinking they’ll stick around as long as there’s an interest.

-We’ll be continuing to update and add to our Documentation of DoOO Admins. Let us know if something is missing! For now, here’s what is coming soon:

// A category on customizing your DoOO instance (hacking your theme, changing your splash page, etc.)
// How to Create a DoOO Account for Someone Without SSL Credentials
// Adding Custom Reporting Columns to your WHMCS Instance

-We need something to showcase the work that schools are doing. Case studies for specific applications. Something to highlight how different faculty, departments, clubs, and students are using DoOO. An Assignment Bank of sorts. Something to show potential for interested schools. Reclaim is currently working through what this will look like, but it’s happening!

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Reclaiming Open with WordPress

I woke up to a few tweets about Reclaim Hosting and the #deletefacebook movement. It’s been hard for me to get excited about Facebook either way. I see it as one of the more depressing malls of the web, and I try and stay away as much as possible. And beyond their horrific practices with collecting personal data, I have been equally dismayed over the past several years by their refusal to curtail predatory catfishing when brought to their attention again and again. It seems like expecting anything else from Facebook would be tantamount to expecting that Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” was anything more than a flattering slogan to sell an image.

Skeletor likes to feel evil

And while I tend to agree deleting your account is not necessarily a solution and data collection needs to be regulated more stringently as it soon will be in Europe, a part of me can’t help but think what did we expect? Whether hacked or handed over, did we really doubt that sooner or later we would pay dearly for the “free” services we have gorged ourselves on for more than a decade? I guess that makes the current moment of outrage seem a bit disingenuous, or at least somewhat absurd. In the end, to be a good citizen of the web you have to be willing to take some ownership of your online presence, and that means taking the time and spending a bit of money (although not all that much) to build something on an open platform outside the corporate spaces that have become ubiquitous because we’ve often settled for less when it comes to the open web. WordPress is my drug of choice, and 13 years later it remains a robust open source community that powers near a third of all sites on the web. More than that, it makes me feel like I have far more options through this tool then just about anything else I do online, which in turn allows me to define my presence to a much greater degree, not to mention build course sites, research sites, web services, and more.

So, thanks to the tweets from Laura and Howard this morning, I think this is what my talk for PressEd Conference will be about on Thursday. I have been struggling a bit with that talk given many other folks far smarter than me will have much more interesting things to share when it comes to WordPress in education. So, maybe my 20 tweets or so can be about why using WordPress in education is more relevant than ever given the trappings of a free, but not open, web seem to be coming home to roost presently. And while Facebook is certainly the most deserving of targets for public outrage, chances are they’re not alone in their practices by any stretch of the imagination as Doc Searls blogged about the other day:

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising? 

It’s invigorating and life-affirming to witness a broad movement of folks around the USA, led by some badass high schoolers, demand sane gun laws simply to ensure their safety at school. Something currently taken for granted here in Italy. That for me seems like a first order need—thinking of sending my kids to an American primary or secondary school only to wonder if they will make it home alive because politicians are in the NRA’s pocket is unconscionable. It’s a movement that is long overdue, and there are certainly many forces that helped give it the head of steam it has presently. I want to think the same could be true for reclaiming a bit of the open web, and would like to believe that the work a whole cadre of open educators have been pushing on for the last 10-15 years would be one practical approach, this is of particular interest to me given the perils of higher ed going down the data extraction in the name of personalization that is being pushed by the folks at EDUCAUSE under the banner of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). If we want to look at one space where the outrage around Facebook that might hit even closer to home in the context of education, it could be what companies will be extracting what data in the name of streamlined, integrated personalization environment that the NGDLE promises. Anyway, I’ll save some of this for my Tweetstorm on Thursday ?

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Troubleshooting Slow Sites

Part of supporting online projects comes with the territory of troubleshooting slow websites. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to turn when you’re met with a “My site is slow!” support ticket– especially if the site is loading quickly on your end.  This post covers tips & tricks for figuring out those red flags that may make a site run slowly. And while the list below may not hit on every issue that will come up, it’s a great checklist to use as a starting point.

Recreate the Speed Issue

Doublecheck that this isn’t an issue with the user’s internet, and that the site is indeed having load issues. (You can always have the user test their internet connection speed here or here.)

WHM: Check the Load

^The green box referenced above. If that load begins with anything less than “5-8.” you’re in the clear and this is likely not a server issue. If the load starts getting into the 14s and 15s or higher, this issue may be greater than the single site.

WHM: Check Apache Status

Search ‘Apache’ in the top, left-hand corner and click Apache Status.

Apache handles all processes on the server and is currently set to handle up to 150 requests at any given point. If the number of processes crosses this threshold and Apache maxes out, that could definitely be the smoking gun for slow-moving sites.

WHM: Check MySQL

Search ‘mysql’ in the top, left-hand corner and then click Show  MySQL Processes.

^This list should generally be pretty small. If you see a full list like the one above where a single database is running a ton of processes, that should be your pointer that this is a site issue, not a server issue.

File Manager: Check Error Logs & Plugins

Every time you install a plugin in your dashboard, you’re asking your site to load another set of processes in your database. So naturally, if you’ve got 20+ plugins installed on your site, chances are that could be leading to slowness.

Likewise, plugin/theme/software conflictions are real, so checking the user’s error_log in their File Manager can be helpful in determining what’s going on.

You can ask the user to turn off all of their plugins, and then activate them one by one to figure out which plugin(s) may be causing the slowness. And if that’s not possible for the user…

phpMyAdmin in cPanel: Plugin Database Tables

If the site has a ton of plugins and you’re trying to figure out which one may be leading to the slowness, have a look at the database tables associated with each plugin.

Note that sites won’t function properly if one table is unusually massive. The rows column is associated with the number of entries on a given table. As you look at the screenshot above, notice that the database table called wp_prli_clicks (part of a Plugin called Pretty Links that can track site clicks) has over 58,000 entries of stored data. Yikes! So sometimes even if the plugin is working correctly and not conflicting, the user’s specific settings can be causing slowness.

phpMyAdmin in cPanel: Transient Rows

Transient Rows are essentially cached database queries that can be found on the last page of the wp_options table in phpMyAdmin. You won’t hurt anything by deleting transient rows. And depending on how many there are, deleting these might actually help speed up your site!

To delete these rows, copy the following SQL commands:

DELETE FROM `wp_options` WHERE `option_name` LIKE ('_transient_%');
DELETE FROM `wp_options` WHERE `option_name` LIKE ('_site_transient_%');

Click on the SQL tab in the wp_options table and paste the commands. Click go.

Query Monitor Plugin

And if all else fails, installing the Query Monitor Plugin on the WordPress dashboard has proven to be a helpful troubleshooting method for us in the past. This debugging tool shows you what might be going on by listing the queries on the page that you’ve loaded, and highlights any issues as they occur.

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Creating a WordPress Template

I’ve written a little about SPLOTs in the past, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity over the next few days during Workshop of One’s Own to dive into their possibilities. Alan Levine will be joining us for the workshop as well to spearhead the SPLOTs session. He’ll be taking folks through their origins, potential for the future, examples of ones he’s already created, etc. I’m excited to share the floor with him to chat about how SPLOTs can be used within Domain of One’s Own environments, and how simple it is to set up a SPLOT on your DoOO server.

Keep scrolling to learn how to save your own WordPress install as a SPLOT for others to use.

Step One:

Build out your WordPress install exactly how you want it to be pushed out server-wide.

^Note that if you make changes to the install after it has been templated, those changes will not be reflected on the SPLOT. Installatron essentially takes a snapshot of what the install looks like at the time it’s saved. If you need to update your SPLOT, you’ll need to remove & replace.

Step Two:

Log into WHM. Search ‘install’ in the top, left-hand search bar. Navigate to Installatron Applications Installer & then click Installed Applications.

Step Three:

Now you should see a list of all installs (through Installatron) on the server. Search your install in the top, right-hand corner. Click the star next to the install that you’d like to turn into a SPLOT.

Step Four:

On the following page, give a title and description for your Template. These will be public. After you’ve finished, click Template in the bottom right.

Step Five:

Test it out! If I go back to my individual dashboard and install a new instance of WordPress, I now have the option to install templated package of the WordPress I’ve just created.

Removing a Template

Search ‘Install’, click Installatron Applications Installer, & click Templates.

Scroll down, select the template you’d like to remove and click the X. You’ll be asked to confirm the action, and then you’re good to go!

Now when I go to install WordPress, the template has been removed:

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Omeka Case Studies

This week, Reclaim Hosting is running our second Workshop of One’s Own, where we will work with Domain of One’s Own admins to teach them about running DoOO on their campus. I’ve been tasked with talking through one of our most popular platforms, Omeka. While WordPress still takes the cake for the most popular applications run on our servers, Omeka has become increasingly popular. This post will dive into what Omeka is, and what you can do with the platform, and showcasing a few examples of how the platform could look when built out fully. You can read more about the other applications we are showcasing, Grav and Scalar. I’ve worked with Omeka for a little while but only when troubleshooting issues to specific sites, I haven’t built out a site like Omeka before. I took this a chance to look at the site in depth.

Omeka is a free open-source web-publishing platform. While it is open for anyone to use, the platform is mainly used by libraries, museums to archive items within their collections. The developers wanted to create a platform that allowed groups like this to create their own archive of collections just as easily as someone could start a blog. Omeka started with the development of Omeka classic, then the developers launched Omeka S, a standalone version similar to Omeka Classic. Omeka S has the option to streamline sites and more management features than Omeka Classic.  Omeka allows institutions like this to create online exhibits to archive any topic. It has a relatively simple user interface– once you get the hang of the layout, it’s fairly easy to use. You’ll do most of the site building through the dashboard: 

The main source code is standardized for each site but it is highly customizable based on themes and plugins used to build out the site. You can read more about installing themes and plugins on our Workshop of One’s Own website.

While I’m here, I’ll talk about three Omeka sites that are great examples of building out Omeka to archive events throughout history. The first is the Cork LGBT Archive. This website ‘aims to preserve, digitise, share and display information related to the history of the LGBT community in Cork, Ireland.’

This site showcases several exhibits of events within the LGBT community, building off of Arthur Leahy’s collection that began in the 1970s. One particular collection that stood out to me on this site was the Gay Sweatshop- Blood Green Collection. This archive a two-night play called ‘Blood Green’ that was put on by the Gay Sweatshop, at the Granery Theater. In an item within the collection, that describes what it was like to get the play up and running. 

Another great example of Omeka, is Making Modern America: Discovering the Great Depression and New Deal. This is was created during a class offered at the University of Oklahoma in the Fall of 2015. The course examined what happened during the Great Depression and the New Deal. Students created this instance of Omeka to curate what happened in Oklahoma during that time, and many chose to continue the project after the class finished. 

One thing that stood out to me is how the incorporated maps within their collection. This provides a great visual tool to document where things took place rather than documenting each item through exhibits. The class also added their lesson plans to the site through PDF embedding.

The last example I’ll talk about today is Georgetown University’s slavery archive.  This was created as an effort to document Georgetown University’s involvement in the institution of Slavery. But what’s unique about this specific project, is the blend of WordPress and Omeka. When you got to slavery.georgetown.edu, you’re brought to a WordPress site that shows what the project is and what they’re working on to document this portion of history.

But, the main archive uses Omeka. The slavery archive really goes into detail about how Georgetown and the surrounding area was involved with slavery. The collection itself is a repository of materials related to the Maryland Jesuits, Georgetown University, and Slavery in the surrounding areas. 

 

There are so many ways to use Omeka and to document pieces of history. These three sites are great examples of how you can document specific communities and periods of history around the world, specifically the LGBT community in Cork, Ireland, the New Deal in Oklahoma, and slavery at Georgetown University.

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Email Troubleshooting

The Reclaim Team has recently brought back a professional development training session each week where larger questions and concepts are discussed. This gives us a chance to bring up any pain points that have been experienced over the last week in a place where everyone is devoted to learning for an hour. We have a #profdev slack channel where we make notes like Troubleshooting Slow Sites or Updating WHMCS, and then everyone agrees on an available time to meet. It’s been a great system and already proving to be very helpful.

The other week, our Professional Development session was focused on Troubleshooting Email. Configuring email can be tough as it is, so troubleshooting email can be a real bear. I’ve included my notes from the meeting below, as I’m planning on coming back to reference them. :) And if I can benefit from having these published, then maybe someone else can, too!

Goals for Troubleshooting:

-Look for/ Request IP address. Is it blocked?
-Request User’s email client settings
-Search for error messages
-Gathering as much information as possible using the tools below

Features & Tools in cPanel

Email Accounts

Where you can create email addresses, view existing ones, and access webmail on the server. If you can view certain emails from within the webmail client but the user can’t receive email on their local client, this is usually an issue with their Email Configuration Settings.

Forwarders

This allows you to send a copy of any incoming email from one address to another so that you only have one inbox to check. You can also use this section to forward all email accounts from one domain to another. If forwarders aren’t set up properly, this may be a reason for why email isn’t being relayed to the expected location.

Email Routing

If you’re planning on using Google suite and another third-party mail client, you MUST set your email routing settings to Remote Mail Exchanger.

Autoresponders

Set up automated emails to go out if your inbox receives mail. These are your ‘Out of Office’, etc. responses.

Default Address Maintenance

This feature will “catch” emails that are sent to an invalid email address for your domain. So for instance, if someone sends an email to info@labrumfield.com, I ordinarily wouldn’t receive it because I don’t have that email address set up. This feature allows you to say, “If anyone sends mail to an email address with my domain name in it, regardless if it’s been set up or not, forward it here.”

Reclaim Hosting’s default setting is to discard these emails since they’re generally loaded with spam. So if a user has this setting turned on and then complains of an excess of spam, this could likely be the smoking gun.

Mailing List

We’ve found that this feature doesn’t work well at all, so we don’t directly support this. Instead, we recommend using GNU Mailman or Google Groups.

Track Delivery & Apache SpamAssassin

This is our go-to, one-stop shop for troubleshooting. This is where we as admins or the user can go to see what happened on the server. You can see successful email activity, failed sent emails, and deferred emails (meaning: emails are put on a queue to retry sending again). Time stamps, spam score ratings*, and event details (sender IP, user, router, etc.) are also available as well.

*Apache SpamAssassin is turned off by default, but can be enabled within the icon. It rates all incoming mail and filters what it defines as spam. SpamAssassin defines what spam is by rating it based on a set up specified rules. Everything over a 5+ rating is sent to the spam folder. You can modify the rating number and auto-delete spam under the Apache spam assassin icon.

Global Email Filters

We’ve received tickets in the past where folks had spam coming through so the users wanted to set a filter to automatically delete specific emails. cPanel has guides on this that can be found here.

Authentication & Calendar

Honestly, Reclaim Hosting isn’t all too familiar with this feature, but cPanel has written guides on setting it up here. There are so many better alternatives for managing contacts and calendars, so we rarely, if any at all, get requests for folks wanting to use their cPanel for this.

Boxtrapper

This is not that useful in our opinion. BoxTrapper “protects” you from spam by requiring all email senders not on your Whitelist confirm their identity before you can receive their mail. While that sounds great in theory, confirmation emails with a ‘noreply@’ email address would never make it to your inbox since there’s no one on the other end managing the address. This will also double your email incoming/outgoing quota.

Email disk usage

Allows you to view which email folders (inbox, spam, trash, etc.) are taking up the most space, and gives you the option to delete mail in bulk.

Email Tools in WHM

Mail Delivery Reports

This gives you the status of emails from all accounts on the server. It’s very similar to cPanel’s Track Delivery feature, but on a larger scale. This is a good starting point for admins who are troubleshooting mail delivery on the server.

Mail Queue Manager

This feature allows you to view and manage email messages queued for delivery. The only time I’ve seen the queue get backed up on the server is when there’s been a hacked account sending out a ton of email at once and hitting their ingoing/outgoing quota. So this feature can be helpful to track down what’s happening to a specific account.

ConfigServer Mail Queue

Same deal as above, but provides more options for refining your search. This is where Reclaim Hosting goes to delete queues that are backed up.

Email Processes in FTP

If you log in as Root on the server and navigate to var/log/, you can look through a couple different processes here:

  • exim_mainlog– successful activity
  • exim_paniclog– server level issues with the exim function
  • exim_rejectlog emails that were blocked due to a variety of things like spam blacklist
  • var/log/maillog– shows failed login attempts; find user’s IP address
  • messages– the catchall for mostly errors of some kind; firewall blocks
  • lfd.log– login failure demon; failed attempts
  • secure– SFTP/FTP logins

Searching through Email Processes in Terminal

grep command

grep "email@yourdomain.com" exim_mainlog

^searches email@yourdomain.com in the exim_mainlog

In order for an email to be sent/received, there are many processes that are happening behind the scenes. All of these processes are documented in the exim logs listed above, and are given the same Mail ID so we can track every process for one activity. I’ve highlighted an example of where the Mail IDs are located and what they look like above. If you’ve never looked at an exim file before, they can be a little tricky to read!

grep "mail ID" exim_mainlog

^searches mail ID in the exim_mainlog

In addition to time stamps, mail IDs, and error messages, the logs also document the user’s IP address. So in some cases, we can figure out what the user’s IP address is before he/she is able to get back to us with that information. From there, you can run the following command:

grep "IP Address" -R /var/log

^searches IP address in every file & folder in the /var/log directory

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Reclaim Projects

Gosh, the last few weeks have been quite a whirlwind! I’ve got a few blog posts in the queue that I’m hoping to crank out over the next few days, time willing. Reclaim Hosting is juggling a handful of projects at the moment, and my position as Operations Manager as never felt more relevant. I’m incredibly thankful for the Reclaim Team- especially Meredith (and now Chris!)- for being so stellar on support. Their willingness to take on tickets as allowed me to be able to step back from the support roll slightly to focus more intently on managing the projects below.

Workshop of One’s Own

A large chunk of my time over the last months/weeks have been devoted to our second Workshop of One’s Own. This two-day event built for Domain of One’s Own administrators blends conceptual, technical training with strategies for promotion and community outreach. We’re even bringing in the great Alan Levine to work with participants on SPLOTs. The new outline has proven to be quite popular- we’ve more than doubled our attendee numbers from November! Our Workshop last fall had 6 participants, while 14 people will be joining us in Fredericksburg next week. Check out the list of schools below:

It’s going to be a great line up! I’m very much looking forward to meeting and/or reacquainting with these administrators & technologists in person. For anyone following along, feel free to check out our event itinerary here.

Reclaim Video

I gave an overview of Reclaim Video here, but we’ve come quite a long way since that post was published. Jim has done a great job of documenting our progress thus far, but I thought I’d jump into the conversation as well.  Where to begin! Over the last month and a half, we’ve stripped down the once-office space to the basics, created the logo and have painted the walls black and gray with RGB stripes along the ceiling border. During these renovations, I’ve made it my goal to get us prepared as possible to fill the space as soon as it’s ready. We’ve ordered a storefront sign, carpet, t-shirts & stickers, blank VHS tapes & their assorted labels, hard plastic VHS cases, movie posters, and have begun to build out shelves. The other day, Tim & I even drove to Winchester to pick up a display case & front desk that I found on Craigslist.

I know that I was dragging my feet at the thought of building a physical space for 80’s VHS, but I’ll be the first to admit: it has been a blast to create. I wasn’t even a mere thought in the 80’s, so I don’t personally connect with the ‘art exhibit’ factor that the space will bring (as fascinating as it will be). My personal motivation lies with the idea that we’re building a space dedicated to technology that is not new. VHS is not new. This rings true for Reclaim Hosting’s products as well. When I’ve spoken in person or on video chats with educational institutions, this theme is always brought to the surface. What we’re selling– web hosting– is not new. It’s actually very rudimentary. We offer the space and the building blocks to create and explore. So for me, coming to this discovery over the last few weeks has been very rewarding.

I’m excited to continue designing out the space and adding key elements that will make it feel authentic. (Does anyone have a Commodore 64, by chance?) We’re also asking anyone and everyone to donate their VHS tapes to the cause. So if you’ve got ’em, send ’em!

OER ’18 Conference

While this hasn’t taken precedence as much here recently, the Open Education Research conference is this coming April 18 – 19th. After Workshop of One’s Own has passed, we’ll be switching gears to prepare for our talks for the event. Between Tim, Jim, Meredith, and myself, the Reclaim Team has three conference sessions:

// Presentation – Ghost in a Shell: Moving Beyond LAMP Hosting for Open Source Applications: Read abstract here
// Presentation – Strategies for Supporting Your Community in the Open: Read abstract here
// Workshop – Digital Literacy: Reclaiming Your Space: Read abstract here

In addition to speaking, we’ll also be sponsoring the conference as Reclaim Video. (Reclaim Hosting who?) You can read our sponsorship add here.

RH Website Additions

I’ve also had the opportunity to make minor updates to the main website for Reclaim Hosting. Creating the WordPress Multisite Pricing Calculator was definitely a big one. I cleaned up our footer menu a bit, as well as updated this list. (Fun fact: that community list is my favorite page on the website.)

The Blog feed needed a little work as well. We were having to manually import featured images, which is way too much overhead and kind of defeated the purpose of a feed. So I changed the structure on the back end, tweaked a few theme settings, and voilà:

^We have images! I’d still like for the entries to show excerpts rather than the post, but that will come. Remember, this is a progress post, people!

Lastly, I’ve created a hidden section called Institutional Documents. It’s nothing fancy at the moment, but it’s becoming a great resource for schools looking to work with Reclaim and maybe need to get a jumpstart on the paperwork. I’ve created a digital version of all contracts and questionnaires that we use, and give folks the option create a downloadable .PDF version at the bottom of each page. We’ll still obviously attach hard copy versions to our conversations, but in the spirit of keeping Reclaim open and accessible, I thought this was needed.

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Reclaiming Jekyll (Two Years Later)

Two years ago Tim wrote a great post detailing how you can get Jekyll up and running in shared hosting on Reclaim Hosting.* I’m late to this party, obviously, but playing with Grav recently led me back into Github thanks to the Github Sync plugin. I had explored Jekyll back in 2014 briefly (almost 4 years ago now, really?!), but I forgot most everything. I wanted to see if my Grav repository in Github (synced with my Grav install on Reclaim) would allow me to run the Grav files through Github pages (which is powered by Jekyll). Is this all crystal clear now? Good.

Turns out I was on a fool’s errand. Grav is a flat-file CMS, but it needs PHP to dynamically those pages as a site—which I should have understood. So it will not run on Github Pages.  Grav Sync is first and foremost for forking and collaborating on specific Grav instances (which I did understand), but I was trying to understand if those files could be seamlessly archived/translated into Jekyll given it was a repository, but I see my foolish ways now. Thank you, Tim ? So while you can bring up individual pages from my Grav repository on Github, like the Welcome page:

But the site functionality of my Grav instance could not be reproduced. Lesson learned. But this did peak my interest in synching my locally installed Jekyll on Reclaim Hosting with my Jekyll on Github. So, I asked Tim and he suggested the following:

I’m not sure the exact steps but it would involve setting up the repo in Github and cloning it to your hosting account and > then you could use git commands like git pull to grab the latest from git (even setup a cron every 10-15 min to do that piece).

Turns out that was the exact approach—I wish I was that good. I took the Github repo I have at jimgroom.github.io (which maps to jimgroom.me) and clone it into the jekyll folder on my Reclaim Hosting account. I made sure to run jekyll build in the jimgroom.github.io folder so that it would build the site files in the _site directory. After that I pointed the DNS of the subdomain jekyll.murderinc.biz to the new directory, i.e. jekyll/jimgroom.github.io/_site and the same site at jimgroom.me on Github is cloned and also resolving through my shared hosting account at jekyll.murderinc.biz. The two things needed to sync changes made on Github is running the following commands in the jekyll/jimgroom.github.io folder on my shared hosting (making sure you are logged into command line through your virtual Ruby environment):

git pull

and then

jekyll build

Pull in any changes and then rebuilds the site so those changes are published to _site. None of this is new by any means, I am just playing catch up. Adam Croom went down this road two years ago in order to stick a fork in the LMS using Github, and I can say from firsthand experience that wrapping your head around Github can be intense, but that’s no excuse for an ed-tech to give up:

“An Ed-Tech spends her life getting into tense situations!”
-A Github Repo Man


*This setup requires CloudLinux, which we have installed on all our shared hosting servers. 

Removing the ‘Uncategorized’ Category in WordPress

If you’re lucky enough to find a WordPress theme that doesn’t display categories unless they’re used, then that’s great! Those themes do exist, but this post is for the themes that display all categories- including the default Uncategorized– whether they’re in use or not. For example:

When I go to the WordPress dashboard>Posts>Categories, I see this:

I don’t have the option to delete the Uncategorized category, which is slightly annoying. I can rename it (shown above), so that’s one workaround. But what if I just want to completely delete it?

Deleting the Uncategorized category

  1. Go to Settings>Writing
  2. Change the default category from Uncategorized to another category in use
  3. Click Save
  4. Go to Posts>Categories
  5. Check the box next to Uncategorized and click delete.

Boom! To think that I never took the time to figure this out before the other day. :) It’s so simple!!

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Serving Up Some Yo La Tengo

This has been quite a semester for shared hosting servers. We spun up D.O.A., Sebadoh, and Wire in January alone, but the hits just keep on coming at Reclaim Hosting. While I was back in Fredericksburg two weeks ago I was binge listening to Yo La Tengo. I could not get enough, and given they’ve been making music since the mid 80s there was plenty to choose from. When we decided we needed a fourth shared hosting server this semester*—there was no question this one would be dedicated to the indie-rock royalty from Hoboken, New Jersey.

Yo La Tengo

My introduction to Yo La Tengo started fairly late with their 1995 album Electr-O-Pura and then their 1997 masterpiece I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. The latter is one of my favorite albums of all-time, and songs like “Sugar Cube,” “Autumn Sweater,” and “Little Honda” (a Beach Boys cover) offer a brilliant insight to this bands metaphorical agility, emo inclinations, and exhilarating joyrides that characterize so much of their music.  

I also love their long, hypnotic instrumentals like “Heard You Looking” off their 1993 album Painful, or “Blue Line Swinger” off Electr-O-Pura:

Or their love ballad “You Can Have it All” (another cover) off And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

I could go on like this for a while. But I’m sure you get the point. And unlike most of the bands we name servers after, Yo La Tengo is still going strong after 30 years as a band, with an album due out in March and a tour that will bring them to Italy in May. So with that, I leave you with another ear worm from their album Fade, “Ohm:”

It’s hard not to respect the range, lasting power, and sense of joy this band brings to their work, and that might be one of the reasons they’re quickly becoming an all-time favorite.


*The fact we retired the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and Butthole Surfers servers last month and migrated all existing accounts to Wire, D.O.A., and Sebadoh respectively drove a significant amount of the server setup mania the last two months.