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Marking Time: 5 Years at Reclaim Hosting

It’s hard to believe, but yesterday was the fifth of what Tim and I are officially acknowledging as Reclaim Hosting‘s birthday. I always thought it was the 28th of July, but as I’ll talk about here soon, my memory is entirely unreliable. Reclaim is now 5 years old! That is crazy to me, it has been both very quick and at the same time seems like I have always been a Reclaimer. Time is wild, it’s been 13 years since I took a job at UMW as an instructional technologist, 10 years since EDUPUNK, 8 years since ds106, 6 years since our pilot of UMW Domains, 5 years since we created the best little hosting company around, and now almost 3 years since I followed Tim’s lead and went full time at Reclaim. I think a lot about time on this blog, in fact this blog (and my daddy blog before it) is in many ways dictated by a sense of tracking time and trying to record the quotidian things that would otherwise soon be forgotten by my increasingly porous memory. 

I like recalling the origin myth of Reclaim Hosting, because it makes me smile. I was coming off my lowest point personally; I finally quit drinking and committed to get my mental health in order—no small task for me—and few things could have been further from my mind than starting a company.  Tim and I toyed with striking out with the idea behind Reclaim Hosting in February (?) of 2013 after a trip to Emory University, but that discussion went dormant while we ramped up for the official launch of UMW Domains (which, as it would happen, we spent Reclaim’s fifth anniversary migrating UMW’s servers to Digital Ocean 🙂 ). But once I returned from leave in the Summer of 2013 Tim approached me after his thankless vacation at the beach dealing with a Hippie Hosting server outage and, rather than throwing up his hands and jumping ship on the server admin life, he wanted to doubled down. He was like, “So, are you back or what?” [I had been mentally absent for a bit.] “Because I think we should start a company?” I was thinking to myself, “Wow, this guy is no joke, he means it?” I did think about stuff like going independent a lot, as most do, but rarely had I committed. But when I saw how serious Tim was and I knew what I knew about him, I immediately committed. That’s the power of Tim Owens. We decided on the name Reclaim Hosting, and that day (or a day later) we were heading to the county clerk’s office to become partners in a small venture that would literally make my life more a fairytale than the ongoing farce it had become 🙂

It happened really quick, I had a like $600 left over from the $5,000 Shuttleworth Grant David Wiley got me, and we used that to fund the first two or three months of a new server (clash.reclaimhosting.com) in order to run Reclaim Hosting in parallel with UMW Domains. We got some press immediately from the Chronicle, which jump-started interest by highlighting the fact we were offering folks a domain and web hosting for $12 a year. It was definitely an experiment, but the rush early on was a good sign we may be on to something. I remember the question we kept getting during those early days was will this continue beyond the year? And, we were pretty upfront that we did not know. We were transparent that if it did continue, we could not sustain it at $12 an account, and we would have to rethink pricing, etc. We had about $1400 in the bank in May 2014, which means we were running a profit of around $800—although neither of us were being paid by Reclaim. So whether we could sustain Reclaim was definitely a question mark, but that all changed when the University of Oklahoma reached out in June of 2014 for an institutional setup, then soon after Davidson College, CSU Channel islands, and Emory University—- the rest is history

We have operated in the black from day 1; we always had a straightforward business model; we do not prey on our customers with product up-selling or data siphoning; and we remain fiercely independent in that we owe no one nothing—there are no investors we  have to answer to, and when an IT department or security officers find themselves puffing up their chest and making things harder than necessary to enable academic technology, we can simply walk away. In fact, one could argue it is because of those people that we even exist! I am really proud of what we start, and in that 5 years we have doubled in size in terms of people, with Lauren Brumfield growing with us for over 3 years now, and Meredith Fierro filling out support for a year and a half. Growing is tricky, and we remain vigilant of the issues tied up with getting too big too fast and forgetting why we did this to begin with. But you know what, 5 years on not much has changed: our support remains consistently solid; our prices remain as affordable as ever; and our commitment to helping faculty and students explore the open web for teaching and learning is still unflagging. 

So, all this to say happy belated birthday, Reclaim Hosting, I remain a big fan! And, in honor of our fifth anniversary we’re resurrecting our first server, namely clash.reclaimhosting.com, which will truly mark the end of something, i.e., the migration of our last two Reliable Site servers on August 4th (beathap.reclaimhosting.com and joydiv.reclaimhosting.com) will mean all of our critical infrastructure is now on Digital Ocean. A project two years in the making—what did I say about tracking time on the blog? Making the myths one post at a time.

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Reclaim’s D.O.A. in Canada

Reclaim Hosting is happy to announce a new shared hosting server in a Digital Ocean’s Toronto-based data center. And while the Toronto data center has been around since 2015, it just got block storage in September.We named this server after the pioneer political Canadian hardcore punk band D.O.A. With their first two albums Something Better Change (1980) and Hardcore ’81 (1981) you have arguably the earliest examples of the new punk style that would dominate the 1980s. Political anthems like “Smash the State” provide a good example of this:

Or “F**cked Up Ronnie” as an early instance of 1980s punks sonic war on Reagan:

In fact, the song has been updated for the times:

It’s pretty telling to hear both Henry Rollins and Keith Morris talk about the impact D.O.A. had on the emerging hardcore scene.

I love Morris’s description of seeing D.O.A. open up for X in LA.

So, it seems only fitting to christen Canada’s first Reclaim Hosting server as D.O.A. If any one would like us to move their sites to this new server for whatever reason just submit a support request and we’ll be sure to make it so.

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Set UMW Blogs Right to Ludicrous Speed

UMW Blogs was feeling its age this Spring (it officially turned ten this month—crazy!) and we got a few reports from the folks at DTLT that performance was increasingly becoming an issue. Since 2014 the site had been hosted on AWS (Tim wrote-up the details of that move here) with a distributed setup storing uploads on S3, the databases on RDS, and running core files through an EC2 instance. That was a huge jump for us back then into the Cloud, and the performance jump was significant. AWS has proven quite stable over the last two years, but it’s never been cheap—running UMW Blogs back then cost $500+ a month, and I’m sure the prices haven’t dropped significantly since.

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Wrapping Up as an Intern

Well as this semester is wrapping up, I just wanted to write a reflection of my time at Reclaim Hosting. It’s really weird to talk about as the last weeks of my undergraduate finishing up. It still hasn’t officially hit me yet that I’m graduating in May. But things are finalizing all over the place, I just had my last classes and I’ve got a job lined up! I’ve officially accepted a position to stay on the team at Reclaim! I start in June, so I have a little time to enjoy my summer and it will be exciting to move back up to Fredericksburg.

Enough chatter though! Time to get into it. Not too much has been going on. I was still working on documentation for the new company the team has started called Rockaway Hosting (I’ll talk a little more about it in a little). I created a style guide to use with the new articles. Style guides are vital in technical writing. These articles are what the clients will look at if they have a problem. They keep the article flowing in a precise way so that the readers don’t spend too much time on the article. The goal of each article is to solve the client’s problem efficiently. The tricky thing too is that you want clients to stay on your website because they are more likely to click on more pages and posts. Luckily I didn’t have to write the articles, if I did, I would have no idea what to do. Most of the topics were written on topics I never really thought about until I started with Reclaim. But there was a major learning curve, and I actually used the articles to figure out what I needed to do. When I started to go through each article, I learned a lot about the different topics as well, because as I was combing through each article, I would go through the steps to make sure they were accurate. Unfortunately, I did not finish all of the articles, but that’s okay! I can continue going through them when I start in June.

I also wanted to talk about what I’ve learned throughout my time as an intern. For starters, I got to see what it was really like to be in a workplace. I’ve had summer lifeguarding jobs and most recently my job at the Digital Knowledge Center, but those helped me gain skills that I can put towards my career. They were a professional environment to some extent, but they are nothing like a real office space. Even though Reclaim is as casual as it gets, there is still a professional feeling to it that I hadn’t experienced while at my other jobs. I was given projects and I would work on my own. A lot of the time in my other jobs, I would work on projects with other people. This was such a change to start working by myself. I learned a lot about time management and staying away from online distractions.

I learned a ton about web hosting and a lot of components that go into it. It is really such an interesting field in technology. I never realized how intense web hosting is. There are a ton of moving parts, you have what the clients see and what the administrators see. There is a community forum used by the clients to search for help when they run into trouble. Of course, there’s the support side of things, which I have to say is the best part but I’m biased. It’s so fascinating to explore the ins an outs of webhosting, that field is really something I’ve come to enjoy.

So let’s talk about Rockaway Hosting! Jim wrote about it on his blog here (he explains it way better than I will). But Rockaway Hosting is the non-educational counterpart to Reclaim Hosting. Reclaim Hosting is mainly about Domain of One’s Own, which I’ve been involved with through Mary Washington since I started there in 2013. I’ve been working on a project for the program for my individual study, which you can read about here. So Reclaim has been all about educational web hosting. Now Rockaway is different to Reclaim in that it provides different hosting plans and support features for an additional fee. The company was still being built when I first started at the Reclaim, but it has grown so much to start a ‘soft-launch’ and hopefully, soon it will be fully operational! I’m really excited to see Reclaim growing!

But that’s it for me as an Intern! I’m really excited to join the Reclaim/Rockaway Team in June, I’m so fortunate to begin my career with them!

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New Projects With Reclaim

Well I’ve been at Reclaim for 6 weeks now! I can’t even believe it, it feels like I’ve been there for months. I’m really enjoying my work and I’m definitely getting the hang of things when answering support tickets. I still ask Tim a ton of questions throughout the day because there is just so much to learn. But in this post I wanted to talk about some new projects I’m tackling for right now, one I started before my spring break and another just this week.

Just before break (so two weeks ago) I started learning a network protocol called Secure Shell or SSH. SSH is a cryptographic network protocol used to navigate through servers remotely, that means you don’t have to log into your account in your browser like you would normally. You use a separate program entirely. On the Mac its called Terminal. Its a very quick, secure, and efficient way to view files and error logs. This comes in very handy for numerous tickets. One ticket came in where the user was having a problem accessing their site at all giving a HTTP 500 error. That usually means that some aspect of the site is broken thus completely breaking the entire site. Using SSH we can go into the site and clear out the bad file to fix the site. Another ticket came in where the user was having trouble with their storage quota. SSH can read the error log right in the program and that allows us to figure out what went wrong. I’m actually struggling with SSH quite a bit however. My brain and code do not mix at all. So its difficult for me to wrap my head around this new type of navigation. But I think I’ll get the hang of it slowly but surely.

 

I started the second this past week. I am now tackling documentation on the community pages. I’m going through all of the articles to update screenshots, and rewrite a few if the process has completely changed. I’m enjoying that as well! Back in the summer of 2015 I tackled that same sort of project for the Digital Knowledge Center. The DKC was in the process of migrating its documentation to another site and I was in charge of creating a style guide and rewriting the documentation accordingly. So I felt like an old pro going through the other documentation at Reclaim. Its very different though. There is a lot more information to understand and a ton of different topics. Its actually helping me learn a lot about other topics that I didn’t know at the DKC, like nameservers, domain management, and other open source platforms.

I also wrote a new article on the community page, for installing themes to an Omeka site. That was a lot of fun, I’ve never used Omeka before and I had to experiment with it before I could write the article. Omeka is relatively intuitive so I was able to write the article very quickly.

On another note, I continually run into a problem when I’m answering tickets. At the DKC we tutor WordPress, which means we can help students edit their website, but at Reclaim the support we provide stops when it comes to actually editing the clients website. I’ve had a few tickets where clients want help actually editing their site and I’ve had to tell them I can’t. I want to help but its out of Reclaim’s wheelhouse. I guess I’m still getting used to the fact that the DKC and Reclaim are two completely separate companies.

But other than that I’m still having a ton of fun and I’m learning every time I step into the office. Stay tuned for more posts!

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Learning New Content Management Systems

When I started at Reclaim I realized that I needed to learn some more open-source web platforms than I thought. At Mary Washington, I mainly work with students on WordPress, which makes up the majority of the domains. That’s a different story at Reclaim.  There are multiple applications that access the file manager (which is like the file manager on your computer). I’ve had a couple of tickets where clients needed help with two applications that have access to the file manager: Omeka and Drupal. So I decided I would set up my own subdomains for each application and learn as much as I could. I figured this would help me more when clients need support on those applications.

Drupal:

Drupal is a content management system similar to WordPress. The Interface looks very similar to how you would navigate WordPress, and even add content. But it definitely is not WordPress. Drupal looks a little rudimentary to WordPress but it gets the job done. I spent some time adding test content, pages, themes, and plugins as well. Drupal mainly operates through the interface itself so it does not use the file manager but it’s still very useful to learn since people still use the platform to create content.

Problems I ran into: I struggled when trying to install some themes. There is a specific file type you need to use when installing the specific one I found.  Drupal’s main website has tons of themes and I found it hard to pick just one. When it was time to install the theme I had to download the file to my computer then upload it to my Drupal install. Pro Tip: Don’t use the .zip form of the theme, use the .tar.gz part of the file. That’s where I hit a road block. For a while, I wasn’t able to install a theme and I couldn’t figure out why. Now it really seems obvious that I needed to use that specific file type, but now I know.

 

Omeka:

Omeka is another content management platform where you can create posts for specific items to document them. The items can range from specific historical artifacts to pieces of artwork, and really any item you’d like to document. At Mary Washington, the history department utilizes this tool more than any other department. Omeka mainly uses their interface to create their own content through the back end of that specific install. But Omeka uses the file manager to install and manage themes and plugins. This is a little different than expected but it was very easy to get the hang of. Reclaim has a great documentation website where I was able to look at how to add themes and plugins through the file manager.  I had one support ticket where she needed help with the file manager. After looking into how to use the file manager it takes just a little bit to get used to but it’s useful to have the themes and plugins held in a separate area on the file manager. Using Omeka is very intuitive, the interface lays out all of the options you will need when posting an item.  When you customize the space as well Omeka gives you all the options for customizing the theme around all in one page.

 

All in all both applications are good options for content management. But if it were up to me, I’d definitely recommend using WordPress over anything else ?

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Continuing on the Learning Curve

These past two weeks have flown by! I’ve just completed week three at Reclaim Hosting and I have to say it’s been really enjoyable. Things on support tend to be a little slow while I’m working which is good and bad. Good because that means things are running smoothly for clients but also bad because that means I don’t have much to do! I’m still in the learning phase for sure but I’m getting the hang of things. This week I was able to solve a few tickets on my own!

So in this post, I wanted to talk about a few things that are going on in my internship. 1. Some things I’ve learned in these past two weeks while filling out support tickets. 2. The current projects I’m working on or going to work on in the very near future.

Support tickets! A lot of people asked me when I first got my internship: “Why support?” “Why would you want to handle all the problems people run into?” And for me, the answer was really simple. I like helping people. My on-campus job at Mary Washington is to tutor people on digital projects at the Digital Knowledge Center. Students come in who need help with their websites, mainly WordPress, domain management, video projects, audio projects, and image projects. A lot of the time when they come in for help it’s really just the basics of getting set up with a domain name or even installing WordPress through Installatron. After working at the center since it first opened back in 2014, I’ve learned a lot about the ins and outs of WordPress help and was able to take those skills to my own website.

^^The office does not look like this at all. But it would be really cute if it did!

But support at Reclaim is very different. I don’t think I realized this at first and I was surprised to see the wide range of topics each support ticket covered. And I have a lot of new topics to learn. I started looking through the documentation that Lauren wrote back when she started at Reclaim and that is extremely helpful. I’m a very visual learner so I learn by actually completing the tickets as well. But it’s also really weird to try to complete the ticket because I’m not sitting right next to the person like I would be at the DKC. That was a major adjustment I am still getting used. Sometimes people will submit tickets with not a lot of information on their problem and I just want to jump through the screen to see what they see on their computer screen.

Another major learning curve is with applications. Since I mainly tutor on WordPress, that’s the application I know the most about. Reclaim supports a ton of other applications, though. At one point last week I was trying to help someone upgrade their Drupal install to the most recent version and I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Luckily Google was on my side for this ticket and I was able to quickly find the solution to the problem (or at least find a tutorial to help the person through it). The same thing happened with Omeka. Now I know a little more about Omeka because some classes in the History department at UMW use it. But I don’t know much.

I’ve been talking with Tim this past week about things to start working on when support is not so busy. We came up with a few projects I could start working on. I am going to start working on my own Omeka and Drupal installs on my own subdomain to learn all I can to prepare for potential support tickets. Tim also suggested that I start learning SSH, a command line language to navigate around the servers efficiently.

So stay tuned for the next couple of weeks to see my progress and how the internship is going! I’m excited to keep learning all I can!

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Reclaiming my Internship

Hello everyone! I haven’t posted in a while. But I’m really glad to get back to the blog! You’ll see a lot more posts from my this semester because I am blogging for two major things happening as I begin to finish up my time at Mary Washington. I can’t believe I’m set to graduate in May! I have bunch of exciting projects coming up as well so stick around to hear more about those.

Reclaim’s logo

So this post is going to be about my internship! I’m currently working for Reclaim Hosting, a web hosting company based here in Fredericksburg. They currently host the all of the University of Mary Washington’s websites through the Domain of One’s Own program, which is where I was able to get this website. Reclaim also hosts numerous other schools websites as well, some of those schools use the same program that UMW has.

My first day was on Monday and I have to say it was so much fun! I’m tackling the support side of the company, so I will be helping clients with anything they need help with. That could be something as simple as giving them more information about the products Reclaim offers, to domain migration, and broken websites. And that doesn’t stop there. There’s a ton of things that could potentially go wrong. Way more than I thought.

It’s a little overwhelming at the moment because I really have no clue where to begin when a new support ticket comes in. But I’m taking it one ticket at a time and Tim is so helpful when I have a question. Jim and Lauren both work remotely and they also help out so much when Tim is unavailable. The group is very supportive and I’m very grateful for each of them.

I’m currently working my way through some online documentation on the Reclaim website to learn more about how to solve the potential problems clients could have. I’ve been going through previous support tickets as well. It’s a lot of research! I have a little bit of experience through my tutoring job at the Digital Knowledge Center but its more support for what the client sees. I work directly with WordPress, and cPanel. Reclaim is different in the sense that we work one level up through the servers to provide support. I had a few flashbacks to my sophomore year starting at the DKC and having absolutely no clue what I was doing. But I’m genuinely enjoying the work at Reclaim, I like helping people through problems and teaching them how to use specific parts to their account.

But one thing I definitely want to work on in the coming weeks, I need to get better at writing descriptions and I need to proofread before sending out the correspondence. I find I tend to repeat phrases multiple times within a ticket. So that is one thing I want to improve in the next few weeks.

So that’s it for this post! Keep checking back here throughout the semester. I will post regularly to document what I learn. I’m excited to continue learning more and more while working with Tim, Jim, and Lauren throughout the course of the semester!

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Muhlenberg College: The ‘Berg Builds

This post has sat in draft for almost three weeks while I finished traveling and decompressing from a month on the road. Like Cogdog, I have been a tired blogger these days, but unlike Alan I haven’t always been able to push through it. But maybe that’s not all bad, because during that down time there have been a number of other posts about the event at Muhlenberg by the people who are making it happen! Blogging is everything, indeed!  I would encourage you to check those posts out, and thankfully Lora Taub-Pervizpour provided an awesome round-up post with links to many of them.

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Investing in Community

Investing in Community

I recently received a support ticket, not so much asking for support, but rather wondering about the status of https://community.reclaimhosting.com/ and why it wasn’t promoted more. The person pointed out that it wasn’t really linked anywhere or mentioned as far as they could tell, which was absolutely true. When Jim and I first started Reclaim Hosting the idea of building community was very much at the forefront of our minds. I fired up an instance of Vanilla Forums at the time probably only a month after Reclaim Hosting got off the ground. But I never visited there myself. I let it stagnate almost from day one. When Howard Rheingold started experimenting with Discourse I thought “now here’s an interesting piece of software for conversing on the web!” and switched up the community site to run on that. I even used a WordPress plugin to make all comments from our blog get driven there as larger discussions. The result: well….nothing. As it not so surprisingly turns out, people don’t just flock to new spaces because you hope they will.

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