The Ghost of bava

This is kind of a record keeping post, it turns out when you’ve been blogging for nearly 15 years posts can be useful to remind you of what you did years earlier that you presently have no recollection of. It’s my small battle against the ever-creeping memory loss that follows on the heels of balding and additional chins—blog against the dying of the light!

Anyway, I’m trying to keep on top of my various sites and recently I realized that as a result of extracting this blog out of my long-standing WordPress Multisite in 2018, followed by a recent move over to Digital Ocean this January a number of images in posts that were syndicated from bavatuesdays to sites like https://jimgroom.umwblogs.org were breaking. The work of keeping link rot at bay is daunting, but we have the technology. I was able to login to UMW Blogs database and run the following SQL query:

UPDATE wp_13_posts SET post_content = replace(post_content, 'http://bavatuesdays.com/files/', 'https://bavatuesdays.com/wp-content/uploads/')

That brought those images back, and it reminds me that I may need to do something similar for the ds106.us site given I have a few hundred posts syndicated into that site that probably have broken images now. 

But the other site I discovered had broken images as a result of my various moves was the Ghost instance I’ve kept around since 2014. I initially started this site as a sandbox on AWS in order to get a Bitnami image of Ghost running, which was my first time playing with that space in earnest back in 2014. That period was when Tim and I were trying to convince UMW’s IT department to explore AWS in earnest. In fact, we would soon move UMW Blogs to AWS as a proof-of-concept but also to try and pave the way for hosting more through Cloud-based services like Digital Ocean, etc. 

It’s also the time when the idea of servers in the “Cloud” seemed amazing and the idea of new applications running on stacks other than LAMP became real for me. Ghost was one of those. It was the promise of a brave new world, a next-generation sandbox, which was around the time Tim setup container-based hosting for both Ghost and Discourse through Reclaim Hosting as a bit of an experiment. Both worked quite well and were extremely reliable, but there was not much demand and in terms of support it continued to rely too heavily on Tim for us to sustain it without a more robust container-based infrastructure. We discontinued both services a while back, and are finally shutting down those servers once and for all. And while we had hopes for Cloudron over the last several years, in the end that’s not a direction we’re planning on pursuing. Folks have many options for hosting applications like JupyterHub and the like, and the cost concerns of container-based hosting remains a big question mark—something I learned quickly when using Kinsta.

Part of what makes Reclaim so attractive is we can provide excellent support in tandem with an extremely affordable service. It’s a delicate balance to say the least, but we’ve remained lean, investment free, and as a result have been able to manage it adroitly. We are still convinced that for most folks a $30 per year hosting plan with a free domain will go a long way towards getting them much of what they need when it comes to a web presence. If we were to double or triple that cost by moving to a container-based infrastructure it would remove us from our core mission: provide affordable spaces for folks to explore and learn about the web.* What’s more, in light of the current uncertainties we all face we’re even more committed to keeping costs low and support dialed-in. 

Ghost in a Shell

So, I’m not sure why this record keeping post became a manifesto on affordability, but there you have it ? All this to say while we have been removing our Discourse forum application servers we also decided to use the occasion to migrate our Ghost instances that we’re currently hosting (which are only a very few) to shared hosting so that we can retire the my.reclaim.domains server that was running them on top of Cloudron. So, Tim and I spent a morning last week going over his guide for setting up Ghost through our shared hosting on cPanel, and it still works.† The only change is now you need to use Node.js version 10+ for the latest version of Ghost.

He migrated his Ghost blog to our shared hosting, and I did the same for mine (which only has a few posts).  He has been blogging on Ghost for several years now and I have to say I like the software a lot. It’s clean and quite elegant, and their mission and transparency is a model! But if you don’t have the expertise to install it yourself (whether on cPanel or a VPS) hosting it through them comes at a bit of a cost, with plans starting at about $30 per month. That price-point is a non-starter for most folks starting out. What’s more, there’s little to no room to dig deeper into the various elements of web hosting afforded by cPanel for an entire year (including a domain) versus the same cost for just one month of hosting for only one site.

So, I have toyed with the idea of trying to move all my posts over to Ghost, but when I consider the cost as well as the fact it has no native way to deal with commenting cleanly, it  quickly becomes a non-starter. With over 14,000 comments on this blog, I can’t imagine they would be migrated to anything resembling a clean solution that would not result in just that much more link rot. I guess I am still WordPress #4life ?


*And while it remains something we are keenly interested in doing, we are not seeing it as an immediate path given the trade-off between investment costs and the idea a per-container costs for certain applications which would radically change our pricing model.

†He had to help me figure out some issues I ran into as a result of running the commands as root.

Thank God for Mental Illness

While I could talk at length about long travel stints away from home and mental illness, I’ll spare you those details. Rather, the misleading title of this post refers to Reclaim Hosting’s latest shared hosting server named after the 1990s musical collective The Brian Jonestown Massacre.* Ever since watching the 2004 documentary Dig! last year I have been binging on their music, particularly the their early Bloody Valentine-inspired shoe gaze during the early 90s (the album Methodrone is amazing) into their psychedelic 60s exploration in the mid-90s. In fact, in 1996 they self-produced 3 albums that year, all of which I have been listening to non-stop for over a month. And beyond that there is still a ton of music I have yet to hear given they are still recording music with 18 albums and counting. One thing that has struck me listening to their music so far is not just how prolific they are, but also how amazing their musical range is—traversing and experimenting with instruments and genres like few other bands I’ve heard.

Brian Jonestown Massacre (often abbreviated to BJM) is my new obsession, and if naming a Reclaim server after them can get just one other person to explore them than my job is done here. Below are a few excerpts from their Wikipedia article focusing on the 3 albums they recorded in 1996, the third of which (Thank God for Mental Illness) was reportedly recorded for $17.36.† 

Over the next couple of years the band shifted its sound from their more shoegaze, goth, and dream pop influences of the 80’s and 90’s into a 60’s retro-futurist aesthetic. As lineup changes persisted, the band continued to record and in 1996 released three full-length studio albums. The first of these, Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request reflects a pastiche of 1960s psychedelia. The album also includes vast experimentation with a variety of different instrumentation including Indian drones, sitarsMellotronsfarfisasdidgeridoostablascongas, and glockenspiels.[10] The title of the album is a play on words of the Rolling Stones’ 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request.[11]

The band’s second album released in 1996, Take It from the Man!, is rooted heavily in the maximum rhythm and blues aesthetic of the 1960s British Invasion.[12] The album includes the song “Straight Up and Down”, which was later used as theme music for the HBO television drama series Boardwalk Empire (2010–2014), and was engineered by Larry Thrasher of the influential group Psychic TV.

The third and final album released that year was Thank God for Mental Illness, a more stripped-down effort. Since the band did not have a drummer at the time, Newcombe took the opportunity to showcase more of his acoustic songwriting. The album explores more in-depth genres such as country and folk.[13] At the end of the album Newcombe included an entire EP called “Sound of Confusion”, compiled largely from earlier BJM recordings. “Sound of Confusion” features both regular songs and more abstract sound collages.

The cool thing is that this collective (it’s more than a band ? ) has been going strong for almost 30 years, and while the documentary Dig! focuses on the erratic, drug-addled misadventures of the band, in particular the leading man Anton Newcombe (which admittedly makes for fun viewing), there is something to be said for sticking around long enough and continuing to do the work, or make the music as it were. So, our latest server, bjm.recaimhosting.com, is dedicated to all those folks in education who have stuck around and continue to try and make the music despite all the noise, noise, noise. 


*I know there are some who have taken issue with our server names suggesting that when taken out of context they could be considered offensive. All I can say to that is taken out of context most things can be. What’s more, we refuse to give up self-expression in the various cultural touchstones that ground the work we do in exchange for some soulless pursuit of a homogenized business identity.

†See, not all independent music acts are caught up in the music industry game as some (who have left our game) have argued when trying to poke holes in the Indie EdTech analogy floated several years back.

Reclaim Hosting Interview with Website Planet

I was interviewed earlier this month about Reclaim Hosting for Website Planet by Gail Lobel Rand. Website Planet is site that provides information for folks who want to create a website, and they highlight and rate the various website builder services, web hosting services, logo design services, etc. with the idea of providing a it of a recommendation engine. Reclaim Hosting does no advertising and there was no pay-to-play going on here, so I figured why not do an interview and share the good word about the best little hosting company that could ?

Gail was great, and she was must interested in breaking down what hosting plans we offered for their readership. In the end, it turns out, most hosting company’s provide the same thing: either shared hosting and VPS hosting (both managed and unmanaged). We see no reason to do unmanaged VPS hosting given providers like Digital Ocean more than have that covered, so with us the options are pretty simple. The outlier offering is Domain of One’s Own, and that is a reality so specific to higher ed that I would be surprised if it resonates much beyond the educational world, but you never know.

I think Reclaim Hosting has survived (dare I say thrived :)) because we focus on a niche community whose specific needs are often not served by larger web hosting companies. What’s more, we understood higher ed and recognize pricing for students and faculty needs to be both transparent and affordable. I think I touch on all of this to some degree in the interview, but the thing that came out while talking with Gail was that Reclaim Hosting puts off a completely different vibe them most hosting companies. We have VHS tapes on our website rather than stock photos of server rooms, and we don’t play the death by 1,000 cuts up-sell game that so many hosting companies do. I also tried to throw some love to Alan Levine’s SPLOT work, CUNY’s Commons-in-a-Box, as well as some Omeka and Scalar plugs. In case it’s not clear from the article, we did not develop any of those apps, just helped with the Installatron installers.

Lastly, after getting asked to do something like this out of the blue, I begin to wonder if Reclaim Hosting is beginning to show up on folks’ radar outside the education sphere. Not sure about that, but if so it would be interesting to know why.

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

A vision for making at Reclaim HQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaim Hosting: the VHS Days

Image of Reclaim Hosting's new homepage A Rotating Easter Egg is just one of the many features of Reclaim Hosting’s New VHS-Inspired Site Design

It’s official, Reclaim Hosting‘s website got an overhaul, and in addition to featuring Bryan Mather‘s updated VHS-inspired designs it also highlights several new services and products we are offering. Before I go into detail, I have to note that this re-design is entirely Lauren Brumfield‘s brainchild. She did the lion’s share of the site re-design as a professional development project that once we caught wind of it quickly became slated for a Fall launch. That speaks volumes to Lauren’s work ethic and impeccable sense of design, and I’m blown away by what she has accomplished. So, all hail Lauren!

Repo Man Migrations

The site does retain much of the art we used previously. For example, the Migrations page still features the glowing green car inspired by Repo Man (1984), and in many ways in the age of VHS at Reclaim Hosting the visual is more appropriate than ever ?

And the VHS Aesthetic is no where more apparent than in the new headers for many of the products. For example, we had soft released the new VHS icons for the Personal, Professional, and Org plans, but the labelled VHS tape in the header really ties the room together.

Managed Hosting at Reclaim

We’ve also added more managed services beyond WordPress MultiSite, including Virtual Private Servers and the soon to be released Commons in a Box offering. And as I mentioned yesterday, we are now offering shared and dedicated hosting for Pressbooks for all you waiting for the open textbook rapture. In fact, providing more managed shared hosting services like this is a direction we are hoping to explore in even more depth in the coming months.

Pressbooks screenshot

We are also now offering Professional Services, which folks can sign-up for if they need a hacked site(s) cleaned up, site monitoring, custom software installed/configured, and priority support and consultation. It is something folks have asked us about repeatedly, like Pressbooks, and for those running accounts that are mission critical, have a history of getting hacked, or just need to go above and beyond this may be a good option.

Reclaim getting all Professional

Finally, Lauren reach out to folks who we currently support, and you will see a number of pull quotes—like those below—punctuating various pages of the site.

Remain a big fan of of that human technology Lora Taub-Pervizpour!

No, YOU are superb, LaNeta! And your taste in academic hosting companies is flawless.

Did Tom Woodward say something positive about someone? A blog grows in Brooklyn!

It’s cool to read what the folks who work with us have to say, and when I look at the new site there is no small element of pride and excitement at how well-rounded and fully-featured our services have become, and I don’t think our personalized support and attention to detail have gotten lost in the mix. We continue to grow intentionally and scale for human growth and that, dear reader, has made all the difference!

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.

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.

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.

Continue reading “Set UMW Blogs Right to Ludicrous Speed”