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,, 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.

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 ( 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, which will truly mark the end of something, i.e., the migration of our last two Reliable Site servers on August 4th ( and 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”

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!

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!

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 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 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 ?