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!

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!

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.

Continue reading “Muhlenberg College: The ‘Berg Builds”

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.

The community site has been dormant for a long time now and often I've wondered if it was better to just nuke it into orbit. I had high dreams of folks sharing with each other there, asking questions about how they might approach a given topic, or even user-driven documentation on how to do a particular task on Reclaim. But building community takes so much more than just sitting back and hoping for something to develop. It takes real effort to draw people in, stoke conversations, and it takes a huge amount of good will in the early days. We've had no shortage of good will in building Reclaim Hosting from the community that has embraced us, and if a space to cultivate that is something that I want, something we want, then it's going to take work.

And so last week I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. There were some boring technical details I wanted to accomplish like getting the site to run on SSL thanks to Let's Encrypt support. For the first time I added a link within our client area. I grabbed the RSS feed and started showing the latest posts on our documentation site. And most importantly, I started seeding conversation and inviting folks to the party. You see, Discourse has this great feature that allows you to invite someone to a thread and when they click that link they can immediately start responding without having to go through the process of creating an account. It's a very powerful feature that I have been using a lot this past week to bring folks into the fold and cultivate....well...discourse. Discussions, ideas, tutorials, announcements.

We have a long way to go and it will often require me to get outside of my comfort zone and ask people to participate, be intentional in my actions to seed the space with new ideas and conversation. It's not something I'm used to doing, but it's incredibly important. There is no shortage of amazing people doing incredible work on Reclaim Hosting. And if our support system is any indicator then there are plenty of folks who could use a helping hand as well. We're always there for them, but I would love for that same generosity to extend to the broader circle of people who have trusted us to assist in helping them build their digital identity on the web.

Consider this post me breaking the ice and welcoming you in. I would love for you to come over and chat with us there. As time goes on we'll continue to figure out ways to generate new topics there but I ask that you not be shy and participate in what's happening there. After just one week of investing the time to cultivate the space I've already seen the rewards and it has renewed my efforts to see that space grow. And I now realize this is the investment that we (Reclaim) needs to make in each and every one of you to foster a sense of communal support, the idea that you don't rely on me, or Jim, or anyone else, but that we all can call on each other and have a space to openly share our thoughts. It's more important than ever to me now and I would love for you to join us in that effort!

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.

Continue reading “Investing in Community”

Reclaim Hosting Turns 3

Screenshot-2016-07-25-21.30.06-954x1024.pngEarlier today I was talking with my partner in crime Tim Owens about the fact that Reclaim Hosting turns 3 years old this week. I was under the impression it was July 28th for some reason, but turns out it was earlier than that. Tim sent along this article from the Chronicle dated July 25th, 2013 that formerly announced the launch of our little experiment. As an added bonus, Tim reminded me what our website looked like that summer care of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Three years has gone pretty fast, and this fairly modest experiment has become part of a broader community of practitioners that want to reclaim the possibilities of the web for higher education and beyond. It’s been an awesome privilege to help folks stake their small claim on the web. And while waxing nostalgic about the spirit of Geocities, I am reminded thanks to a recent talk by rogue archivist Jason Scott (one of the handful of individuals who helped preserve the history of Geocities before Yahoo! deleted it) that the individual web we create and preserve is part and parcel of the digital culture we inhabit. To abdicate control and stewardship of that culture to those that would commodify and then wantonly discard every last bit of it (see Yahoo! and Geocities above) is a serious cultural problem. And we can only count on folks like Jason Scott and the patron saints of the internet at the Archive to a certain extent. It’s up to us to take responsibility for and make plans to preserve the integrity of the trails we blaze on the world wide web. Reclaim Hosting emerged as part of an educational community to make this easier and more affordable—that remains the mission. Avanti!

Reclaim the CSS Animation

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Reclaim the CSS AnimationReclaim the CSS Animation

It’s been a bit quiet around here recently. Between flying relatively solo on Reclaim Hosting support last week and fitting in some vacation time as well I’ve been fairly busy. That said, I’ve been meaning to play around with CSS animation thanks to Tom Woodward’s post last month featuring beer bubbles. And after talking with Bryan Mathers about more seamless animation of the artwork illustrating the shared hosting packages, playing with the CSS sample Tom shared was high on my to-do list. Bryan Mathers also did a really cool record animation for spinning up apps that I wanted to incorporate on the site somehow.

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“Not Many People Gotta Code to Live By Anymore”

Amen, Harry Dean! All this talk of coding or being coded is besides the point, when push comes to shove most people simply need a code. I come back to Repo Man (1984) a lot when I am thinking about Reclaim Hosting‘s code. In fact, I already played on the idea of a Reclaim Code with the above clip. So when sitting down to talk to Bryan Mathers earlier this week about some artwork I was excited when I found the discussion led us into the territory of this 1980s punk cult classic.

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Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

This weekend I decided to experiment with a feature we have enabled on some of our servers that is sort of an unsung hero for advanced users (so advanced I hadn't taken the time to understand how it works!). Jekyll is a static site generator that has grown in popularity in large part due to its inclusion in GitHub Pages as well as a wider movement to have sites built from HTML based on Markdown templates. Plenty of folks today already run Jekyll sites but the process of using them with Reclaim typically involved generating the files locally on your computer and then publishing them to Reclaim because of Jekyll's requirement to run newer versions of Ruby than cPanel supports.

On many of our servers we now run a piece of software called CloudLinux. While the primary purpose of this software is to handle resource allocation (CPU/Memory/IO) per account, it comes with a stellar list of other features that allow a user to choose alternative versions of PHP, Python, and Ruby for their account. Python and Ruby are not languages I've played much in but I figured this was a perfect opportunity to see if I could install Jekyll and get it to run right inside my Reclaim Hosting account to remove some of the barriers to using it. And I'm happy to say I was successful! Here's how it works.

Looking at the requirements in the Jekyll install guide you'll note that Ruby 2+ is required (thankfully Jekyll 3 no longer requires NodeJS which would have been a dealbreaker here). So to start we'll create a Ruby application within cPanel under Software > Setup Ruby App

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

For the version I've chosen the latest available here, Ruby 2.2, and setup jekyll folders for the application contents and the public directory.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Click Setup and you'll have a generic Ruby application ready to go! Of course there's nothing there yet, it simply displays some basic information in cPanel and the URL shows a simple Hello World style page letting you know it's running.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

The next step according to the install guide for Jekyll is to use the RubyGems installer to run gem install jekyll bundler. Here's where things get interesting. You'll need to login to your shell account for these next steps, something we include by default with our accounts. But if I just login and try to run that command I get the following error:

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

This is because your Ruby application runs in a virtual environment that allows you to run different versions for different applications. So in order to work within our app we need to enter the virtual environment before doing anything else. If you look back at the application details a command was provided for entering the virtual environment, in my case source /home/towensne/rubyvenv/jekyll/2.2/bin/activate. So I'll enter the environment first and then run the command gem install jekyll bundler from there.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Now we're cooking! We've got Jekyll installed in our account and should be able to use it to build a site. At this point I could grab a theme from somewhere but Jekyll also has a built-in site generator tool that can be used by running jekyll new myblog where myblog is the name of the folder you want it to create. In this case I'll navigate to my public_html folder (cd public_html) and run jekyll new blog to setup a blog folder for it. Keep in mind I need to stay in my virtual environment while doing this. The Jekyll command will not exist outside of it.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Yikes, ugly Ruby error. But have no fear, this is a pretty straightforward one to deal with. Our Ruby app is complaining that it needs something called "bigdecimal" in order to run. Similar to how we installed Jekyll we can just run gem install bigdecimal to get that package in place.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

And now let's setup that blog again.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Score! If we look at the blog folder in our File Manager we'll have a better idea of what this looks like. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive introduction to Jekyll by any means, but you'll notice lots of folders and files in there and this structure is essentially a basic Jekyll site.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Now we've got our Jekyll site structure done but it's important to note that we haven't generated the HTML for the site yet. In fact if we go to towens.net/blog where I put this site you'd see just a bunch of code.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

We need to run Jekyll's site generator in order for it to convert all the markdown and templates into a static HTML site. This is done back in our shell session by running jekyll build (make sure you change to your blog directory)

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

What this does is takes all those templates and turns it into an actual HTML site. From the printout you can see the site is generated in the _site folder (you can specify a different name for the folder using the --destination parameter, read more about the options at https://jekyllrb.com/docs/usage/). If we look at the _site folder you'll notice this looks a lot more like a regular HTML site than the Jekyll folder did.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Our last step is to setup a URL for the generated files and for this I'm going to create a subdomain in cPanel under Domains > Subdomains. I'll give it the subdomain blog.towens.net and we know that the files we want to server are in public_html/blog/_site so I'll set that as the Document Root for the subdomain.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Now if we've done everything correctly we should be able to load blog.towens.net and get our Jekyll site.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Booyah! Now all we need to do anytime we make changes to the Markdown files in our Jekyll directory is running jekyll build to rebuild the site. It will update _site with everything each time. For extra credit it's possible to setup a cron job that will schedule and run a build every X minutes. The command would look like this: source /home/towensne/rubyvenv/jekyll/2.2/bin/activate && cd /home/towensne/public_html/blog && jekyll build (obviously you'd need to replace the first part with the command to enter your virtual environment and update the path it changes the directory to).

So that's it! Certainly more advanced stuff than just publishing via WordPress or something like that but I know a lot of folks who have been itching to try Jekyll or use it more with their account and this is a great way to run it as a Ruby application directly from your Reclaim Hosting account without having to do all the building locally and publish the files as an additional step.

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting

This weekend I decided to experiment with a feature we have enabled on some of our servers that is sort of an unsung hero for advanced users (so advanced I hadn’t taken the time to understand how it works!). Jekyll is a static site generator that has grown in popularity in large part due to its inclusion in GitHub Pages as well as a wider movement to have sites built from HTML based on Markdown templates. Plenty of folks today already run Jekyll sites but the process of using them with Reclaim typically involved generating the files locally on your computer and then publishing them to Reclaim because of Jekyll’s requirement to run newer versions of Ruby than cPanel supports.

Continue reading “Running a Jekyll Site on Reclaim Hosting”