Reclaim Today: Tape Action Outside!

Last night I finally got back on the Reclaim Today train. The show has been on hiatus during September given the new semester was in full swing, but Reclaim Hosting is starting to come up for air and we all know the show must go on!

I’m pretty excited about this episode cause it connects a couple of things we’ve done over the last few years, with this blog being a touchstone. Back in May I got the following email from John Grahame:

Dear Professor Groom,
 

On your bavatuesdays “Total Recall” blog from Feb 28, 2015 <https://bavatuesdays.com/total-recall-panasonic-omnivision-vcr/> you post a jpeg of a 1981 Montgomery Ward ad for Panasonic VCRs. The bottom VCR separates the tuner and the VCR to enable the user to “Tape action outside!” I bought one of those (for about $1,050!) in 1981. I still have it and it still works. Looks nice, too. Do you have any idea if there is anyone out there who would be interested in preserving items like these? I guess I’m thinking in terms of a museum of technology of something like that. I’m 70 years old now and am feeling the need to find ways for certain things I own to have a future.

Thanks,  

Do I have any idea of someone who would be interested? You bet! The post from this here old blog, THE BAVA, was from 2015 and was part of my documentation of the UMW Console exhibit we created at UMW. It highlighted my purchase of an early 80s Panasonic Omnivision VHS player—which was the player my family had while I was growing up. It was (and still is) an awesome learning machine. In many ways it was an anchor of the 80s exhibit in my mind because it brought me back to the video 80s that were so formative. So, John’s email had me right away, and the image he is referring to with the dual unit from a Montgomery Ward catalogue was part of that post:

This was mobile video in 1981! Turns out this machine is a 1980s Panasonic Omnivision with Tuner and Recorder—and the tagline “Tape Action Outside!” provides a sense of the arrival of mass consumer portable video from the early 80s. When John shared the original manual and receipt it felt that much more real, technology with a very personal history.

$1300 in 1982 for this technology

I immediately responded to John with interest and we soon after got on a call wherein I explained Reclaim Video as an extension of the idea we started with the UMW Console in 2015. He was thrilled to contribute, and at this very moment the Panasonic Omnivision PV-4510  is en route to Fredericksburg to discover its new home in Reclaim Video. It’s due to arrive today, so hopefully pictures will follow.

But even better than the machine were John’s stories of exploring video in the early 70s throughout the 1980s. He started exploring video while a student at UMass in 1970 with Sony’s Portapak. I was not familiar with the Portapak and I looked it up after talking with John back in Spring, and it was a relatively inexpensive setup at $1500 in 1967 for this kind of technology (I was way off in the episode thinking I saw the price point at $120 or so, but it sounded as wrong as it was—so never trust me).

Image of Sony's portable video unit "Portapak" from 1967

Sony’s portable video unit “Portapak” from 1967

The Portapak is interesting because as John noted, UMass had ten of them lying around, and given no one was using them he was able to hold onto it for two years and basically turn his mass communication papers into video papers. What’s more, from the Wikipedia article, the advent of this tecchnology during the political turmoil fo the late 60s meant it was being used by artists and activists alike to capture that moment:

The introduction of the Portapak had a great influence on the development of video artguerrilla television, and activism. Video collectives such as TVTV and the Videofreex utilized Portapak technology to document countercultural movements apart from the Big Three television networks. The Portapak was also a crucial technology for the Raindance Foundation, a collective consisting of artists, academics, and scientists, motivated by the potential of the Portapak and video to develop alternative forms of communication.[4] Because of its relative affordability and immediate playback capability, the Portapak provided artists, experimenters, and social commentators the ability to make and distribute videos apart from well-funded production companies.

It’s interesting to think that the introduction of video to a mass market was as far back as the 1960s, and John’s career as a video producer ranges from the 70s through the 80s when he got to work with Francis Ford Coppola on One From the Heart (1982). While often remembered as the film that sunk Zoetrope Studios financially,  it is also remembered as a pioneering exploration of using video to create a film. Here’s a bit of context from the Previsualization Wikipedia article:

The most comprehensive and revolutionary use of new technology to plan movie sequences came from Francis Ford Coppola, who in making his 1982 musical feature One From the Heart, developed the process he called “electronic cinema”. Through electronic cinema Coppola sought to provide the filmmaker with on-set composing tools that would function as an extension of his thought processes.[1] For the first time, an animatic would be the basis for an entire feature film. The process began with actors performing a dramatic “radio-style” voice recording of the entire script. Storyboard artists then drew more than 1800 individual storyboard frames.[1] These drawings were then recorded onto analog videodisks and edited according to the voice recordings.[8] Once production began, video taken from the video tap of the 35 mm camera(s) shooting the actual movie was used to gradually replace storyboarded stills to give the director a more complete vision of the film’s progress.[8]

Instead of working with the actors on set, Coppola directed while viewing video monitors in the “Silverfish” (nickname) Airstream trailer, outfitted with then state-of-the-art video editing equipment.[9] Video feeds from the five stages at the Hollywood General Studios were fed into the trailer, which also included an off-line editing system, switcher, disk-based still store, and Ultimatte keyers. The setup allowed live and/or taped scenes to be composited with both full size and miniature sets.[8]

John relates his experience filming Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski on the streets of Las Vegas without permits on the streets of Las Vegas in video. How cool is that, and here is an image of John (the man with the camera) and Coppola during the shoot:

John Grahame with Francis Ford Coppola while shooting One from the Heart in video

These connections blew my mind, and I knew I wanted to have John on an episode of Reclaim Today once we started it cause this kind of insight to the long history of video during the 60s, 70s, and 80s was a big part of why I was so excited about Reclaim Video, and here is that history being recounted by one who worked intimately within it. What’s more, it provided another moment to reflect on that bit at the end of the documentary Heart of Darkness wherein Coppola has a pretty brilliant of vision of what the advent of cheap, ubiquitous access to video could do for movies as an art form.

The long history of video just became that much more interesting to me, thanks John!

Blogging at Scale with Google Sheets

When you go directly from several weeks of work travel into the beginning of the semester rush at Reclaim Hosting, the bava.blog necessarily gets neglected. But that changes now!

Back on August 22nd Tim and I sat down with John Stewart to talk about his ingenius work to use Google Sheets to enable near on 1000 students in University of Oklahoma’s biggest lecture classroom to blog at scale. Pretty brilliant to use Google Sheets as a kind of  WordPress Multisite stand-in wherein Google manages scaling the infrastructure for you. In this, the 8th episode of Reclaim Today, we discuss this experiment in detail, and I was really enthusiastic because it felt like a really creative and useful way to imagine getting a class using a simple form to blog up and running with very little financial overhead. Fast cheap, and out-of-control: edtech at its best.

You can read the first and second of the three post series John promised, and the video was recorded on location at Reclaim Video and comes in at a very manageable 23 minutes with a couple of the best looking ed-techs this side of proprietary. Here is the synopsis in case you need a more objective reason to watch:

Jim and Tim sit down with John Stewart of the University of Oklahoma to discuss a recent solution he blogged about in which he’s using Google Spreadsheets and APIs to drive a fast and scalable blogging infrastructure to support a course with 1,000 students.

And if you come away with nothing else, it should be mad kudos for John Stewart for a really creative, relatively light-weight  solution to a potentially expensive and resource intensive problem, the term innovation gets thrown around way too loosely but it makes resonates for me in this case.

The Life and Death of the Blog

On the heels of a transatlantic journey I sat down with Tim Owens to discuss the fate of academic blogging in the wake of Harvard University’s  announcement of their shuttering their blogging system. This is our seventh episode of Reclaim Today, so we are start to track some mileage with this. The discussion was far-ranging, and I really do enjoy chatting with Tim about this stuff, but I think my “hot take” was that the shutting down of Harvard Blogs is less about the death of academic blogging platforms as it is the passage of the idea of blogging from the margin to the center. The idea that fueled the vision of the blog in the early aughts has come to how we expect the web to work now:reverse chronological, stream-driven, news-based, etc. And with WordPress driving 30% of websites, I think there is more than enough data to support this claim.

But some of the interesting questions Harvard’s statement about the closing of the system brings up a range of topics around archiving this work, the role of academic blogs in forging digital identities, questions of ownership and copyright, etc. We covered a bunch of these and more, and it made for yet another top quality production from the amazing folks at Reclaim Hosting, namely me.

Reclaim’s Dedicated to Virtual Infrastructure

Tim and I did a Reclaim Today show to celebrate the fact our infrastructure is now entirely hosted on virtual servers, and predominantly Digital Ocean at this point. We talked a bit about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in terms of infrastructure, and I love the idea of capturing some of this more formally as it happens. The final to dedicated server migrations this weekend (Joy Division and Beat Happening) turned out to be more cumbersome than we imagined, but that’s behind us and we are now closer than ever to the Lawnmower Man infrastructure we’ve been dreaming of! I guess the next step is serverless, to quote an awesome post by Tony Hirst—want to get him on an episode of Reclaim Today this week to talk about BinderHub and more. So, it feels to me that Reclaim Today is kinda finding it stride, and like anything it’s all about laying the bricks and doing the work.

Zeit Here, Zeit Now: Watching the WWW Wake Up to Container Hosting

It was a pretty busy week at Reclaim Hosting, and I am up early on a Saturday morning working on the final migrations of our shared hosting infrastructure to Digital Ocean. Bye, bye ReliableSite! It has been a very productive summer when it comes to infrastructure, and folks are still reclaiming and domaining so no complaints from the bava. We also continue to make headway on Reclaim Today, our live video show highlighting stuff we’re interested in, working  on, dreaming about, etc. Yesterday’s episode was a 25 minute discussion about Now (which I keep calling Zeit Now because the domain is zeit.co/now) which is a hosting environment that makes it dead simple to host Docker containers on the web. We used the episode as an occasion to work through Now, and talk about our own dreams for container-based hosting at Reclaim. I discovered Now thanks to the following Tweet from ed-tech’s mole from the future, Tony Hirst:

I then played with it briefly, but was fumbling around with Docker on my desktop and ran into issues get a Shiny server running. I abandoned the project, but this episode allowed me to get a clearer understanding of what Now can do, how it differs from Cloudron, and what it could mean from faculty, researchers, edtech, and students who want to spin up container -based apps on the quick.  I also liked this episode a lot because I think it encapsulates pretty well how Tim and I have been working together these last 7 or 8 years. It’s been such a fun and funny relationship in so many ways, and capturing some of that on Reclaim Today seems to be just one of many reasons it feels so good.