Reclaim Phone Home

I was on the ground for Reclaim Video‘s grand opening in Fredericksburg on June 8th, and I’m still reeling from all the goodness. I’ll be posting on numerous elements of Reclaim Video over the next few days, and it probably makes most sense to start with the video rental store’s grand opening, which was paired with the launch of the Summer Movie Nights series. Damn we know how to market things with absolutely no business model attached, but in fact that might end up being the point of this post.

 

Awesome turn out for our first movie night!! ? ?

A post shared by Reclaim Video ? (@reclaimvideo) on


In many ways Reclaim Video started as a healthy mix of nostalgic fantasy and joke. Fantasy because I always wanted to run a video rental store, and joke because nothing could ostensibly be less relevant in this day and age of Netflix and Amazon Video. But as it turns out it’s neither a joke nor a fantasy, but rather a timely inflection point. I’m increasingly convinced Reclaim Video represents a useful cultural analogue for the web on several levels that are worth looking at in more detail (and I plan to), but let it suffice to say for now the predominance of small, mom-and-pop video rental stores before the advent of the corporate monoliths like Blockbuster is one readily apparent comparison; the perceived existential threat home video posed to “brick and mortar” movie theaters; the ability to more easily record, edit, and reproduce media (with the accompanying copyright FUD); the importance of intelligently curated collections (nothing worse than Blockbuster employees being clueless about film and Netflix’s algorithm pimping their own warez); and that’s just a few off the cuff. But the real analogue between the VCR rental store and the web is how it represented an entertaining and relatively unstructured education. In the early 80s a whole generation was suddenly provided libraries of films from the past 50-60 years—in a few short years an entire medium became far more accessible than ever before. It opened up a brave new world of film history to a generation of interested kids. It was an intensive, ongoing education in visual culture and aesthetic taste that a kid was highly unlikely to get in the U.S. K-12 system throughout the 80s. I can probably name the number of movies I watched in K-12 on two hands from 1976-1989 (and it always seemed like we were getting away with something when we did). Yet, the understanding of how film works and what it means to both interpret possible meanings and breaking down filmic syntax are both intellectual and practical skills that have never had more currency given video has become the predominant means of communicating on the web. So, in many ways, Reclaim Video does not seem so much a joke or fantasy when looked at in a certain light, but much more a useful road to wander down to see what happens 🙂

😏

A post shared by Reclaim Video 📼 (@reclaimvideo) on

But, the other part of this equation is that Reclaim Video has also been a way for Reclaim Hosting to deflect any kind of overt, crass marketing of our hosting services. We want to intentionally avoid any of that, while at the same time capturing and communicating the trailing edge technology spirit of Domain of One’s Own. So, even our anti-marketing approach with Reclaim Video is arguably marketing, but its not so much trying to sell you a product as much as foregrounding the role technology plays in shaping the deep cultural valences of mediated education. It’s the culture that provides that shared object of desire that makes so many of the connections and relations possible—and finding analogues in the analog media environment is one way at it.

So, that’s a whole lot of words spent on what promised to be a very straightforward post about Reclaim Video’s grand opening and our first screening in the Summer Movie Nights series, so let me get to those now.

We opened the doors of Reclaim Video less than 6 months after we locked into the idea of actually running a video store (the idea was born over a year ago, but the decision to do it was cemented in December of last year). We have been pretty good about making things happen once we lock-in, and Reclaim Video is no exception in that regard. No detail was left out, right down to the laminated membership cards:

Membership card for @reclaimvideo

A post shared by Jim Groom (@jim.groom) on

And we planned the grand opening alongside a Summer Movie Nights film series to bring folks in and start to create a bit of energy around the idea, and that seems to have worked a treat.

We had a healthy number of folks visit Reclaim Video from 6-7 PM that evening before taking in the feature presentation: E.T. And when all was said and done 32 people came to see the film, which is crazy to me. It was free and open to the public, we served Reese’s Pieces and fresh popcorn (also for free). In July we’ll be showing The Princess Bride, and we already have 4x as much interest as for E.T.—which could mean we are on to something. E.T. holds up quite well 35+ years later, and so much of its genius is in the cultural detail of everything from the toy tie fighter to the Space Invaders t-shirt to the submerged sense of dread and compassion of a family negotiating divorce. It hit the spot, and the idea of having our own makeshift, DIY theater for the community was awesome. In fact, folks in our strip mall noted that Reclaim Video as an actual storefront that does actual things for the community, like a film series, is breathing life into what was essentially a forgotten commercial space. I think the coolest  outcome of all of this would be that we are part of a broader investment back into the local culture that might galvanize some shared sense of the power and meaning of the media that continues to shape us—I guess that’s the new fantasy 🙂

Posted in Reclaim Video | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Reclaim Interview at OER18

I will be catching up on a large number of posts over the next week before I head out for vacation, so the bava firehose is going to be set to full blast!

Kurt Angle Firehose GIF by WWE - Find & Share on GIPHY

One of the things I’ve wanted to share was the following video Jöran Muuß-Merholz recently published of his interview with Reclaim Hosting’s Meredith Fierro and Tim Owens about digital literacy before things take a bizarre turn back to the future of ed-tech.

It’s a solid 10 minute video highlighting a few of the reasons why framing one’s personal online presence around web hosting represents an important shift for higher ed from the various third party, data sucking services that everywhere monetize digital identity. And while I am admittedly biased about both the topic and the folks interviewed, I dig Jöran’s style. He’s an edtech consultant from Germany who really pushes to capture as much of the conversations happening around OER throughout Europe in a variety of media: his blog, podcasts, videos, Twitter, etc.  His intense work ethic and fun-loving spirit are integral to what makes him such a good interviewer, he has a way of getting you to open up and chat more freely. What’s more, he truly produces the media he creates, which takes a ton of time and energy to do right. The above video is a good example of this, he reached out to me during the process to secure a Reclaim Video TV image in order to use the screen to highlight the various topics discussed—which is a really nice touch.

Jöran is one of the many good folks that are thinking through the broad implications of open education for Germany as that country works towards a national policy for OER.* So, special thanks to him for taking the time to sit down with Reclaim at OER18, and helping to make us a small part of that very important conversation.


*Another person doing some important thinking is Christian Friedrich, whose recent post “Is open the new organic?” is well-worth your time.

 

Posted in open education, reclaim, Reclaim Video | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Headless at VCU’s ALT Lab

VCU ALT Lab R&D4EDU

Tim and I had the good fortune to be able to head down to Richmond on Wednesday to catch up with the Research & Development group of VCU’s ALT Lab. We basically sat in awe for over two hours while Tom Woodward and Matt  Roberts (unfortunately the third pillar of this amazing triumvirate, Jeff Everhart, was unavailable) took us through the seemingly endless parade of awesome projects this team has been cranking out for the last year or so. The trip was wild because it struck me that this is what folks must have felt when they visited UMW’s DTLT in 2011 or 2012 when we were in full blown ds106/domains discovery mode—there’s an energy that drives a shared sense of mission and purpose that is so very hard to find (no less sustain) when in comes to any working group—-and this one has it in spades right now. I left there inspired and re-energized. 

R&D4Woodward

I was happy to see my good friend and long-time colleague/collaborator Tom Woodward rise from the ashes of ALT Lab’s re-organization a few years back. Much digital ink has been spilt about thought leaders and their ilk, but nothing can replace a group that finds their rhythm and puts in the work. There is no substitute for that simple formula, and when it happens it’s special and needs to celebrated. So, this is my paean to VCU’s R&4EDU group—and I think I have embarrassed them enough, and I can almost make out Tom muttering “Ayyyy kinda half-way sorta know what I’m doing…” all the way up here in Fredericksburg 🙂

So, let me get specific. I was nothing short of blown away but what they have been able to do with WordPress from afar, and a scan of Tom’s blog posts documents that work quite well. But going there reinforced for me that what VCU has on their hands (whether they know it or not is another thing) is one hell of a web dev group for edtech. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about, which may also help disambiguate my post title. The site they built for VCU’s Digital Sociology program beautifully demonstrates what headless web development means. Let me try and explain, although I think Tim’s recent post on the trip down does a better job illustrating how this group is really walking the walk of intelligent, future forward web development. 

So, what is headless web development? Basically it decouples the forward facing website presentation from where folks author and store data (i.e. the content management system (CMS) and database). So, in the case of the Digital Sociology program site, that content is authored through their WordPress site on Rampages, but that is not where the content is shown. On a different server there are HTML/CSS files that are regularly using the WordPress API to poll the Digital Sociology site on Rampages. What does this mean?  Well, the site is a straight-up HTML that use javascript to call the database using the WordPress API. What’s nice is that should the WordPress site go down for any reason, a cached version of the HTML site would be unaffected. What’s more, you could store a synced JSON file with all the database content on a server that would stand-in almost like a failover switch.

I really appreciated this overview because it has helped me wrap my head around what headless web development means through a tool I know and love (i.e. WordPress) which is part of what made it comprehensible for me. What’s more, it goes a long way towards explaining things like WordPress’s Calypso. The idea of using the WordPress API to republish data in various locations seamlessly suggests some of the possibilities for aggregating and syndicating data many of us have been relying on RSS to accomplish for many a year. And while there has been a lot of talk about these possibilities with APIs, this is one of the first examples I’ve seen where the idea really clicked. So, all this to say kudos to the Research & Development for EDU group at VCU’s ALT Lab, the force is strong with you all. And there is much more to say about there work, but let me stop here lest this post never see the light of day.

Posted in WordPress | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Swimming in a Digital Ocean of Love

Yesterday Digital Ocean published a customer story featuring Reclaim Hosting. It was nice. A month ago Tim and I talked with Lisa Tagliaferri (a CUNY Grad Center alum-I love CUNY!) who is keenly interested in framing the power and possibility of Digital Ocean for the education community—a vision I can definitely get behind. She though Reclaim Hosting’s move to Digital Ocean might provide a solid case study, and we were happy to oblige because we have nothing but love for Digital Ocean. Not only have they made the process of spinning up and managing infrastructure simple, they allow us to geolocate servers, they have amazing guides and tutorials, and they even dropped their prices this year. Hard not to love all that.

So we had a discussion with Lisa to articulate why we’ve been so happy with Digital Ocean, and while the reasons are myriad (as mentioned above), probably the single most important element for us has been the introduction of block storage a couple of years ago. Mounting additional storage to droplets has meant we could move all of our shared hosting and Domain of One’s Own instances to DO, and over the last year that is exactly what we have done. We have just a few more servers to migrate over the coming months, and by the end of 2018 we will have completed what has been an almost two year-long migration schedule.

That feels good, but it’s by no means the only advantage. Beyond scaling CPU and storage instantaneously—which you come to expect of cloud solutions—the ability to geo-locate servers around the world has become increasingly important for us with increased interest in Domains from schools in Canada and Europe. But the thing that remains special to me about Digital Ocean is their work epitomizes the challenge of making something that has heretofore been extremely complex (not only with dedicated servers, but through other cloud providers like AWS) quite simple and intuitive. Digital Ocean provides a peek at a future where managing your own personal cyber-infrastructure will not be that much more difficult that setting up your own WordPress site.  I do like the schematics they provide (even if Reclaim Hosting’s is dead simple), and they do a great job in the article of breaking down how and why we use Digital Ocean. I personally could not be more happy with our choice to move there, and cannot recommend them highly enough to other ed-tech folks who are in a position of managing their infrastructure externally, I can’t imagine a more painless alternative.

Posted in reclaim | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kes

When I was in London at the end of April I had the good fortune of stumbling into a showing of Ken Loach‘s second feature film, Kes (1969), at the British Film Institute (BFI). It’s my second time at the BFI, I was there last April and caught a couple of films of Ranier Werner Fassbinder retrospective. and I really do love that theater. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the BAMCinematek at the Brooklyn Academy of Music which has similarly amazing programming. Kes was part of a five film retrospective dedicated to Woodfall Film Productions, the production company that produced such classics as Look Back in Anger (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), and  Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1962)—films these part of the kitchen sink realism movement of the 50s and 60s that focused their narratives on the contemporary struggles of the working class. They were screening all 3 films I just mentioned, as well as Tom Jones (1963) and Kes. I had only seen Look Back in Anger and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (which I would have re-watched in a second), but I got lucky enough to catch Kes.

Kes is a fairly simple story about a poor kid (Billy) from a Yorkshire mining town who finds and trains a kestrel. The accents in this film are insane, and it was all but impossible to understand most of what they said, but that didn’t really matter. It was at once a realistic depiction of this fifteen year old boy’s limited possibilities given his economic realities (the miners in the area were then the lowest paid workers in a developed country at the time) and the institutions that everywhere define him as hopeless as a result. At the same time the film balances this stark realism with an impressionistic vision of freedom and possibility in and through his relationship with nature. Some of the scenes of Billy running through the woods and training his falcon are truly transporting—almost fable-like. 

Image credit: BFI

But maybe one of the best scenes in any film I’ve seen in a long while is the one where you have an 8-minute soccer game that features a vainglorious, middle-aged phys ed teacher whose sadism is only matched by his narcissism. It manages to be an absolutely hysterical vignette of this character while at the same time underscoring the relentless abuses and injustices these kids are faced with on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, school becomes the single most important institution these kids lives, and it is during a moment of corporal punishment in the headmasters office (a painful scene wherein the rod is not spared) the generational struggle that defined the 1960s is brilliantly dealt within by highlighting the headmaster’s genuine confusion and removal from the struggles these kids face.

As I was surfing around about the movie, I found that it held the 7th spot amongst the top 100 British films as ranked by the BFI. Given how vividly the film has stuck with me since seeing it, I can understand the praise. It was also ranked in the top 10 amongst 50 films your kids should see before the age of 14 (an interesting list, I thought).

But Twitter had other ideas, and I do agree about Porky’s! I have plans of getting this VHS (or Beta or Laserdisc) for Reclaim Video, because we are actually starting to put together a healthy kids section—although Kes is for anyone who understands Hungarian fluently 🙂

Posted in film, movies, Reclaim Video | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

25 Years of EdTech: 2008 – EDUPUNK!

Image of DaftPunk style EDUPUNK label.

I really appreciate Martin Weller allowing me to take the reins of his 25 Years of EdTech series for 2008. It was a leap of faith for him to agree, but I think he realized that sometimes ed-tech’s history has to be told from the vantage point of the radical. Consider this blog intervention akin to The People’s History of Ed-Tech. What’s more, the timing could not be more perfect. Not only does the Europe’s General Data Protection Rights (GDPR) legislation go into effect today (empowering folks to reclaim their online data), but May 25th 2018 also marks the 10 year anniversary of the 2008 blog post heard around the EdTech world: “The Glass Bees.” That’s right, this blog’s fifteen minutes of fame was the post that introduced the term EDUPUNK which was a play on EDUCAUSE that Brian Lamb and I dreamed up together over drinks in Brooklyn, a few days later and a late-night manic blog post led to a small ripple on the web to EDUPUNK being declared a neologism by Wired. 

The concept was pretty simple, take back the online spaces where teaching and learning happens from the dreary, florescent-lighted discussion boards of the Learning Management Systems (VLE for all you British geezers). Reclaim a sense of ownership and experimentation within educational technology and explore the possibilities—this was at the very beginning of the long trend of university IT departments wholesale outsourcing of everything from email (the beginning) to the LMS (just about done). One of the casualties of this era of institutional IT was that were very few options for experimenting with the new wave of Web 2.0 tools that were all the rage. It’s easy now to look back and discount the fervor around Web 2.0, but the options around personal publishing were exploding and most universities offered little beyond the LMS—which prompted companies like Blackboard to provide the “Next Generation” or learning tools like blogs and wikis that were little more than a re-styled discussion board. The publishing revolution truly was happening outside the university IT departments (and by extension educational institutions more generally) which prompted a subset of folks in ed-tech to cobble together alternatives, self-host open source applications, and generally provide a culture for edtech outside the mainstreamed LMS. In the end, EDUPUNK was ed-tech’s Web 2.0 culture war, which admittedly seems quaint after Gamergate. The web’s problems seem far more existential and complex ten years later, but a tributary of resistance in edtech might be found in that short-lived fervor around a divisive term that would be a brief glimpse into the issues that would come to define the field in 2018.

Where are they now?  Well there was an independent documentary created by Cogdog tracing the roots of this cultural missed opportunity—it should fill you in on all the sordid details:

Happy 10th birthday EDUPUNK! And big fan Weller, with all the smirking apologies an edtech punk can muster 🙂

Posted in 25yearsedtech, edupunk, fun | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Hosting Futures

Yesterday I was part of a call between Reclaim Hosting, Cloudron, and Bates College to talk about what piloting a mashup of LAMP and Docker-container based hosting might look like for Bates’s newest academic program Digital and Computational Studies (DCS). It’s a fascinating program, and description below gives you an idea of what this program is all about:

It is neither a computer science department, nor a data science program, nor media studies, nor a digital humanities program… but instead, a bit of all of these. DCS is charged with bringing academic computing to the full breadth of the liberal arts at Bates.

This means that we hope to develop a program that introduces students to the fundamentals of programming, but also provides computational/digital space for students, regardless of discipline, to discover the intersection of their course of study and the networked, computational world that field is now and forever steeped in.

I really dig this description, the idea of making the fundamentals of programming and computational thinking the foundation of an interdisciplinary program seems truly unique. I was asked by a college-age student in Berlin a couple of weeks back what I would recommend in terms of programs, and I have to say this one strikes me as a very interesting disciplinary approach to the digital world. The first of what’s soon to be a triumvirate of faculty, Matthew Jadud, has a Computer Science background and studies the behaviour of novice programmers, and this summer mathematician Carrie Diaz Eaton (who focuses on Mathematical Ecology) and long-time Davidson Domains champion and historian Anelise Shrout (focusing on nineteenth-century American History and Digital Humanities) will be joining the program’s faculty.

To support this new program, they’re looking for a unique approach to infrastructure. They want to provide everything from publishing software like WordPress to integrated development environments (IDE) like Amazon’s Cloud9 or Eclipse CHE—with various options and offerings in-between. While a LAMP environment can take care of publishing apps like WordPress, Omeka, Scalar, etc. web-based programming environments open up a whole new world, as do applications like Etherpad, Gitlab, Rocket.chat, etc. So, this is where working with Cloudron to integrate their supported applications through our current Domain of One’s Own setup would be awesome. It will require thinking through managing user permissions, but enabling container-based apps would significantly augment our current hosting options.

During this discussion Carrie Diaz Eaton shared the work she has been part of with QUBES: “a community of math and biology educators who share resources and methods for preparing students to tackle real, complex, biological problems.” QUBES is built on top of a project that came out of Purdue University called HUBzero, a service which provides focused community sites, course spaces, open educational resource sharing, and access to applications used heavily in the sciences, such as R, Latex, Jupyter Notebooks, etc. That last bit blew me away, HUBzero effectively allows faculty to setup a course space and provide their students access to open source tools for various kinds of scientific data analysis with software like R-Studio, NetLogo, Mesquite, etc.

While Carrie was talking I was reminded how firmly Reclaim Hosting is planted in the Digital Humanities community—which has been very awesome to us. But seeing QUBES and how many focused tools exist for the sciences that I have no clue about was a wake up call. The world seemed big again.. What’s more, realizing instances like QUBES run on top of HUBZero re-focused the discussion to disciplinary communities sharing resources for teaching and learning (the tools being one part of that equation) which pointed to a more vertically integrated stack for courses. HUBzero is effectively providing a very targeted LMS for particular courses that expose their students to a range of tools in order to do the work. HUBzero sets up the server environments and does all the integrations—and from what I can tell this is possible based on a foundation model that looks for other schools to join and help support the initiative. I’m not sure they also offer one-off hosting for such communities,  but that is something I’ll try and follow-up on.

In fact, there is most definitely a bunch I’m missing and/or misunderstanding about all of this, but after hearing Matt explain what they are looking for as part of their DCS program and seeing the work Carrie has already been apart of it struck me that these virtual, cloud-based hosted environments for web-based programming, data analysis, and publishing are already happening (Reclaim is just one of them), the question that interests me is which of them will be able to make the process of integrating these environments for a campus clean, easy, and elegant. It will be interesting to watch (and hopefully participate in) the shaping of this next generation of online hosted learning environments. And from what I have seen there will be no one ring to rule them all, but thoughtful integrations to make them seamlessly work together.

Posted in reclaim | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Samson Would Have Laughed

Over a week ago Adam Croom reached out to Tim and I to help him make a game for Keegan Long-Wheeler, who is presently convalescing from brain surgery. We were asked to create a short video of us responding to a support ticket regarding Keegan’s blog not working, and if that may somehow be related to his recent hair loss as a result of the surgery.*  I was dragging my ass on this a bit, though as often happens in my Reclaimed life Tim was not.  He locked in and created his short video and the gauntlet had been thrown. It was a mini-masterpiece of sysadmin roleplaying. Not since the sysadmin from the 2001 heist film The Score, has sysadmin aping been this good:

Don’t believe me? take a minute of your life and see for yourself:

Tim left no stone unturned, he had everything: the glasses, the Mountain Dew, living in mom’s basement, and most of all that special sysadmin arrogance 🙂 After seeing his masterpiece I was actually relieved because I knew there was no way I could match it, no less top it (something I have gotten used to working with Tim), and I just played the hits—throwing in my youngest son for cute points:

Tommaso’s performance steals the show, and I’m pretty much a caricature of myself talking smack on OER,  a stretch as you can imagine.

Doing this short video was a blast, and you can play Adam’s game here. It does remind me of how much fun these videos can be. I used to do a lot more of this stuff, and with Reclaim Video I am hoping to return to more of this. I have a few ideas for some video projects in the works, and we are bringing Michael Branson Smith down to Fredericksburg next month to get this party started 🙂


*Although it’s not really hair loss when they shave it for a surgery—trust me, I know this much and his locks will grow back!

Posted in fun, video, YouTube | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Changing URLs in WordPress Database via Command Line

I am learning the art of a sysadmin is not so much knowing how to do something, but rather how to do something quicker via command line 🙂 I transferred a cPanel account the other day from one domain to a different domain, and I needed to update all the URLs across 3 or 4 different WordPress sites.  Traditional I would export the database, do a copy and paste in TextWrangler, then re-upload the SQL file. For four different WordPress sites that begins to get laborious. But then I remembered the trick Tim showed me when we were doing the UNLV migration a little while back. WordPress now has a command line interface (CLI) tool, and Tim showed me how to use it to do a find and replace on the database. You would need to be in the root directory of the WordPress site when running the following:

The above command would replace all instances of jimgroom.net in the WordPress database with jimgroom.com. I ran this command 4 times in about 5 seconds and more than 1000 URLs were instantly updated. It would have taken me 10-15 minutes minimum to exporting, find & replace, and then import the databases for 4 sites—and let’s face it, doing it in a few seconds firing off some command line code just makes me look more serious. Kinda like Timmmmyboy playing the sysdmin in Adam Croom’s Hair game 🙂

Posted in sysadmin, WordPress | 2 Comments

Reclaim’s VHS Splash

Bryan Mathers‘s developed a VHS splash page for Reclaim Hosting, and we really, really like it. I’ll let him explain the details, while I just revel in its beauty. I will note that the title on the VHS tape is automatically generated based on the domain someone signs up for, so before they install anything in the root of their domain, this is what they will see:

Who has more character than Reclaim Hosting, you ask? #NOBODY!!!!

Posted in reclaim | Tagged , | Leave a comment