Reclaim Arcade: If You Will It It is No Dream

While I was on vacation Tim shared the following images of his progress re-populating the Reclaim HQ with our 45+ old school video game cabinets. You see, back in March we had emptied the space in preparation for major construction to convert the space into Reclaim Arcade: a 3,000 square foot restaurant, bar, and arcade—complete with 1980s living room and video store. You can imagine what happened next, COVID-19 laughed at our grandiose plans and dreams. Although all was not lost, the virus hit before we finalized any contracting plans so we fortunately avoided any more significant financial obligations. Sheer luck, but we’ll take it. What’s more, we turned our attention to something we could control: Reclaim Cloud.

Reclaim Arcade Nintendo Wall

Reclaim Arcade’s Nintendo Row (with the back wall of Phoenix, Tron, Gyruss, and Outrun)

So, when Tim shared the images in this post last week it felt like REDEMPTION! I could immediately see how amazing a significantly dialed-back vision would look. The space was transformed into a full blown arcade consisting of all the games we collected over the last two years. It was a much needed salvo for the soul, because Tim and I have been hurting since the arcade was placed on indefinite hold. Did I already say the space looks amazing? And that’s without any of the planned work which would have added two more bathrooms, a kitchen, self-pouring taps, and expand the main room another 250-300 square feet  with a multi-use conference/party room. But even without the vision we imagined (which I still believe is amazing and may happen one day) we have a very serviceable arcade for a fraction of what we were prepared to spend.

Reclaim Hosting Atari Wall

Reclaim Hosting’s Atari Wall (and Karate Champ)

So the idea of an OG arcade sans restaurant, self-pouring taps, major construction, etc. has returned. In the end this is a passion project, and Tim and I were willing to go all the way with our original vision, but given the state of the world it only makes sense to ratchet back that vision for the time being. What’s more, given we are not over committed we can wait to open when it’s safe again.

Some Taito, Stern, and Gottlieb

Sundry Taito, Stern, Atari, and Gottlieb cabinets

So, wait we will. In the meantime we’ll need to reach out to Ryan Seslow for some wall mural action and perhaps build a bar and do some small work here and there, but we’ll absolutely be inviting the public to play some OG video games once it’s safe to do so.

Reclaim Hosting Midway line-up

Reclaim Hosting Midway line-up

What’s nice for me is that will mean a trip back to re-create the living room and re-stock the video store, which will be an opportunity to spend some focused time curating the movie selections on the shelf, as well as mix in some laserdiscs and Select-a-vision titles. I also have my eye on a mid-90s 27″ or 32″ Sony Trinitron TV, and I have some ideas for a more custom entertainment center so I can switch between Beta, VHS, Selectavision, and laserdisc more seamlessly.

Reclaim Hosting's Williams Wall

Seeing all the games also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the list of games we wanted to get, and turns out we are doing quite well. After Utah we scratched off Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace because as cool as they look, the gameplay is crap and they’re almost better designed for a tablet. What’s more, we got a Star Wars stand-up (which I still haven’t played) because we could no longer stomach paying over $5K for a sit down Star Wars cabinet (especially given it’s a bit tight for men of a certain age 🙂 ). I think the only holy grail I would consider at this point is Discs of Tron, although that is as rare as common sense in US politics. But, unlike the Star Wars sit down cabinet, it’s an enclosed standing cabinet and the game play is awesome.

Reclaim Hosting multi-player pod

Reclaim Hosting multi-player pod

At this point the only games I would lvoe to get (I can’t speak for Tim here given he is all in on pinball) are Paperboy, Venture, Moon Patrol, Ikari Warriors, Scramble, and Pleiades.* Also, I wouldn’t say no to Double Dragon or Ghosts and Goblins, though I want no part of Ghouls and Goblins after playing it in Utah. There are some others like Pooyan and Roc ‘n Rope that hold a special place in my heart, but they’re by no means pressing. So wait, does this mean we are back on the arcade cabinet market, Timmmmyboy? #4life

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*Yie-Ar Kung-fu was on this wish list, but I bought it from a kind soul in Virginia Beach as the virus was taking hold, and they have held on to it for me until I can get back Stateside and bring it home to Reclaim Arcade!

Posted in Reclaim Arcade, video games | Tagged | Leave a comment

Summer Summit 2020 KaraOERke Setup Update

I wrote about my KaraOERke setup a couple of days ago, but after some testing with my co-hosts Chahira and Tim I need to make some updates to my original setup. Seems like Zoom wins over Jitsi for video conferencing for a few reasons:

  1. The ability to move the video of the participant where ever you like in Zoom works much better for the OBS stream. Jitsi seems to want to keep whoever is sharing their screen as the featured video, rather than who is talking/singing.
  2. Zoom’s option to share your audio when screen sharing is proving to be crucial for enabling those karaoke-ing to share both their screen and audio. This solves at least two issues: it stops the audio from auto-ducking which is a built-in feature for both Jitsi and Zoom and it prevents the video thumbnail of the singer cutting away to whomever is running the video conferencing room (pinning the video is a crucial feature).
  3. Finally, if the singer shares their video and audio, there is no perceivable lag. It makes the experience better, and given a few of us will be co-hosting we can coach folks through making sure they fullscreen their shared Youtube video while reminding them to share their audio when screen sharing.

So, it does appear that Zoom wins the day. I wanted to use Jitsi, but the ability for users to share both their screen and audio in Zoom is an indispensable feature for karaoke.

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

Playing in the Cloud: Integrating Etherpad with Jitsi

One of the first things Tim showed me when we starting using Jitsi internally was the ability to integrate Etherpad Lite. I wanted to give it a try given I am working on demoing fully open source replacement for Zoom/Google Docs/Slack with Jitsi/Etherpad/Mattermost. I am now officially 2/3 of the way there 🙂

So, I already have both an Etherpad and Jitsi app running in Reclaim Cloud thanks to our handy-dandy one-click apps in the Cloud marketplace. After that Tim shared this guide in the Reclaim Hosting Community forums for integrating my Etherpad with Jitsi, and it worked a treat. When you click on the “Open shared document”…

… and voilà, now you have a blank Etherpad page that anyone on the call can edit directly from the Jitsi browser tab.

So, I added the KaraOERke instructions to the document which folks on the call can edit (though read-only is an option), it also has a link or an embed code.


You also have the option to import/export text and HTML files right from Jitsi. So, effectively full Etherpad functionality within Jitsi.

I really like the way this works, and through Jitsi you can also livestream to Youtube, I have not found other options yet, but given it is open source software I am sure they are not far off. I would love to be able to stream the Jitsi instance directly to ds106.tv.

The last piece of this open source remote teaching trifecta is Mattermost, I am going to dig in some more on that and see would integrating Etherpad and Jitsi into Mattermost looks like. But until then, you can always try this out for yourself using the 14-day free trial at Reclaim Cloud.

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

KaraOERke Summer Summit 2020

As an update, turns out Zoom will work better than Jitsi in this instance, and I explain why in this follow-up post here.

I spent a bit of time this afternoon getting my rig setup for the KaraOERke event that will be part of ALT’s Summer Summit at the end of August. We Tim Owens did the KaraOERke event for OER20 in April and I guess it went over well enough for them to ask us back. But to ensure we won’t be asked yet again, I decided to take the reins on this go-round 🙂

Online Karaoke is a blast, and a few people outside the conference also wanted us to do this on the regular during lockdown. We were considering it, but the push for Reclaim Cloud made it hard to do just about anything else. But now that the Cloud’s officially launched, we have a bit more time to play again. I jumped at the opportunity to run it this time around for ALT because a) they rule; b) online karaoke rules; and c) now that I have fiber I think I can run the whole thing more seamlessly. But I’m still leaning on Tim, in fact just before I went on vacation last week I got some tips from him and today I finally got the time to give it a shot. Below are some half-baked notes on how I did it. I will document this further given it’s a first pass, but the initial feedback from Alex Master’s was promising:

Here are the tools I used:

  • Jitsi for video conferencing;
  • Loopback to mix together and route audio sources;
  • OBS to manage multiple video and audio sources and streaming to ds106.tv;
  • and YouTube for the karaoke videos.

Jitsi is my preferred video conferencing tool, and it’s where folks will go to actually karaoke. The link to the room will be private and/or password protected to ensure no unexpected, potty-mouthed visitors. Here’s the link to the general guidelines for folks Karaoking that Tim wrote-up and I slightly modified it for this event. Folks will sign-up for there song on that Google Doc, and then I will queue up in Jitsi as their turn comes up. I may have Martin Hawksey help me manage some of that wrangling of folks behind the scenes, Tim made it look easy at OER20, but have a sense there are a few moving parts.

So, an important element when getting your video conferencing tools setup is making sure you have a virtual audio setup through a tool like Loopback that will allow the person singing to hear the music on the Youtube video.* As pictured above, Loopback routes and mixes audio from my Mic and Google’s Chrome browser into it’s own virutal output that I have titled OBS Audio. This will allow folks to hear both my mic as well as anything coming through Chrome, which is where the YouTube video with the lyrics and background music will be playing. In order to ensure anyone in Jitsi can hear the video I need to make sure the Output (Speakers) audio is using the Loopback virtual audio feed called OBS Audio:

I can also use the OBS Virtual Input for my Microphone given it is part of the virtual feed, but I have to test that when I have someone else on the Jitsi meet instance—so more to come on this bit.

Now to pull in the Youtube video using the Share screen tab, which creates a very clean look. The above example is just a music video from PiL, but imagine it as a Youtube video with Karaoke lyrics and the video box to the lower-right featuring the Karaoke participant. Kinda like this:

Jitsi setup as full screen tab in the Chrome browser.

Now, with OBS we can create the Jitsi tab as its own shot. Which, to simplify things, I will be making its own scene called Monitor 1. This scene has the #ds106tv lower third text, the OBS Audio input from Loopback, and the Laptop Display of Monitor 1 (you’ll notice the Laptop Webcam is turned off as a source given Jitsi is doing that for me).

I also have a full screen scene in OBS for when I want to cut away from the karaoke and get things set for the next song. This scene has three sources: the Laptop Webcam, the OBS Audio from Loopback, and the #ds106tv lower third.

I created a third scene in OBS called Living Room which is a 1980s Living Room scene, this also has several of the same sources such as OBS Audio from Loopback, #ds106tv lower third, my webcam (video capture device) in the space of the OG TV, and finally there’s a background image of the UMW Console Living Room that creates the illusion of depth.

I know I am glossing over OBS and how to set these scenes up, but these notes would be even more unreadable if I tried to discuss setting up scenes and sources, so take a look at this intro tutorial Tim did a few months back for more on OBS.

So, we now have Jitsi setup to manage the karaoke lyrics video and the video of the participant. Loopback brings the audio into Jitsi so the participant can hear the video they will be singing along to. Moving to OBS, you can create multiple shots with various display captures and source inputs that make the whole process more seamless, just make sure the audio input is consistent across all scenes. Once you have that setup, OBS is also the tool you would use to stream it out on the web, for me that would be  ds106.tv. But it could just as well be Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, IGTV, etc.

I’ll be testing this out with Chahira singing Against All Odds tomorrow at 5 Pm CET, so come check it out. I will also be trying to cross cast to #ds106radio because I can!

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*I did note that Jitsi has a Youtube viewer built-in that might take care of sharing audio for any other participants without routing audio, but I will have to test that theory.

Posted in digital storytelling, ds106tv, video, YouTube | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

7 Years of Reclaim Hosting

Seven is one of those numbers. I have written before about thinking of my life movements in blocks of seven years. Just about every seven years of my adult life a major change comes a long: seven years in LA, seven years back in NYC, 10 years in Fredericksburg (that’s where it may seem to break down a bit, but I’ll explain), and now going on five years in bella Italia. But before you throw me under the bus for bad math, I believe I can close the gap between the 10 years in Freddy and the 4+ year in Trento. You see, for almost three of those years in Virginia I was working with the great Tim Owens to hatch the plan and then build what is Reclaim Hosting. This is something we codified at city hall on this day in 2013, and for that I am still ever thankful. What’s more, this logic preserves my theory that major life transitions happen every seven years, and this is the one that has made all the little transitions over that 7 year period, like moving to Italy, possible. Long live Reclaim!


So, are you with me? Are you ready to buy my self-help book called Seven Years to a New You? I’ll host regular webinars, get you on my mailing list, and even keynote your kid’s seventh birthday party, you can never start becoming a successful business person too young!

More seriously, I have already written about Reclaim’s Lucky Seven which praises the brilliant team of seven we are right now, and how much ass we are kicking on a daily basis. YEAH!

But the other piece I think about a lot is the road to get here. I remember sometime in 2014 when it seemed that Reclaim might be a bit more than Tim running a single shared hosting server for a thousand people off the side of his desk for $12 a pop. There was a moment that year when things changed for sure, but I already wrote that long short history.

The thing I am thinking about these days is how long it took Tim and I to become expendable. To be clear, Tim and I are still very much a part of the day-to-day, but if we weren’t I think Reclaim is now in a situation where that would not be a show stopper. While I have always been replaceable, there are still a few things in Tim’s head we probably need to extract, but apart from that we have all but operationalized the work we do at Reclaim Hosting. This is a gigantic achievement, thanks in great part to Lauren Brumfield‘s organizational acumen! Because once you move beyond the “big idea,”  drumming up interest, and the long, ongoing work of supporting folks, the real challenge and power of a small company like Reclaim is to create an organizational framework where others can join the culture and thrive. That is arguably the biggest challenge a company faces after it has a modicum of success; the ability to move beyond the mentality of everything depends on what’s in this person’s head or how this person frames it, etc. To last it needs to move beyond the “cult” of the founders and become a shared vision that everyone feels they can join in, take up, and make theirs.

When I was talking to Martha Burtis about Reclaim back in 2014 or so I remember her suggesting that you can’t run a business always doing all the work. This is a fuzzy paraphrase, I’m sure she said something smarter and cooler, but the jist was was going full blown with Reclaim as a company is going to take a group of people that share a sense of the work’s importance, and believe in what we’re doing. I wondered at that time a) was that even possible? and b) how long would that take? Well, I can answer both those questions: a) Yes, it is definitely possible and b0 in my experience it takes about 7 years, Martha 🙂

Seven Years also marks the beginning of a new era for Reclaim Hosting, we are tight enough organizationally that we are all comfortable taking the shuttle to the cloud to provide a whole new facet of hosting for our community, and I think that further reinforces my point about seven being a magic number. Are you ready to buy this self-help guru’s book yet? Are you?! Cause while I might be an asshole, I’m am definitely not wrong, Walter!

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Costs in the Cloud

The other day I converted my beta account in Reclaim Cloud to a paid account to get a sense of costs. The idea of paying for resources on a per-app basis is a new way of approaching how I manage my web presence, so be patient while I try and make sense of this. I’ve already written at length about my moving this blog around as well as the associated costs:

So, as June comes to a close I have moved this blog around a bunch over the last 6 months: from cPanel-based shared hosting to Digital Ocean to Kinsta back to Digital Ocean and now to Reclaim Cloud. Digital Ocean was costing about $25 per month for a 4 GB server and Spaces instance, which is quite reasonable. Kinsta would have been $80 a month for container-based WordPress hosting, which was a bit rich for my blood. Running bavatuesdays on the Reclaim Cloud will cost roughly the same as Digital Ocean for a server that can scale up to 4 GB (although in practice it is only using 1-2 GBs of resource at most). And while there is no possible way we can pretend to compete with Digital Ocean on server costs, if we are able to keep pricing within the same ballpark that would be amazing!

So, now that I have a paid Reclaim Cloud account I can get a clearer sense of monthly costs, so here is a look at this WordPress blog running in a one-click install LEMP environment:

bavatuesdays (WordPress) pricing breakdown in Reclaim Cloud

As the above breakdown shows, my costs for a month of hosting for bavatuesdays will be $29.90 for resources,* which is very much in the same ballpark as Digital Ocean. Even better, it is far cheaper than Kinsta for hosting this blog.  But at the end of the day this is kind of a moot point because most folks are going to be better off hosting their WordPress sites on shared hosting, its always on and a fixed annual price between $30-$100.

On the other hand, the apps that you can’t run in cPanel-based shared hosting, or that you need to spin up and down as you need them, that will make more sense in the Cloud. For example, Etherpad, Discourse, and Jitsi Meet are just a few.

Etherpad pricing breakdown in Reclaim Cloud

The Etherpad instance I’m running all the time costs me $5.70 per month, although arguably that need not run all the time depending on usage which would drive that monthly cost down, while on the other hand it could be more expensive if it gets heavy usage regularly.

ds106.club pricing breakdown in Reclaim Cloud

There is also the Ubuntu VPS I’m running ds106.club on which is costing me $5.80 per month ($2.80 for the cloudlet and $3 for the public IP address). This was cool because to run the same environment on Digital Ocean cost me $5, so very much in the ballpark once again.

ds106.us (WPMS) pricing breakdown in Reclaim Cloud

And then there’s the mighty ds106.us, which is using about 5 cloudlets and is half the cost of bavatuesdays for the same WordPress environment. The only difference is the reserved cloudlets number is 5, as opposed to 12, but like all the environments it has the ability to scale on a dime should it be necessary. So, $16 to run ds106.us per month: a deal at any price really!

But chances are I’m thinking about this all wrong. When chatting with Bryan Mathers yesterday, which is always a treat, he gently suggested as much. Like Anne-Marie Scott’s idea of pop-up edtech, Reclaim Cloud is more about allowing folks to quickly spin up and down applications they need at the moment.

Here is Tannis Morgan‘s leading question from that conversation:

The other day we were chatting about open ed tech infrastructures and you mentioned something that caught my attention… you called it Pop up tech.  My head went to the concept of pop up shops, physical spaces that are occupied briefly by a brand and their products that may exist online the rest of the time, and I’m curious if you can say a bit more about what pop up tech is?

Anne-Marie gives a far more thoughtful answer than I could, but she also pushes on the idea of ephemerality, which is exactly where Reclaim Cloud could shine, much like the work Anne-Marie and Tannis are already doing with OpenETC. So, to my point, a video conferencing tool like Jitsi Meet could be spun up and down as needed costing a fraction of the $17 we currently pay Zoom, not to mention all the other benefits of investing in open source, self-hosted infrastructure to avoid “cop shit edtech.”

Or, as Stephen Downes suggested previously on this blog, you could use an app to run a nightly harvest using cron jobs that spin up and down as needed. So, I think I’m finally beginning to grok the logic of spinning up and down an environment for a course that Tony Hirst has been talking about for ages with Jupyter Notebooks. What’s more, we have the technology for it now!

So, all this to say it has taken me some time to re-factor my thinking around the idea of costs when it comes to Reclaim Cloud. The idea of doing everything online for “free” has become a trap we are all too familiar with, we have known for quite a while that data is the new oil—but that fact has not created within us any sense of obligation. What’s more, if hosting your own becomes a second mortgage, that’s not a viable alternative. But the key for me is that the Cloud is not a replacement for always-on shared hosting, but a complement to run the popup edtech tools as well as experiment with the next generation of self-hosted open source applications that get us closer to some vision of the Next Generation Digital learning Environment that is not simply a convenient repository for Hoovering student data via the Learning Management Systems and their third-party vendor colleagues. We know how that song goes, don’t we? So why do we continue to dance to their tune? I can just hear the chorus now: “Do no evil, Google Instructure!”

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The discount is based on how many cloudlets you reserve—in this instance I reserved 12 cloudlets given that is what it regularly uses.

Posted in Reclaim Cloud | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Framed

When I was back in the USA in late January, early February before the world was turned upside down, I was getting some art framed for the complete site redesign of Reclaim Video and Reclaim Arcade. It really does seem like a lifetime ago. And while the art was ready in early April, Meredith was kind enough to retrieve for me on Friday (a few months behind). I’m bummed I can’t see them in person, but the pictures she sent along get me pretty close. Three of the five classic Atari game posters were done with a simple black frame (we still have Breakout and Lunar Lander unframed).

I think one of the most compelling elements of the late 70s and early 80s  classic arcade cabinets is the artwork. The are so evocative of a world far beyond what the 8-bit sprites could render, and in some ways they stand in for that representational gap. They remind you of where these games are truly played: your imagination. The idea is these would be on the walls amongst the arcade games to reinforce the magic of that aesthetic.

I also got the original movie posters for Vigilante (1983) and C.H.U.D. (1984) framed to be hanged in Reclaim Video. I am a big fan of the urban decay films of the 70s and 80s films, and these two are favorites. I wouldn’t mind getting more like The Warriors(1979), Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), Alphabet City (1984), etc., but this is a good start, and the purple frame for C.H.U.D. pops 🙂

Finally, I went a bit overboard on the frame for Nunley’s painting. I wrote about the nostalgia behind this painting back in December, but long story short this was the to be hung above the entertainment center in the living room installation as a tribute to a different era of entertainment. The fact it was done by my childhood neighbor just makes the connection that much stronger, fact is Reclaim Arcade was deeply personal for both Tim and I, and everywhere the art and aesthetic was to highlight that. As I said in my last post, the arcade is on temporary hiatus as we wait out COVID-19, but like a Centuri arcade game Phoenix….

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The bava 3400

This is post number 3400 on the bava, which is something. The blog turns 15 years old in December, and I hope to hit 3500 by then, making it a clean 233.3333 posts per year for the last 15 years. When you can’t write for shit, numbers matter. Blogging has come easier these last few months, and I am not sure if that is a result of lockdown, the ds106radio revival, feeling a bit freed-up at Reclaim Hosting, or a combination of all three, but nonetheless if feels good to be blogging more. There has been some talk that blogs are like web vinyl, and soon folks will be coming back to them to reclaim the glory days of Web 2.0. I’ve been waiting for that day intently, and while I am not sure if it’s coming any day soon, I’ll be here if it does telling everyone “I was blogging when it wasn’t cool any more, you twitter babies.” Until then, bava island must abide.

Teh bava 3400

The bava 3400

So, in honor of my 3400th post, I decided to not only blog abut blogging—a tried and true tradition—but also name my RetroPie after it. Let me explain, one of the web hobbies I have had on and off since I first got on the web in the mid-90s was classic arcade game emulation. I discovered the MAME community in 1994 or 1995 thanks to my co-worker at UCLA’s Audio Visual Services (AVS) John Spellman, and it has been something I have come back to again and again since. I always ran MAME from my computer, and never had peripherals like a gamepad, joystick, etc. Hell, I just started using an external monitor last year. But during lockdown I started playing with emulation again given Reclaim Arcade had to be shelved for the foreseeable future in light of the global pandemic. There is some irony there given once Tim and I had collected 50+ classic arcade cabinets and pinball machines I was a bit like “emulators, really? Why? I have the real thing! Face-to-face gaming is so much better than virtual!” Well, like the face-to-face classroom, how did that work out for me? So, I re-kindled my virtual mojo and re-factored the Raspberry Pi 3 b+ I had hanging around to be my dedicated classic console game engine.

It’s awesome! I am using the X-box controller we bought for the PC to play Cuphead and my second monitor now has one of its HDMI inputs reserved for the bava 3400. I have been playing on and off with the bava 3400 for a couple of months now, and I have made some serious progress and learned a lot, but I have not blogged it. Partially because it was catch-as-catch-can tinkering between meetings, tickets, family, etc. But my return to social bookmarking on Pinboard has been a huge boon in this regard because I’ve been saving all the different sites I’ve used along the way.

So, in another tried and true blogging tradition I am going to make a list of the bava 3400 posts I plan on writing in order to make writing this post even possible. Just thinking about trying to capture everything I’ve done so far in one post is overwhelming, so this strategy helps me get the stuff written bit-by-bit over time, and a list holds me loosely accountable to the hordes of readers who need to know more. So here is a list of some of the things I want to write-up:

  • Setting up RetroPie (really just a link and collection of resources and I have another Raspberry Pi I can use so I can document it and remember everything)
  • Getting the Atari 5200 emulator up and running (this is a bear to do)
  • Getting the MAME emulator up and running
  • The Internet Archive’s unbelievable collection of ROMs -so many riches!
  • Using RetroArch to customize games/controllers for Atari 5200
  • Customizing the controllers for MAME games
  • Getting your Bluetooth wireless controller to work (in progress)
  • Getting the Atari 2600 emulator up and running
  • Getting the C64 emulator up and running

And that is a good start, the other piece of this is I want to continue making videos of the gameplay and generally toying around with my live streaming OBS system. In fact, it was playing with streaming on ds106.tv that got me back into the emulation game, and while Reclaim Cloud has demanded most of my time since then, coming up with a semi-regular stream to play some OG favorites would give the whole thing an ongoing narrative while pushing me to explore streaming video in more depth, which is a lot of fun. Anyway, all hail the bava 3400: it’s only just begun!

Posted in bava 3400 | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Turn Off the Cloud Lights!

One of the things I have been doing over the last couple of months is tracking how many resources (known in Reclaim Cloud as cloudlets) each application environment requires. This is important because the more cloudlets you use the more you pay, so trying to be as efficient as possible is quite important.

A cloudlet = 128 MiB + 400 MHz. Or, the equivalent of a ridiculously fast personal computer circa 1996 or 1997.

Crazy to think, but true. For each cloudlet you pay a dedicated amount of, for arguments sake, let’s say $3 per month. So, an app that requires 4 cloudlets will cost $12 per month if used constantly and the resource demands do not spike. Pretty easy maths, no? But what about a video conferencing applications like Jitsi that you only need at certain times?

I’ve been playing with this since July 1, and have been averaging about 10 hours a week on Jitsi Meet since the first of the month. I am now in the habit of turning off Jitsi after every use, and turning it back on 10 minutes before my next meeting. Turns out the average cloudlet usage for an always-on Jitsi instance is around 8 cloudlets per month, or $24. But when I turn it on and off regularly it cost under $1 so far this month, so literally a fraction of the cost.

And that should be easy for us to understand as we begin to think of applications on the web more and more like utilities. We turn off our lights when we leave the room because we waste less electricity and save money, I think for certain applications this approach means being more resource conscious.

I had a similar revelation this morning as I was tracking resource usage. My blog averages 13 cloudlets per month, or $39. This means for most folks hosting your WordPress blog on Reclaim Cloud would not be more cost effective, probably true for most other PHP applications like Omeka, Grav, Scalar, etc. Shared hosting via cPanel will still be king because it is far less expensive and $30-$100 per year gets you pretty much all the applications you can run. On the other hand, the Cloud makes you pay for your usage per application, so you can see how quickly that would add up. Even a low-trafficked WordPress site in Reclaim Cloud would require 4-5 cloudlets, or $12-$15 per month, and that is just one site and it is not including the domain—what a deal we give you with shared hosting! 🙂

On the other hand, high trafficked sites that require a virtual private server or a managed hosting instance might find the Cloud a lot cheaper given they’ll only pay for those resources used, rather than paying for enough CPU and memory to manage the “what if…?” scenario. In this regard the $300 a month you spend for the worst case scenario could be significantly less if most of the time that server is using just a fraction of the allotted resources, and that is when the Cloud rules—when it can allow you to seamlessly scale as you need  but only pay for what you use—just like our water, heat, and electric bills. Stephen Fry’s 5 minute video comparing cloud computing to utility usage from 2013 is still one of my favorite takes on the changing nature of resource consumption in the cloud.

So, back to my revelation, one thing I did this morning is go through my sites on Reclaim Cloud and look at which ones I could turn off to save some energy. Turns out the test instance of Ghost I am running takes up 7 cloudlets per month, or $21. Turning that app off was a prime candidate given a CMS site like Ghost always needs to be on to be at all useful. So, I sitesucked the ghost.murderinc.biz and copied the HTML archived files onto my cPanel account and re-pointed DNS. After that I stopped the environment. I can still keep the Ghost instance on my account, but like Jitsi, it can remain off and I won’t need to pay for anything but storage until I decide to actually use Ghost. In the event I don’t use that app ever again I can simply delete the app and keep my archived HTML version.
So, to push the house of the future metaphor even further, I spent the morning turning off lights in the rooms of my digital house that I was not using, and my energy bill will thank me at the end of the month 🙂

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Header image credit: Bill Parkinson’s Lights

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Ow3ned or Owned?

A week or so ago Lori Emerson shared the above Tweet by Kyle McDonald who was sharing a slide from a talk by Julian Oliver. I have been using it as talking point for Reclaim Cloud since. One of the beautiful things about this Tweet is it highlights the fact there’s a whole new generation of elegant, powerful, and open source applications that you can run as an alternative to all those “free” sites that only cost your freedom 🙂 I think folks might start realizing free is not free and that to truly control your data you have to spend some time, money, and professional energy to do so. Not everyone will, but for those that do it’s a real alternative that helps organizations protect their members from re-living the whole “do no evil” with our data, lord tech conglomerate.

While thinking through how we are going to roll-out Reclaim Cloud, Tim and I started brainstorming clusters of applications that folks might use, such as Etherpad, Jitsi Meet, and Discourse for your courses; or ShinyApps, R-Studio, JupyterHub, Jekyl, and Voyant Tools for Digital Humanists; or for an organization/department NextCloud, Mattermost, Ghost, and MailTrain, etc. You get the idea, frame groups of applications for targeted uses that begin to frame an open-source ecosystem that we can create not only one-click installers for in Reclaim Cloud, as well as focused professional development and expertise to support those tools. Which is why this graphic was so useful, it does a one-to-one comparison and it helps us focus what we can and should offer folks as a real alternative to the less than ideal status quo.

Then yesterday I had a call with the awesome folks at Michigan State University to show them Reclaim Cloud, and Kristen Mapes mentioned that she was interested in an open source alternative to her current teaching suite of Google Docs, Slack, and Zoom, to which the graphic brilliant maps as Mattermost, Etherpad, and Jitsi Meet—a perfect fit and we already have one-click installer for all of them 🙂

Interesting that they use the terminology ownership given that has caused some concern in the past with “owning” your domain. But in this case ownership is premised around the idea of self-hosting your applications in order to have increased security and control over your personal, organizational, or professional presence. It makes damn good sense to me, but I am biased 🙂

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