bavawave: Italians Do it Better

This is how it started…

This is how good it felt afterwards…

I jumped on the radio on a whim last night to try and do some groundwork for the headlining Sunday Special featuring the great Anne-Marie Scott, Maren Deepwell, and Tannis Morgan.

I wanted to play some of the synthwave tunes I discovered one the Italians Do It Better website/youtube channel thanks to this Tweet from Paul Bond while he was broadcasting a fine needle-dropping vinylcast of Brian Eno and David Byrne on #ds106radio:

It’s awesome that ds106radio is still delivering the goods, it is moments like this on the radio via Twitter that the web feels like friends hanging out sharing what they love, which is the best feeling of both connection and growth. And then when folks actually listen to your radishow? SWOON!

ds106radio: Synthwave with Jim Groom

This show was fun and fairly tight at 50 minutes, so I wanted to get it on the bavaradio site with the idea of sometime soon backfilling the bavaradio catalogue given I have a ton of shows just sitting in my Audio Hijack folder that have never seen the light of the web since their inception.

Image credit: Outrun 8 Bit GIF By Kotutohum

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Reclaim Arcade is Art!

I’m just coming off an extremely intense and creatively gratifying trip back to Fredericksburg, Virginia to work with Tim to dial in Reclaim Arcade. And dial it in we did! I will try and use most of this post to document what it is we did specifically, which will quickly get weighed down in details, but before I do I just want to say that the side projects leading up to Reclaim Arcade (the UMW Console, CoWork, Reclaim Video, etc.) all came together in some crazy cosmic alignment over the last two weeks to become something transcendent. It’s truly the best work we’ve done thus far, and I’m truly trying to be humble here. Reclaim Arcade is epic!

Obviously pulling together 60 classic arcade games and pinball machines has its immediate appeal, but add to that a 1980s living room and a fully operational VHS store and you got yourself a set design worthy of a Kubrick film:

Let there be no mistake about it, Tim and I brought our A-game to Reclaim Arcade, and Fredericksburg is about to be home of one of the sickest arcades in the US of mother trucking A! It’s part arcade, part conceptual art, and all awesome. It’s more than an arcade: IT’S ART, dammit!

OK, that should be enough of a victory lap for the time being, now let me get down to some details of the trip and the work. I took a flight over from Verona, Italy on November 1st at 6 AM (CET) and arrived in Dulles (via Rome and NYC) at 4 PM (EDT) that same day, after a quick dinner at Chipotle I drove from Northern Virginia to Upstate New York to pickup Ghosts ‘n Goblins from Ben Harwood, who was absolutely clutch and both picked up and stored this gem for several months. Why fly into Virginia only to drive 7.5 hours to NY? Well, the two week quarantine for any incoming travelers to NYC from Italy was the main reason, the other was a better deal on my two week car rental of my go-to game hauler the Chevy Tahoe, my preferred vehicle for picking up classic arcade games.

Getting ready to return the Tahoe at Dulles after it served me well for yet another Reclaim Arcade run and gun

I made it up to Saratoga Springs by midnight completely exhausted, but still in one piece. I pushed myself because having to make a trip like this in the middle of my two week trip would’ve made it harder to gain momentum with the work ahead of me for the living room and the VHS store. I woke up early and met Ben for a big American breakfast (I miss those) and then picked up the game and was back on the road to Virginia by 10 AM. That was the first of the three games I would pick up (and by far the longest drive), and it was worth the trouble because it is a gorgeous cabinet. The monitor picture and color are crisp, the sound booms, and the side art is in very good shape. There was an issue with the power switcher that we had to replace, but that was just the beginning of a bunch of work to get almost all of the arcade machines in working order, but more on that anon.

By Monday evening I was back at the Reclaim Hosting strip mall and the next thing I remember doing is starting my sprint to get as much work done as possible in two weeks. For some strange reason I started in Reclaim Hosting’s new offices (which was where we had initially thought the arcade would live). Given the pandemic and remote work the new office space was never really lived in entirely, so I started with an easy win: hanging the vinyl records of the various bands that are, or have been, the namesakes of Reclaim Hosting’s shared hosting servers. That was fun and relatively fast. But I knew the hard work was 3 strip mall doors away at Reclaim Video and the soon-to-be 1980s living room. Oh yeah, all the while there was a Presidential election going on in the USA that was a bit distracting and at times unnerving….needless to say building out the 1980s living room was the perfect antidote.

And it came together pretty well, I took a bunch of time on the AV setup, which I am pretty happy with. And it might make sense for me to break that down in more depth in a separate post, but for simplicities sake the VCR, betamax player, and laserdisc are all plugged into a switcher that runs into the TV. We are splitting the audio out for all those video players to the Fisher component stereo (using the Aux input). The Selectavision was not liking being converted from RF to RCA, so that is currently running into the VHS using the coaxial “in from antenna” and going out over RCA. The trick is as long as no VHS tape is playing the Selectavision signal gets pushed out to the TV cleanly, and the audio goes to the stereo as well (all video signals come in on channel 4).

I was also able to get both the Atari 2600 and the 5200 up and running, and they are being pulled in to the TV via an OG Atari switcher that is connected via the 300 Ohm screw-tight connector pictured above. I do enjoy Berzerk on Atari 5200, the fact the game has to stop when the robots talk smack on the humanoid is awesome.

So once the AV and consoles were set up I could start focusing on some lighting. I was lucky enough to snag a groovy pair of lamps from the nearby second hand furniture store Restore. I also ordered a 12′ RCA cable to run the audio from the video switcher to the stereo (which is housed in a different entertainment center). I also grabbed a preliminary selection of vinyl/laserdiscs/beta max tapes for the living room, hung some art on the walls, and Tim removed the automatic light switch to make sure the florescent lighting was only on as needed. The carpet was a left over from the McDonald’s training facility this space used to be, and we really couldn’t have bought a better pattern for the space.

Took most of the first week to get the living room to a place I was happy with, and I’m thrilled with it!

Yeah, we nailed it. The the front loading Panasonic Omnivision VCR was an attempt to find a replacement for the top loading Omnivision VCR I grew up with, but it was not working either. They both eat tapes. So I looked up a TV Repair shop in Fredericksburg and I’m having them both repaired, because while the Super VHS player in the living room right now is a work horse, it’s not the right era at all.

The 1980s K-Mart velvet Elvis is on loan from John Heyn, the director of the legendary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. That alone is just insane to me! With the living room polished off I had to get serious about the video store, which was harder than I imagined. You see, I wanted to touch every video tape and weed out as many tapes from the 1990s (and later) as possible in order to make the collection on display that much tighter. I also wanted to do a thorough check and try and weed out any broken or moldy tapes, and fortunately there were very few of either. That said, I now understand why video stores insisted so stridently on rewinding tapes because when you have a ton of tapes it takes a shitload of time. I spent more time than I care to admit rewinding tapes, I had two rewinder machines going at any one time. Ridiculous, I know, but to be kind one must rewind.

While I was painstakingly going through tapes and checking them for tape rot and making sure they were rewound, I did have fun tweeting out a few:

My constant tweeting may have had something to do with my slow progress on the VHS store, but I’m still gonna blame all the DVD fad-chasers who wouldn’t deign to rewind their lowly VHS tapes before discarding them. But nevertheless, progress was made in my second week.

In fact, I got a pretty solid selection of VHS tapes on display:

What’s more, Tim had a brilliant idea to clean-up and hang this crazy “Now Showing”/”Coming Soon” movie poster sign someone had dropped off at Reclaim Video because that’s what awesome people do!

So it looks like I’m gonna have to start collecting movie posters too now, dammit! We still have to get some counters for Reclaim Video, and we have designs to mount a 27″ or 32″ Sony Trinitron from the early to mid-1990s in the back right-hand corner of the shop (they weigh over 200 lbs, so that is gonna be a feat) and then run a cable through the ceiling from the living room to Reclaim Video so that we have some syndication—a nice touch that simplifies things significantly and also avoids me re-creating the AV mess I’ve made in the living room. I also added back some of the movie figurines, toys, and a few wood block VHS cover art pieces I picked up from VHSGirl.

In the end it came together quite well, and once we have the counter setup and move the iMac in we should be all set. Keep in mind that both Reclaim Video and the living room are simply a bit of foreplay. You might enjoy checking them out, and you may even get a kick out of browsing the VHS collection or lounging in the living room and watching a laserdisc (we also moved our 2000+ laserdisc collection and I built another shelving unit to hold them all, but as you can see this post is already bursting at the seams), but in the end you came—and will keep coming—for the arcade! And I am not gonna lie, it’s a masterpiece:

In fact, the strip mall office in general is amazing as you can see from the first series of images above, but the work Tim did with the lighting in the arcade space is magical, and once we added the “neon” sign (it’s actually LED) it was absolutely the finishing touch it always needed:

It might make sense to chronicle some of the work we did on the arcade space given we made a ton of progress there as well. To begin we put a set of shelves in the arcade workshop and organized that into a space that works for repairing games, which Tim put to almost immediate use:

We put the shelves along the back wall to store arcade boards, marquees, monitors, etc, as well as added a wall organizer for hanging tools and such. Between the two it really finished off the maker space/arcade repair shop and right away Tim started making some real headway on fixing some of the games that we’ve been planning to get around to, and I am going to try and document some of that below:

Ghosts ‘n Goblins was the first of three games I picked up on this trip, and the switching power supply shorted out (a common issue we are finding) that was a fairly cheap repair given you can buy a replacement for $20 on Amazon. We had no replacements on hand, so Tim swapped out one from Smash TV, which was also having some monitor graphic issues at times given it has to be dialed in just right (Tim can elaborate on that issue for the record, but if the flow of power is not regulated just so, the image goes south).

After that we (always royal) got ambitious, and Tim was ready to take on Pac-man, which has been giving us issues for quite a while. We swapped out the monitor and chassis a year ago but it kept having issues with the graphics/monitor hold. We swapped out both CPU boards we have this time around but both still had issues (one was having the issue captured above and the other was playing blind). We struggled with this one a bit, but we realized it was not the boards necessarily, but an issue with a connector on the monitor chassis. And given we have two we were able to identify and fix the issue, which was a huge win personally given Pac-man is far and away my favorite video game of all time.

Next up we tried to tackle the Pac-man knock-off Make Trax, another favorite. This was clearly a board issue, and we have a back-up board so we swapped it out, but we knew the sound on the second board was not working, but at least the game plays. We are going to have to send in one of the two Make Trax boards (as well as several others) to get repaired.

Q*Bert was another game giving us issues, and we had an extra board for that one too, but both seemed to suffer the same issue. We will have to send one of those two out for repair, but it is odd both boards have the same graphics issue. The game does play for a bit, but over time it starts descending into graphical chaos.

Dig Dug was a win, but like Pac-man it was hard won. This is the only game we have that has a computer LCD, and we’ve flirted with switching that out, but there were deeper issues with the power. In order to get the cabinet to turn on a few wires needed to be forcefully adjusted to get it just to power up. Tim identified the issue—it was awesome to watch him troubleshoot, he’s a natural—but try as he might to get at the power supply issue fixed, it seemed like there was a deeper issue that by-passing wires was not fixing. At that point he switched out the power supply with the one from Battlezone (which is only one of two games not working at all—the other is Missile Command) and Dig Dug was back up and running cleanly. So now we need another power supply for Battlezone.

Another win was getting Gyruss up and running. This one had a dim monitor that eventually went black, and as luck would have it I bought a second Gyruss cocktail cabinet that was also not working. So, we decided to use the cocktail for parts and swap out the monitor and chassis from the cocktail (which we had to remove and rotate 180 degrees from its chassis, which was a PITA) into the stand-up cabinet. It worked, and we were fired up, but the power connector was reconnected incorrectly and the power switcher burnt out, so we had to replace another one ($20 fixes for the win), we even bought a spare power switcher given this seems to be a common issue.

So, if you are keeping count, that means Tim got five games up and running, and he wasn’t done yet. The final fix of the trip was swapping out the fan for the Synthwave darling Outrun to make it so Reclaim Arcade has 47 of our 49 classic arcade cabinets working (and if know anything about these machines you know that’s a damn good percentage). And we just confirmed acquisition of a working Double Dragon this weekend, so that brings the numbers up to 48 working games out of 50. Amazing! Tim was en fuego, and I think we both were reassured by that percentage that this arcade, like the Deathstar, is all but fully operational!

I also should mention the other two games I picked up while I was in town, the under appreciated Yie Ar Kung-fu, which the awesome person who sold it to me held onto for almost 8 months given I was unable to get back to the US during the pandemic. I bought it in February 2020 and picked it up in November, but it was everything I hoped it would be!

And the final addition was a Tutankham cabinet, which was as gorgeous as the Ghosts n Goblins machine, which says a lot. Both were in as mint condition as a 40 year old game can be, and the gameplay on Tutankham is as peculiar as I remember it.

In fact, the Tutankham game was so good that the same seller was also selling a Double Dragon cabinet, and I jumped at it given it will round out or fighting game wall quite nicely.

I would like to say that’s all, but there is still more, I have not even touched on the call we had with that resulted in the delivery of a raspberry pi kit from Finland that allowed Tim to connect his Avengers pinball game to the internet, but not only is this post already way too long, but the whole awesome deserves its own post, so let me stop here and wrap up this post almost exactly two weeks from the moment I left that gorgeous arcade to travel back to Dulles airport and jump on a plane back to bella Trento.

The last thing I will say (in fact, repeat) is that Tim and I brought our A-game to Fredericksburg! I knew it was going to be cool, but after seeing the huge “Reclaim Arcade” sign go up on the wall it occurred to me that this is not just an arcade or simply another side project, Tim and I are making art, dammit—and I’m not afraid to admit it 🙂

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Between the Chapters: The Web

The “25 Years of EdTech” series Martin Weller brilliantly dreamed up as a blog project and transformed into a book is perhaps one of the most textbook examples of how your throw away blog posts can become a “cottage industry/” These are the kind of generative blog series I have dreams about, but they take time and intelligence—so it is left to my betters. I have to think “the 25 years of…” status as meme is not far off 🙂

What’s been even cooler to witness, though, is how folks in the edtech community have rallied around Martin and offered to record a reading of a chapter to create a crowdsourced audio version of the book. And if that wasn’t awesome enough, Clint Lalonde and Laura Pasquini joined forces to produce a podcast wherein they talk with random edtech folks, like me, about a specific chapter. Laura wrote more in-depth about the genesis of the project, which is an excellent model for engaging and connecting with the broader community. I got lucky ’cause Laura asked me to chat with her about the web (I mean I could’ve been stuck with Bulletin Board Systems! :), which towers over all the other technologies in the book—it’s the one! That said, I’m not sure I could do it justice, but thankfully the way these interstitial extras are designed I didn’t have to. It was a fun, free-ranging conversation that referenced Martin’s chapter yet found us exploring everything from MySpace to AOL CD-ROMs to the Sopranos.

The takeaway for me from this chat was there’s a generation of folks that truly came up with the web. We were in high school or college as it was breaking big in the early to mid 90s and whether we realized it or not, that would be the single most important technology for shaping our personal and professional lives (an arguably still is more than ever). The web was truly “the mythical mudskipper crawling from the sea to the land: a symbolic evolutionary moment” for our culture at large, but also on a deeply personal level. And the cool thing about Between the Chapters is it can allows those personal anecdotes to co-exist alongside a historical narrative—almost like Walter Scott’s novels. Thanks Laura, Clint, and Martin for the opportunity to once again indulge in the nostalgia I am doing a fine job of building the golden age of my career around.

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Open Education in Italy or, an Introduction to the Introduction

I’ll be blogging from behind for the next week or so, but let me start by sharing some good news for Italian colleague and friend, Fabio Nascimbeni, who published his freely available book on Open Education in Italian. It’s an excellent overview of the recent history of Open Education, MOOCs and all. Fabio uses the book to frame the cultural, political, and policy-driven moves towards open education in the US, Canada, and the UK in an attempt highlight lessons learned and hopefully helping to avert the re-packaging of learning object repositories as the disruption Italy needs in the brave new world of Open Education.

Il libro “Open Education” di Fabio Nascimbeni è online

Fabio asked me to write an introduction to the book back in April, and if you are keeping score that coincides with the moment Italy was in full lockdown, so my introduction is in many ways a time capsule of a moment. I was feeling rather raw, and the prospect of Italy (or any country, really) avoiding some of the glaring mistakes the Anglo-centric open education world made seemed not only useful, but quite pressing given schools went online en masse in a country that has yet to fully invest in online learning for K12 and higher education.  There is no question part of the massive COVID-19 aid package the European Union will provide significant funds to invest in online education, and I think the argument Nascimbeni makes quite astutely is that some of that money should be invested in an open ecosystem of resources that can be freely shared not only within Italy and the EU, but globally. And, guess what, there is this little technology platform called the world wide web that may just make that possible and fairly affordable 🙂

I have to give special thanks to my special lady friend, Antonella, for translating the book for me so I could write a cogent introduction, and also to Fabio for providing me the space to rant and then translating it into Italian. I’m ashamed to say my Italian is arguably worse than when I arrived here 5 years ago, but maybe I can blame that on the virus as well? For posterity, I am including my untranslated introduction to Open Education: Oer, mooc e pratiche didattiche aperte verso l’inclusione digitale educativa below, but be kind given I was writing this under the duress of a 3 month lockdown or, even better, learn Italian and read Fabio’s book!

As I write this foreword I’m looking out the window of my office onto the verdant hills of Trento. That’s remarkable because for the last three months that was the only view I had of the outside world. From my medieval perch I would hear the daily rounds of the local authorities reminding us that we were not to leave our homes for all but three reasons: groceries, medicine, and last and worst of all: a trip to the hospital. The woman’s voice coming over the loudspeaker admonishing Trentini to stay inside was oddly reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis’s introduction to the post-apocalyptic plot line of John Carpenter’s film Escape from New York. In that 1982 cult classic Manhattan island is transformed into a maximum security penitentiary wherein all prisoners who went in would be left to fend for themselves within this fortressed, police-patrolled island for the rest of their lives; the ultimate criminal battle royale. Who knew that a few short weeks after first hearing the Italian rendition of Jamie Lee, COVID-19 would no longer be seen as that cultural anomaly that happened to the Chinese or the Italians, but would cascade across the continent and then the Atlantic Ocean to become a truly Global clusterf**k. Soon enough the actual Manhattan island (much like Wuhan, Milano, and Brescia before it) would become the site of the post-apocalyptic plotline of the Corona Virus. 

And while I sat in my office wondering if there would still be food in the local Conad* tomorrow, I could hear my children logging on to their now entirely remote school life to do their often improvised lessons. It took a few weeks to find a rhythm, but schools went online and learning happened in the unlikeliest of places, much like plants find their way through the concrete cracks. It’s as if the whole world woke up to online learning in an instant and professors everywhere were tasked with figuring it all out and making sense of this brave new space for teaching and learning. Surely mistakes were made and ultimately the pundits will discount the online school experience, but at the same time much was learned from the last three months of being forced online. And despite the fact that local school systems were caught in a battle of comparing apples and oranges that they could never win, a seed of possibility was planted that even without time for preparation and the lack of adequate resources school did continue in this online form. 

Already, as Italy begins to emerge from the social and economic ravages of COVID-19, the question of returning to the face-to-face classroom are front and center. Yet, as I write these words, both North America and the United Kingdom find themselves ever deeper in the clutches of the deadly virus with no end in sight. While the outbreak in those countries came just a few short weeks after Milano was announced “ground zero” in Europe, the devastation has been exponentially greater in the Anglo-Saxon speaking world. In the UK and the USA the pandemic has been transformed into a social experiment wherein the country’s elected officials are breathing death. Those incompetent sociopaths continue to insist on privileging the market over humanity at all costs: which in the United States of America at the point of writing this is 130,000 souls. What a devastating cost to remain open for business at all costs. 

Several in Italy have lamented the country was too strict; the general lockdown too draconian. Yet, when I look to friends and family back in the States I appreciate more and more those regular, disembodied visits from the local authorities reminding us of our house arrest—a sacrifice the US leadership was (and still is) not willing to make and as a result the human and financial losses were even more deeply compounded. 

“But hey, wait!” you might be thinking at this point, “isn’t this supposed to be a foreword to a book about Open Education Resources in Italy, so why the hell are you talking about COVID-19?” Well, I would argue, our moment has only made Fabio Nascimbeni’s study of the Open Educational Resources movement, with its beginnings in North American and the United Kingdom, that much more vital. 

As every country is forced to rethink its relationship to online learning, whether or not face-to-face classes resume in September, the history of open education Nascimbeni so adroitly chronicles in this text should be read as an oracle for how Italy can frame its policy for open education resources and online learning. If for no other reason than to learn from the arrogance of the movement’s Anglo-Saxon beginnings. The backdrop to the narrative of open education in the US is a primary and secondary educational systems that are chronically underfunded by the government, while post-secondary higher education comes with an exorbitant price tag. The push to promote open education in Italy should be a movement to ensure education remains a public good that is well resourced and shielded from the ruthless logic of the market. The path to privatization in the US education system has converted “students into customers,” a shift that is presently wreaking havoc on this sector as COVID-19 has forced so many American universities to justify their exorbitant costs in an online world—the customer demands their money’s worth! 

As Nascimbeni points out in chapter four, historically open education in Italy has benefited from little political attention, resulting in the absence of an overarching public policy for the promotion of this approach within the higher education system (see ch 4, pg. 111). This is what we call in the US the proverbial “catbird seat,” or an enviable position that provides Italy with a unique advantage. Being first may get you fanfare, but it also means most of the mistakes and mishaps that are inevitable in a burgeoning field are readily apparent for all to see. And this is very much the case in open education, particularly in light of the global pandemic that has made remote alternatives for teaching and learning of the utmost importance. Even before COVID-19 there were numerous initiatives taking root at the local (and often individual) level, despite the lack of political attention. The shift in attention was already changing in 2019, as Nascimbeni notes, thanks to the convergence of several factors signaling an increased investment of resources and consequent adoption of policies in open education in Italy, in particular UNESCO’s recommendations regarding the adoption of supporting policies for OERs in its member states. What’s more, if this was already the case before the Corona Virus, we can be certain it will be a top priority in its wake given the role remote education has played to battle the paralyzing effects of the pandemic. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the internet is a hero in the COVID-19 story and Italy must invest in a broad national program to train and support its students and teachers using the open web as the educational platform of the future.

Why? Well, another factor from 2019 that Nascembi discusses is the ideological fracture within the US OpenEd community which was evidenced by David Wiley’s decision to discontinue the Open Ed conference. For almost twenty years it was the lifeblood of that movement, but rifts around the increased embrace of commercial logic in a movement that was defined as a free, open alternative to corporate publishers’ wanton greed meant an increased polarization of the community. What’s more, the move from grant and public support to a growing private, commercial solution for open education left the movement rudderless. There is an important lesson to be learned from the open education movement in the US, such movements are often driven by the belief that people are helping to create an alternative to the commercial interests that everywhere prey on the field of education, and once that spirit is compromised the sense of a movement bigger than its respective leaders is lost. And as we enter the second month of protests around the world calling for social justice from systems that continue to value power and money over human life, building the open education movement in Italy on a ground of justice, equity and a true alternative to the dominant system would be well-advised. 

And finally, another sign of the times is the corporate turn of everyone’s darling open education platform, Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs), in 2019 with the Australian multinational SEEK’s investment in Coursera, arguably the premiere corporate MOOC platform. The hijacking of the spirit open education in North America and beyond is nowhere more apparent than in the story of the MOOC, which Nascimbeni recounts beautifully. What started as a Canadian vision of free, connected learning through the networked learner became the basest form of Stanford-branded techno-solutionism that replaced soul with scale and spirit with profit. The MOOCs have taken so much of the oxygen of the open educational movement over the last seven years that it’s hard to imagine it without them, but at the same time their current manifestations are so denatured from anything resembling open and accessible that it points to a larger issue in the field: what does open mean if not freely shared to make the experience that much more accessible for all? 

What open education means for Italy should be the question that should be struggled with before galvanizing a movement or making strategic partnerships with corporations who will sell you a solution and, as a result, compromise the vision before it’s even fleshed out. Italy has a unique opportunity, and Nascimbeni lays it out brilliantly in this book: there is no better time to define what open education means for its future while learning from the mistakes of those from the not so distant past.

*Conad is a chain of grocery stores throughout Italy.

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Notes on Installing PeerTube on Reclaim Cloud

Most of last week was eaten up by playing with PeerTube on Reclaim Cloud. Tim installed on a VPS through Reclaim Cloud following this guide, and he said it wasn’t too bad, just a lot of copying and pasting of commands. He also figured out how to store all the videos and serve them through Amazon’s S3 according to these Nginx rules, which is quite slick.

I, on the other hand, went the Docker route and documented that process already on the Reclaim Hosting community forums. I ran into some issues with the CLI  tools working with my instance (which led to my re-installing PeerTube at least once) which was a bummer for me because the CLI tools enable you to migrate entire YouTube or Vimeo channels (including metadata) in one fell swoop. I kept getting  413 “Payload Too Large” errors when videos over 95 MB were uploaded. It was frustrating. I even posted an issue to the PeerTube Github, but it turns out the Proxied DNS status through Cloudflare was causing the error. Took me longer than I care to admit to figure that out, but once I did all my videos from Vimeo came over easy. So, today’s pro-tip is if you are running your DNS through Cloudflare and using PeerTube’s CLI Tools, make sure the main domain is not proxied, you want DNS Only.

I want to spend a moment just recording my process with the CLI Tools element of PeerTube because it is a separate setup than the actual PeerTube server. You need to install Node.js version 10.22.1 using NVM, the latest version of the package management tool Yarnffmpeg, and Git. All the links in the previous sentence are to resources for Ubuntu 18.04 which is the VPS I used to create a separate bavatube CLI server. It is far more practical to have these running on your desktop/laptop, and to do that I used the Homebrew package manager for the Mac. I will avoid trying to link to the resources given it is a rabbit hole, but in short I installed Node.js version 10.21.1 on my Mac using NVM as well as the latest version of Yarn.  I ran into issues with the following error:

Error on CLI video Import: "ENOENT: no such file or directory,"

This was a result of my not having ffmpeg installed on my laptop, so learn from my mistakes. You can install ffmpeg using Homebrew as well, which is nice. So, I now have the CLI for PeerTube both running on my laptop as well as on a VPS on Reclaim Cloud. The latter was a result of the former not working, but it has been convenient for testing so keeping it for a bit. You can almost track my entire process via the PeerTube tag on my Pinboard given I have been using social bookmarking a lot as of late, and it is super useful for keeping track of all the sites I use to figure something out.

node dist/server/tools/peertube-import-videos.js -u '' -U 'username' --password 'mypassword' --target-url ''

Once I had it working the above command effectively copied every pubic video from my Vimeo account into rather quickly using the youtube-dl codebase, which right now is the greatest command ever.

Anyway, consider this post simply notes that I wanted to get down here before I lost track of my process. Now for the one-click installer of PeerTube on Reclaim Cloud…YEAH!

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I recently said something along the lines of….

The nice part about a, as Tim reminds me, is there are no copyright trolls. Small can be very good for a video community. Plus, I have already spent my time dealing with the Youtube copyright crap, and I have no interest to go back there. Everything I have on Vimeo is backed-up locally (and remotely); I basically have my bug-out bag by the door ready to go at anytime. If they delete my videos, it would just mean finding another home for them, and maybe that is exactly what we’ll do with ds106tv  ?

And that is exactly what Tim did when he got the open-source video platform PeerTube up and running for I took one look at it and immediately knew it was the alternative I’ve been looking for for some time now. What’s more, you gotta love their motto:

Our aim is not to replace them [YouTube, Vimeo, etc.], but rather to simultaneously offer something else, with different values.

One of the coolest things about PeerTube, other than it being free and open, is it’s premised on a decentralized, federated network of a variety of instances (not unlike Mastodon). So, for example, I can federate my own instance,, with and folks who come to either can explore what’s on both. Even better, there’s the ability to provide redundancy so we can back-up each others videos in the event of server issues, take-downs, etc. It’s everything ad-revenue and premium video sharing services are not.

But it gets better, it also has the youtube-dl open source python library built-in so that you can migrate your videos off services like YouTube and Vimeo. But as the above Tweet from the Electronic Frontier Foundation makes clear, the youtube-dl code is currently under attack by the MPAA and RIAA for enabling copyright circumvention. In fact, trying to takedown open source code is an already established tactic, back in May the MPA did the same thing to the open source software Popcorn (a Netflix clone). But in that case the developers of Popcorn appealed to Github to re-instate their repo:

The developers submitted a DMCA counternotice explaining that the MPA’s request is not legitimate. The code is owned by Popcorn Time, not the MPA, and Popcorn Time asked GitHub to restore access.

“The code is 100 % ours and do not contain any copyright [sic] material please check again,” the developer wrote.

The app’s developers made a good point here. The identified code (not the built app) is not directly copyright infringing and it contains no direct links to copyright-infringing material either. This means that a DMCA notice may not be the right tool here.

Faced with both requests, GitHub has now decided to restore full access to the Popcorn Time repository.

Let’s hope youtube-dl gets as lucky as Popcorn did back in May, but at the same time you begin to understand that in many ways Github is just as arbitrary and liable as Youtube to remove and block access to our culture, this in the form of code, based on power plays by monied interests. It’s the same mistake of consolidating resources, and by extension power, in the hands of a few monolithic sites (rather than federated across many) that gets us back in the hole.

In fact, the Youtube-dl makes archiving videos you want to save from around the web unbelievably convenient for copying videos in seconds.

It”s been over 8 years since I lost all my videos on YouTube thanks to copyright claims and the unilateral arbitration at the hands of for-profit platforms, so it is nice to finally have a really tight alternative. I have been playing with it for over a week given I wanted to make sure the Docker installation works on Reclaim Cloud (it does!), along with the CLI tools that make migrating an entire Vimeo or YouTube channel to PeerTube absolutely painless. I did this yesterday and brought over over 275 videos, and all the accompanying metadata—so good.

I think the thing I appreciate the most about PeerTube is the way it lets you explore your own and others videos. Tim has been uploading all of his videos to and we are working on federating my site with his (it is actually simple to federate instances, but I deleted my previous instance so there have been some caching issues) and I have been able to discover so many of the old gold DTLT Today episodes, not to mention ds106 gold, and more.

I think the larger plan is to give people account on to upload videos for the course we are designing, or even better, help them spin up their own PeerTube instance to see what its all about. To that end I need to work on a one-click install for PeerTube on Reclaim Cloud, which should be very doable, as well as a more in-depth how-to for the peerTube CLI given wrapping your head around that really makes this tool amazing for migrating a large amount of content in a short period of time. is already paying dividends and it is still months away from starting. #4life

Posted in, ds106tv,, DTLT Today, reclaim, video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


I’m gonna try and make this post short and sweet because the conversation above says it all. In episode 24 of Reclaim Today Tim and I were once again joined by Andy Rush to  brainstorm the design and structure of an open course we plan on running in the new year called (#ds206video). Yeah, we are piggybacking on the venerable ds106 community, and figured it might be a good time to create a special topics course for folks to learn and share working they are doing around producing, creating, and streaming video. If the course is half as fun as the above discussion, it is going to be a blast, and it has been quite a few years since I have had the time and energy to work with folks to build out an ecosystem, and this post comes a few days late because I spent much of the last 3 days playing with Wiki.js, Peertube, and Discord, which will be at least 3 facets of this open course. I have a lot more to write about this, but I am still knee-deep in Peertube, which is a brilliant open source P2P Youtube alternative, that I have been looking for for the last 8 years:) There will be much more to come on the experience, but if you are interested join the Discord chat and get ready to co-create a community TV station around! #4life

I think the time is nigh, and if nothing else, Tim’s 20 second intro to the above video is not to be missed, click play and FEEL THE RUSH!

Posted in ds106tv,, reclaim, Reclaim Today | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Some Notes on Docker Up and Running (Day 1)

Earlier this week I participated in a 3 hour class offered through O’Reilly’s Live Online Training platform to push myself to get more familiar with Docker. The course was called “Docker: Up and Running” and was taught by Sean Kane, who happens to be an architect at New Relic which is an application Reclaim Hosting has become huge fans of as of late. The push to get more familiar with Docker has been precipitated by the launching of Reclaim Cloud this summer for sure, but also by the fact that I finally have a bit of free time to dig in more deeply (thanks Lauren!). I have been nibbling around the edges of Docker just figuring out enough to get by (or asking Tim), but I was hoping this course would provide me with a more fundamental understanding and I was not disappointed.

I will not go over the details of day 1 at length, but I do want to highlight a couple of things that helped me to conceptually think through Docker and containers more generally. First off, when describing the value of containers Kane noted that for him, more than security, isolation, etc. (which were all factors), the real power of containers generally, and Docker specifically, was repeatability: the idea that so many people across multiple environments, can get software up and running with one command. This helped me tremendously. I know it, but I have not been able to articulate it like this, and I appreciated him doing so. This is the power behind Reclaim Cloud, a platform that provides folks the ability to launch and host an application that before would be a one-off, bespoke environment that was virtually impossible to replicate or migrate easily. Whereas applications using containers are not only eminently portable, but endlessly repeatable. Which is why it has been fairly easy for us to spin up a whole bunch of one-click applications in the Reclaim Cloud marketplace based on existing Docker containers. This idea allowed another session I sat in on a couple of weeks back, Scaling a Data Science MOOC with Digital Ocean, to make sense beyond the specifics of the Data Incubator example. The idea of using Kubernetes to orchestrate an environment with 20K+ Jupyterhub containers is premised entirely upon this core idea of repeatability at the heart of this new era of infrastructure. How do you quickly spin up 20K+ identical applications specifically for one course? Using containers.

The other bit that might seem obvious to some, but was a terminology issue for me, was distinguishing between images and containers. The image is the core application that can be repeated innumerable times, in other words the image you pull on your server and then run as a container. It is this distinction between the static image and the running container wherein the difference lies. And the way it which you optimize an image has everything to do with how quickly you can get x-amount of containers up and running, which becomes a crucial question of efficiency when you are scaling a course to 20K+ Jupyterhub containers. Optimizing a manifest file for an environment will be the difference between several seconds and several minutes of creation time. With this, the Docker infrastructure started to make some more conceptual sense to me, and that was worth the time because I can often find myself get lost in the command line details of an issue rather than seeing the whole of the environment.

docker container run -d --rm --name balance_game --publish mode=ingress,target=80,published=80

Additionally, a few highlights from day 1 was pushing an image of the Docker Balance game to my own Docker Hub page, which I then used the following command in a Docker Engine instance on Reclaim Cloud to get running online. That felt pretty awesome, and if you are so inclined you can play the Docker Balance game:

I’ll write about Day 2 once I work through that video given I was not able to watch that one live given a couple of meetings and other demands. But having sat-in day 1 live, I am certain watching the Day 2 archive will not impact the experience at all, which is an interesting realization pedagogically—at least for the delivery of this course.

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Talking Digital Identity with GO-GN

There is no better feeling than when some of your plodding experimentation starts to come together after several months of work.

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of presenting to the GO-GN network about digital identity. I asked Martin Weller and Beck Pitt if I could experiment a bit for this talk with some various video shots via OBS, and they were more than willing to let me run wild. In fact, they were even accommodating 🙂 They gave me a test account for their video conferencing application, ClickMeeting, which quite frankly was one of the best I’ve used yet.* I did a preliminary run at this setup with my “5 Questions about EDUPUNK” video last weekend that  I posted about earlier this week. The primary difference was that this was in front of a real-time audience and if I messed up there were no do-overs. Dear reader, I nailed it!

My discussion of digital identity might be broken up into two parts: 1) I play the hits and talk about my blog, narrating your work, and the now venerable ds106, but part 2) was a bit of a departure wherein I discussed the possibilities of streaming video for new ways of building and imagining presence. I was lucky that both Meredith Fierro and Katie Hartraft did the heavy lifting by modeling Tik Tok-style narratives and being far more insightful and thoughtful than I could ever be! It was a lot of fun for me, and I was more nervous about this presentation than I had been about one in a long while, which for me is always a good sign I am stepping out of my lane and trying something new. For me the form was the message, I was spending 45 minutes presenting my story via dynamic, streaming video. It wasn’t The Wire or anything, but it was mine in ways the typical video conferencing video box never could be. I didn’t stream it to out of respect for the GO-GN network, given they invited me to their space, so no need to push folks elsewhere, but I could have quite easily. What’s more, I could record a hi-quality version of the video I can then use for my own purposes. Something like this….

One drawback of this version of the talk is that I didn’t capture the ongoing chat (though I could have), and I didn’t capture the audio questions Martin asked towards the end. I edited the above video to account for that, but GO-GN has the more complete version up on their Youtube account, embedded below:

Now riddle me this, which is the official document? Textual historians are gonna be working overtime for the next few centuries 🙂 A couple of interesting notes about the version on Youtube is that with it came copyright claims that made monetizing it impossible. Fine by GO-GN and me, but it does get to an issue that came up in the talk regarding the lack of de-commodified green spaces for video on the web . The nice part about a, as Tim reminds me, is there are no copyright trolls. Small can be very good for a video community. Plus, I have already spent my time dealing with the Youtube copyright crap, and I have no interest to go back there. Everything I have on Vimeo is backed-up locally (and remotely); I basically have my bug-out bag by the door ready to go at anytime. If they delete my videos, it would just mean finding another home for them, and maybe that is exactly what we’ll do with ds106tv  🙂

Anyway, I am getting off topic here, this entire process has gotten me even more excited about working with Tim and Andy Rush on a special topics ds206† course, namely #ds206video. And while we still have to iron out a bunch of details, I did mention this development in the above video, and Andy and Tim are officially on-board. It will be a multi-week open course around working with OBS, streaming video servers, hardware, video editing software, etc. with the idea of helping interested folks bolster their video game. I’ll hopefully have a lot more to say and blog about this anon. But for now let me try and document what I did for the “Like <3 and Subscribe to Your Digital !dentity in the Time of Corona” presentation.

In fact, it was quite similar to the process I blogged about for the EDUPUNK Q&A, so I will try and keep this a bit briefer with the understanding you can refer back to my previous post for details (at some point I’ll try and come up with a more cogent tutorial).

Like with the EDPUNK Q&A I had 3 main scenes:

1) The Console Living Room:

2) Reclaim Arcade

3) Slide presentation mode

Each of these scenes is composed of pretty much the same inputs/shots as the OBS screenshots in the EDUPUNK Q&A post. Only difference is I deigned to change my shirt, or at least the unbuttoned button-up. What’s more, I added five video shots this time versus the four I used in the EDUPUNK video. Katie and Meredith’s Tik Tok videos were Media Source inputs of a video file I had in a folder on my desktop. Nothing else special, other than making sure in Advanced Audio Preferences for the videos I could monitor to hear it as well as the audience (see “Brian on Crack” example in EDUPUNK Q&A post). For the Buggles’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” video I included my webcam in that shot so I could be goofy and sing/dance along. This was as easy as adding another video capture device, my webcam, but I made sure there was no audio for me on this.

The coolest bit was Katie filmed her 2 minutes discussion of her story around her viral Star Wars Tik Tok against a green screen, so I could add the Yoda image cleanly behind her using the Chroma key in Filters for her video. That was a new process, and remarkably easy in OBS.

Finally I mapped my Stream Deck with the 3 primary scenes: LR (console living room), Full Screen (Reclaim Arcade shot), and Vinylcam (which is actually the presentation mode). The other five video scenes are in yellow and I order them to my liking, but can also label them to make sense for me.

The last bit which is different from the EDUPUNK Q&A video was I used the OBS Virtual Camera plugin for the Mac, it has been around for a while for Windows but a new development for Mac this Spring. This plugin let’s me choose everything I output from OBS as a camera input for an application like ClickMeeting or Zoom or any other video conferencing tool that supports it (this is why I needed to test ClickMeeting well in advance). It is super slick. When I chose the OBS Virtual Cam as my camera for ClickMeeting everyone can see my OBS app as the output. That worked brilliantly.

In fact, I tested everything again that morning so that by 2:30 PM when I was ready to test in the room I was sure everything worked—did I tell you I was nervous? Well, while the virtual video output was fine I had a bit of a scare when Paco, who was awesome, let me know the audio from the videos was not coming through. Oh no! I was racking my brain until I remembered I needed to use the virtual audio output from the Loopback application I use to mix sound together from various applications. Once I switched my audio from just my mic to the virtual sound output I named OBS Audio I was cooking with gas with only 5 minutes to spare, whew! After that, it was show time and I am pretty stoked we could pull it all off! Let me know if you need some comedy relief at your next online event 🙂


*The big test ClickMeeting passed with flying colors was working with the OBS Virtual Camera plugin, but more on that in the post above.

†A few years ago Alan Levine and I toyed with the idea of doing a ds206 course ( wherein we started thinking more intensely about various aspects of managing your digital identity and resulting work online. I think the idea of doing it as a course through a university (which was on the table at the time) was a bit more than either of us wanted to commit to given other demands, so we shelved it.

Posted in digital identity, ds106tv, Instructional Technology, presentations, reclaim, video | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

5 Questions about EDUPUNK

Two days ago Alex U. at the University of Montreal sent me an email asking if I had time to answer a few questions about EDUPUNK as a learning model for a presentation due Sunday.* I immediately offered to video chat with the class given I’ve been wanting to explore some of my live video capabilities with the new rig. Turns out that wouldn’t be possible for logistical reasons, so Alex asked if I might be able to put together a quick video. I jumped at the chance given I’ll be talking to the folks at GO-GN on Wednesday about digital identity live via video, and I’m always looking for real world opportunity to test out my live video presentation these days.

Above is the video I created for Alex to share with the class which came out better than I thought it would, quite frankly. Below is a quick explanation of my process so I don’t forget how I did it. Narrate your process, people!

It’s probably no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I have been knee-deep in video and radio broadcasting since lockdown here in Italy. It’s been a blast, and I finally feel like I have things locked-in enough to comfortably stream a presentation live using OBS with a mutli-scene setup. So, here is what I did for the above video. I already had two basic shots I use for most of my stream videos that have me first appear on the TV in the Console Living Room:

And then a fullscreen shot in Reclaim Arcade:

A point worth noting here is that I now have a green screen that allows me to add the arcade image background seamlessly. But, even better, I was able to add a transparent background, thanks to the green screen, to my presentation of images and video so it looks like I am layered on the content. There is a connection when doing this that seems so much more unified than being within a picture-in-picture frame.

As you can see above, the slides are behind me and I can talk to my points as if I am there. I did this by capturing one of my two monitors with a full screen browser that has Google Slides open in presentation mode so that I can advance through images while talking quite easily (Tim mentioned a setup he heard about where someone used the iPad to swipe through slides which would probably even be easier). I’m pulling in the audio from both by mic and Google Chrome using a virtual audio input from Loopback called OBS Audio (the Mic/Aux input in OBS is muted).

So, that is all fine and good: I created an establishing shot, close-up, and then a slide presentation view. The next step was integrating video seamlessly into the presentation, and to do this I grabbed a few fun clips from Alan Levine’s awesome EDUPUNK mockumentary to make a couple of points throughout the talk:

Grabbing the video with my Youtube downloader site was simple, now I wanted a few shots of Brian Lamb and I talking about EDUPUNK, particularly Brian 🙂

I originally tried creating a playlist in VLC and pulling in that application as a shot but the videos’ audio were out of sync, and it was awkward to control. Instead I created each video I would be using as a separate scene and loaded the shot as a Media Source directly from my computer, and that worked seamlessly. The only thing I had to do is make sure audio monitoring was on in Advanced Audio Settings for each video given I could not hear it while it played back:

And the final piece that made this go as smooth as it could have gone for me, was mapping each scene to a button on my new Elgato Stream Deck that allowed me to seamlessly change scenes back and forth from video to presentation mode without any issues:

This is the software that allows me to drag and drop an OBS scene on Stream Deck, which is actually a hardware device that sits on my desk with 15 buttons that I can manually switch between shots, allowing me to essentially be a one-man video streaming presentation band.

It’s a beautiful thing, and I am quite happy with the final results, warts and all. I guess I should have talked about EDUPUNK, but I kinda feel like experimenting with how to present dynamically via a remote video stream quickly and relatively cheaply using open source software like OBS makes the point in this COVID-19 moment more than anything I can say. The spirit is alive and well on the web, despair is just one option 🙂


*It’s rare anyone reaches out about EDUPUNK given it’s over 12 years ago now (crazy), so I jumped at the opportunity to talk about it.

Posted in ds106tv, edupunk | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments