Mini Mt. Marcy

Last month Lauren and I travelled to Skidmore College to run our first Reclaim Roadshow. I thought it was a great success, and Lauren has already blogged her reflections on the two-day workshop/user-group. I agree with her entirely that it was invigorating to get on the road and talk at length with both current and prospective Domainers about the limits and possibilities of this platform. I’ll try and follow-up on Lauren’s post about the workshop after I finally blog about our post-workshop conversation with Katie Martell (which Lauren also already blogged!), so essentially go read Lauren’s blog for any relevant news and let me write about getting my ass kicked on Mt. Marcy 🙂

Mini Mt Marcy

But it was gorgeous, but let me backtrack here. When Ben Harwood, Lauren and I were planning the Reclaim Roadshow I was interested in returning to a childhood haunt, namely Lake George. As a teenager I spent a number of very memorable summers inidyllic Bolton Landing thanks to my good friend and his father’s enormous hospitality. Lake George is amazing and given Skidmore College is just twenty miles south I was hoping to spend a day hiking around the lake, particularly given late Fall is a part of the year that I had never seen that area. So, as a bonus to the Roadshow was the possibility of a hike, which given my attempts to survive in Trentino the last few years seemed very inline with the new and improved bionic bava.

Mini Mt Marcy

So, after the workshop Ben suggested we try the highest peak in New York State, namely Mt. Marcy, which is actually two hours north of Saratoga Springs near Lake Placid—home of the 1980 Winter Olympics! When I looked at the altitude of 5,343 feet (1,629 m) I was like “Not a problem.” Hiking altitudes of 2000 to 2500 meters has become a fairly regular occurrence these days, and I was confident that the hike would not be an issue. So, Ben (who is old gold ds106 and has been in the edtech game for a long time) recommended it I was like absolutely, let’s do it. But when he soon after suggested we leave at 4 in the morning I was kinda dismissive. “Why? Do we really need to leave that early for a modest day hike?” Turns out that was my pride fucking with me. The hike to Mt. Marcy from our point of departure (the Adirondack Loj) was over a 7 mile hike one way. “OK, so it is a bit longer distance than the hikes I usually do—but still, 4 AM?” That was my pride fucking with me again. We did get up at 4 AM, and we arrived at the Loj (the unfortunate spelling was a victim of Melvil Dewey, founder of the Lake Placid Club and ardent advocate of spelling reform) at 6 AM and I appreciated the early start cause that would mean we could finish the hike early and spend the afternoon checking out the Olympic Village in Lake Placid. What did I say about pride again?

Mini Mt Marcy

So we started our hike in the dark, and did I mention it was snowing? It had started snowing the evening before, and while in Saratoga Springs it was turning to rain, two hours north it was solid snow. We were chasing the snow plows up to Lake Placid, and by the time we got to Mt. Marcy there was at least 6-8 inches on the ground with the heavy stuff just getting underway.

It made for a beautiful and peaceful hike. I was feeling good at the start. Ben and I had a hearty egg sandwich at a nearby Stewart’s, not to mention we came prepared with food, snacks, and refreshments of all kinds. The first hour or so was solid, I was moving at a decent clip, and while the path was a bit more rough than I’m used to I was feeling good. But then we started to climb, and the path was not what I am used to….

Mini Mt Marcy: Is this the trail?

Literally there was no discernible path, and the rocks, streams, and snow were starting to wreak havoc on my flow. Ben, however, was unphased—and I was like hmmm. And then, the others came, and that’s when I knew I was not as good a hiker as Italy has led me to believe. Let me explain something here quickly, the Italian alps have spoiled me. The paths are wide, well-marked and meticulously manicured. What’s more, even the most banal surroundings in the Alps are postcard quality, and often times hikes lead to world class restaurants. That was not the case here, the views were all of trees and streams (although quite pristine and gorgeous woods to be fair) and the trails more akin to an obstacle course; I found myself jumping over streams onto rocks and more than once found my boot in 8 inches of cold mud. I was getting exhausted by the hike in the second hour, and then, as I already mentioned, the others came. People in their 50s and 60s dressed in lycra jumpsuits and booties flew by me like weightless ghosts out for a stroll. It was as if I was standing still. My pride got an overdue reality check; I was in for a serious hike. While the altitude was nothing, the trail and the distance was everything, and each step was earned. While the amazing vistas in Trentino are doled out like universal basic income payments, in typical American fashion you work really hard for very little in the way of a payoff. A couple of times on the way up the trees broke a little to show off other peaks, but not often enough to be noteworthy.

Mini Mt Marcy: High Bear Activity

That said, maybe this hike seems so special to me because I did have to work so hard for what by other standards seems so little. The landscape seemed very 17th or 18th century America to me, if that makes any sense. I felt a sense of an expansive, wild, and beautiful setting that seemed to come from before our time, it was almost other worldly—and very different from the sense of the conquered paths of the Italian Alps. But maybe all that was my exhaustion (rather than my pride) fucking with me by that point. Seven hours later, and almost 7 miles of ascending and we finally arrived at 1 PM to an area we learned was called Mini Mt Marcy. We were getting up to where the tree line was ending, and the wind and snow were picking up. The last 1000 feet were going to be well-earned. In fact, with 3 or 4 hours of daylight left it was quickly becoming clear we were not going to make it to the summit. We were close, but there would be no cigar. And by this time my pride was all but gone, and I was now thinking survival given it was starting to get colder.

Mini Mt Marcy: a Happy Ben

So Ben and I went on a bit further and then decided to turn back and make it down the mountain before nightfall. I appreciate that Ben held back a bit for me because it was apparent he could have gone much further much faster, but it seemed like he was in his happy place regardless, so I don’t think he minded too much.

The bava up over his head

On the other hand I was worried about the way down given that is often when you’re tired that you get careless and shit goes wrong. But the way down was pretty smooth, much easier than the climb up, and we got back right around 5 when the day was spent. On the way down we were passed by a few folks who had ascended the summit, and Ben asked what time they started, the answer was crazy….3 AM! I think we could have made it to the top if we started the hike at 3 AM, but not sure I would do that knowing as much. The gentleman also noted he tried summiting last weekend but could not given the ice, so he returned to finish what he started and I thought that was pretty cool. He did mention he could have used snow shoes given he was making the trail in waist high snow, which is when I was thrilled we didn’t try and go any higher given my dungarees had already become a patchwork of dirt and fairly large ice balls that added at least 5 pounds to my load.

Mini Mt Marcy: almost home

But we made it back safe and sound, and the two bowls of chicken soup I ate for dinner never tasted so good. In fact, hiking almost 15 miles in a day and being pushed quite hard for hours at a time made this probably the most memorable hike to date. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things in Italy, but being pushed like this is a different thing all together—and you start to really go inside yourself mentally which is something I enjoy a lot. It was a flashback to my brief time as a long distance runner back in the early 90s. It’s kinda rewarding to think I’m scratching my way back into something resembling physical shape, and also sobering to realize there is so much more work to do. But more than anything, it was a very cool adventure into the Adirondack wilderness, and while I appreciate the stunning beauty of Italy, this trip rekindled a similar joy I experienced as a wayward teenager hiking the Adirondacks around Lake George during those long high school summer vacations. I guess the ultimate trip in all this is time, and how it’s both circular when it comes to memory and experience and linear when it comes to my aging ass.

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Adding Super Admin Access for WPMS

Image of a Superman bearing WordPress symbol on chest

Super Admin -image found at https://ben.lobaugh.net

While I’m on the sysadmin blogging tip, wanted to record another issue that came my way this week so I can remember how to solve it. WordPress Multisite (WPMS) is probably the application I am most comfortable with supporting (which is probably not saying much) because I have a pretty good sense of the way in which it abstracts the global database tables from the individual blog site tables. So, when I got a ticket this week letting about an issue with super admin access to the Network features, I was fairly certain I could solve it, especially since I asked for help with a similar issue with one of my own blogs earlier this year when moving it from a WPMS environment to a one-off WordPress blog

So, the issue here was an super admin could no longer access the Network admin dashboard after their LDAP details changed. To update the LDAP plugin they needed super admin access, but when I checked the user table there was no super admin.* Anyway, there are a few ways to give a user super admin access as Andy Feliciotti blogged brilliantly already. Given I had no users with super admin access, I was going to have to take the phpMyAdmin route which entails editing the “admins” field in the “wp_sitemeta” table. I’ll quote Feliciotti below given he was quite clear:

You’ll see some serialized data in the value of the field such as “a:1:{i:1;s:5:”admin”;}”. When you’re dealing with serialized data it can get a bit odd, but adding an admin with the user name “Andy” would be done as follows.

So as you can see the first number a:2 matches how many entries you have so for 3 admins you’d put 3. I simple just copied and pasted the first bit “i:1;s:5:”admin”” and added a semicolon to indicate another entry. Then increased the i by one and s matches how many characters are in the username, in my case 4. If you enter any of the variables wrong you’ll know by checking to see if your new user is an admin.

I did this and was able to restore super admin access to the user, and they could do what they needed to do, which is always nice. As for why this happened, well that might be fodder for another post when I figure it out.


*The cause of the underlying issue is one I am still looking into, not sure if the LDAP details changing had anything to do with it, but I am thinking no.

Posted in sysadmin, wordpress multi-user, wpmu | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Restarting a Discourse Container

We have a server that runs a kind of multisite Discourse environment that I discussed a number of years ago in this post. It is an Ubuntu server with Docker installed, and each of the Discourse instances on that server are spun up in Docker containers. It’s a very small, experimental part of what we do. In fact, we discontinued offering Discourse and Ghost in this kind of environment  a while back, and are far more interested in options like Cloudron, which makes hosting Ghost a breeze. That said, we have a couple of Discourse instances we still host and today the biggest one went down, which is always a bit of a scare for me given it is a unique environment. So, this post is simply going to retrace my steps in terminal to fix this because I always forget given it is not something I do often enough.

When I learned the server was down I figured I would try stopping and restarting the Container to see if that works. To do that I needed to go to var/discourse:

From there, I tried to stop the container (to find the container name I looked in the /var/discourse/containers/ directory which has all the YAML files for each install, and the container names are everything before the .yml extension.

That will stop the container and the following will restart it:

But when I went to stop the container I got the a storage full error, and when I ran a

on the server it was confirmed, the disk was full. I then proceeded to run the trusty NCDU command to get a sense of what was taking up all the space, and I have a suspicion it might be related to this overlay2 storage space issue others have complained about with Docker, but I took the easy route and deleted 10 GBs of old backups for the site and it was immediately back up and running. In the end a restart was not necessary, and I was able to solve a fairly random issue fairly quickly. 

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Same Old Drupal

I was fielding a ticket today for someone who was having a couple of issues with Drupal 8 after install, namely they were getting a Trusted Host Settings errorHere is the full error that shows up in the admin area:

*Errors found*
Trusted Host Settings –  Not enabled
The trusted_host_patterns setting is not configured in settings.php. This
can lead to security vulnerabilities. It is highly recommended that you
configure this. See Protecting against HTTP HOST Header attacks for more
information.

Being the awesome web hosting support technician that I am, I Googled it for a solution. And after watching the following video from the DrupalTutor I learned a couple of things:

  • This happens in Drupal  8 on install
  • This issue has been happening as far back as 2016
  • The fix is to edit the settings.php file in sites/default after changing permissions and figuring out a pretty hacky solution

The fact that this was happening to folks as soon as they installed the application is insane to me. What could be a worse user experience? Add to that the caching error below, and you have a perfect storm of terrible:

*PHP *
OPcode caching – Not enabled
PHP OPcode caching can improve your site’s performance considerably. It is highly recommended to have OPcache installed on your server.

Fact is PHP OPcode caching is enabled on this server, so you have to once again search the error message and use the fix given in this forum post to get rid of the error. I did not even check to see if they have a visual text editor after resolving these issues because I just didn’t have strength. Really Drupal?

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Blondie

Blondie’s Parallel Lines photoshoot

With the move of Reclaim Hosting’s infrastructure to DigitalOcean, we’ve had to retire fewer and fewer shared hosting servers. For us there is a natural cycle of students and faculty that sign-up for a class or project and a fair number no longer need the space after the class or project is done, which means there content is ultimately removed and we can keep using those servers without overcrowding. It’s a lot more sustainable than our previous setup with ReliableSite, and it means we have to add fewer shared hosting servers than previously. That said, the need still arises and given we’ve had to retire a bunch of servers like ramones, minutemen, huskerdu, unwound, etc. it’s nice to be able to reclaim the classics and bring them back to life—it’s like the inevitable “re-united and it feels so good” tour for servers. We actually started this in June with our last shared hosting server Fugazi and even followed up in August with a revival of our very first server Clash (just now realizing I never blogged that one!) so when Tim was inquiring about our next server name I just happened to be listening to Blondie‘s 1978 masterpiece Parallel Lines in Reclaim Video.

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Now playing @reclaimvideo -looking at you @edtechie

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To get even further in the weeds, neither Fugazi nor Blondie were previously shared hosting servers, rather they were the hostnames of the dedicated servers we were using on ReliableSite to manage several virtualized instances of Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) for schools using Solus. We quickly stopped naming DoOO servers after bands given how hard it was becoming to remember what band maps to what school, and simply named the server after the school. So the new shared hosting server names are actually ones that never really saw the light of day because they were effectively wrappers for a group of virtual private servers for various schools. There are a few others of this variety that we need to revive as well, namely Sonic Youth, the Replacements, and GenX. There ‘s  strange consistency and persistence to it all, at least in my mind. And now that there is even a pattern emerging, Fugazi (DoOO VPS server) then Clash (our first shared hosting server) then Blondie (another DoOO VPS server) the next server name has to be a throwback to the OG shared hosting servers, and I have a good idea which one. What’s in a name? Everything.

I care, but I don’t care that you don’t know!

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You’re Invited to the Domains 19 Conference

Nothing makes an event feel more official than when the website finally goes live. And the Domains19 website has been official since last Thursday, so I think it is fair to say this conference is definitely happening. It will be taking place on June 10 and 11th at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina. The site art is a throwback to visions of the future during the 80s (hence the “Back to the Future” theme for the conference), and we are fortunate enough to have Ryan Seslow working with us to define the overall conference aesthetic. I’ve found imagining the aesthetic for Reclaim’s various projects over the years some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.* I’m biased though, I always feel the coolest and most compelling work comes out of art projects rather than papers. 

So for Domains19 we are hoping folks will explore various topics the event will focus on through a more experimental, interactive proposal of some kind. I’m planning on bringing back to my “Data is the New Flesh” installation from OpenEd 2013 featuring Dr. Oblivion (despite the fact no one has asked for it), and we’re really hoping others follow suit so I’m not entirely alone. In fact, I’ve a sneaking suspicion our keynote speakers, which will be announced over the next few weeks, will be eschewing traditional presentations formats for a more interactive and immersive series of experiences. 

All that said, more traditional presentations and panels are also fine … I guess 🙂 You can find the  call for proposals here, and if you are planing on coming but not presenting the registration page is also live. So, if planning on presenting or just coming to take in the Art of Domains, consider yourself officially invited! We would love to see you all in North Carolina this June to explore a wide variety of pressing themes that will hopefully transport us back to the various possible futures of EdTech.


*The tradition goes back to the myriad design work we’ve done with Bryan Mathers for severla years now, as well as the more recent building out of the Reclaim Video site with Michael Branson Smith.

Posted in Domains 2019, reclaim | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Building a Line Wobbler Clone with Twang

In my previous post I wrote about being transfixed by the Line Wobbler at the Video Games exhibit that runs through February at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  In this follow-up I’m going to try and document how Tim, Meredith, and I actually built a clone of the Line Wobbler called Twang (“an Arduino-based 1D dungeon crawler”) and you can find the code at this Github repo. I followed the list of things to buy from the Github repo, and they were right on. Here’s the specific pieces I bought for reference:

I would add to that list the following few things:

I think that’s all, but I may add to the above if I remember anything else. The whole thing will cost you around $85 US.

The other things you need to get are the required libraries for the Arduino that are listed on the Github page, I have them all downloaded in this zip file for easy, one-click downloading, but they can all be found online as well.

Twang Joystick Enclosure

Beyond the hardware and the software, you will also need to 3D print an enclosure. We actually bought a Ultimaker3 printer last week, so it was a perfect test for our new workhorse 3d printer—that machine is awesome. We (royal, this was all Tim) modified the Twang joystick enclosure a bit, and that was a wild process (more on that shortly). You can also explore the buildlog.net remix of the Twang joystick which is very cool.

Twang joystick remix by Buildlog.net

So, once you have all the pieces and have printed the enclosure you should be ready to start building your game. One of the cooler part for me was Tim’s ability to customize the Twang joystick to adjust for a different speaker size as well as increase the depth of the gyroscope casing to fit the wires.

First mod was reducing the thickness of one section of the cover plate so that the speaker would fit cleanly in the enclosure. To do this Tim essentially removed a layer of the coverplate using Tinkercad, and it worked perfectly. You can see in the bottom corner we left a small triangle of the original depth to keep the coverplate fastened.

Arduino Twang joystick

The first task we tackled early in the week was learning how to solder the requisite wires on the gyroscope. Meredith and I actually worked through a practice soldering kit given this as our first time, and after about an hour we felt comfortable enough soldering the pins to the gyroscope board. There may be a more efficient way to solder given you will only be using the VCC, GND, SCL, SDA, and INT pins, but we decided to solder the entire pin connector so we could use the Arduino wires to just slide them on cleanly. That said, this is also why we needed to reprint the casing for the gyroscope that sits on top of the doorstop, it was not deep enough if you include the pins like we did.

Arduino Twang joystick

Arduino Twang joystick

Getting the piece soldered was a big deal for us. I did say before I began this build: “Can’t I get someone to do the soldering for me?” Not very Maker-compliant thinking 🙂

Arduino Twang joystick

Once the pins were soldered we color-coded each of the gyroscope connections as shown above based on the colored wires we had. 

Arduino Twang joystick

As you can see from the image above the gyroscope goes into the top of the joystick that sits on the doorstop. So, with the gyroscope soldered and placed in the joystick casing and the wires run through the doorstop it was time to plug them into the Arduino board. Thankfully buildlog.net once again bailed us out by making an awesome graphic illustrating where all the pins go (note they use an alternative color scheme than ours):

You can see that the SCL and SDA can go where he has them sitting before the AREF, or in ports 20 and 21 which are labeled accordingly. The INT pin goes in port 2 and the Vcc pin can use the 3V power port (he has 5V listed, but I saved that for the LEDs and both worked—probably cause we used fewer LEDs) and the ground goes to GND. Once all those are plugged in you should see the green power light on the gyroscope.

Arduino Twang joystick

If that worked you should be able to move on the the LED lights. I messed up here, which cost us some time. The LEDs will have five wired, a power and ground wire (red and black respectively that are not pictured above) and the LED specific wires (data (green), clock (red), and black (ground)) that are pictured above. The clock (red) goes into port 3, and green (data) into port 4, and LED ground (black) goes into a GND port. As I mentioned before, it is recommended to use a different 5V power supply for the LED lights, but possibly because we only used 300 we did not need to, so we plugged the power and ground for the LED strip into the Arduino board as well, but your mileage may vary on this one.

Arduino Twang joystick

Once you have the LED wired you can then wire the gyroscope using the diagram above and the 3V power port as I specified.

The speaker is the final bit, and I have yet to solder ours, but this is basically two Arduino wires that you plug into ports 11 and 12. This was crucial for us cause I did not think to plugin it in while we were troubleshooting the LED lights I had in the wrong ports, but once Tim had the idea we could establish the game was working given the sounds played.  So if you have the gyroscope hooked up, the LED lights plugged in and have loaded the code and libraries all to no avail, be sure to connect the speakers.

Now we are ready to download the Arduino IDE interface and start loading libraries and see if this thing works (note you can do this when ever you want, but there is really no need until the LED lights and gyroscope are hooked up). The Arduino IDE is basically your desktop app to upload libraries and edit and upload Arduino code (which is written in simplified C/C++). The first thing to do is plug the USB a to USB B convertor in your computer and go to Tools–>Port to see if you see the Arduino in the USB port. If you do you can start uploading the libraries.

The screenshot above is how you upload the various zip files of the required dependencies for Twang. Go to Sketch–>Include Library–>Add .ZIP Library. Once you have uploaded all the required libraries you can then upload the Twang files using the Open icon (upward arrow) and find the Twang.ino file in the TWANG folder with all the requisite code (it is the TWANG.zip file in the dependency and core files I linked to above) on your desktop or where ever you are keeping it.



At this point the code should be ready to be uploaded to the Arduino using the right-facing Arrow icon and it will then be pushed to the Arduino. You can use the Arduino IDE to compile and re-upload the code using the right-facing arrow (upload) and the check mark (compile) icons. These will be useful given you may need to make some edits. We had to change the number of LEDs, for example. We got a strip with 300 LEDs, so we needed to edit the following line of the Twang code from 1000 300 in the // LED Setup area::


After that, we needed to define the type of LED lights we’re using, this is another detail I missed that Tim picked up on. In the //Fast LED section you can change the type of LEDs from APA102 

to WS2812B, which is the type of LED lights we bought (which are cheaper):

If you have APA102 lights no need to make this change, and there may be others varieties of LEDs, so be sure to check which type of lights you ordered to make the correct edit here.

OK, I think that is everything, and the sheer thrill of getting this running was worth the time. And the game plays quite well. I am gonna try and add more LEDs to the string and see if I can get the lives indicator working, so I may add updates and follow-ups, but you can see the came play in the videos below. If you to try and make this thing, I do not think you will regret it—and it could make a fun light display for the holidays 🙂

 

Posted in Arduino, video games | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

DIY Video Games at the V&A

Last weekend the whole family spent a few days in London and it was a blast. I’ve been to London a few times over the last two years, and I’m a big fan. We did a bunch of things, but I’ve been unable to shake the Video Games Exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, so I figured I would blog a bit about it.

It basically focused on a number of fairly recent games (last 10 years or so): Journey, The Last of Us, Bloodborne, Splatoon 2, Consume Me, Kentucky Route Zero, and No Man’s Sky (I may be missing one or two). The vignettes explored various design elements that make the selected games unique, essentially arguing that the last 10-15 years has been a particularly fecund period for video game narrative and design. For example, with the The Last of Us the focus on the AAA (mean big budget) approach to The Last of Us with hired actors, extensive green screening, and the robust character development of the main character Tess (a name near and dear to my heart). 

The Last of Us

The also had the very analog approach to the game narrative that I really enjoyed. Seeing the game development outside the screen was quite compelling (and the same was true with Journey).

Tess Attacks

The concept art for the grown over infrastructure that defines the world of The Last of Us  was powerful, it’s work we can come to take for granted in the artistic process—but this exhibit laid it bare again. I appreciated the way in which the exhibit integrated the various complex components of acting, art, design, and narrative that frame a game before it even get to the programming stage.

V&A Video Games Exhibit

And the exploration of narrative continued with the discussion of a game I had not heard about before seeing the exhibit, namely Kentucky Route Zero. This is an Interactive Literature game that framed its relationship to a wide range of literature, experimental films, surrealist artists and the history of computing and technology. I have not played this game, but after the discussion of the various influences and plays through I am planning on it.

Kentucky Route Zero

The following screenshoted moment from the videogame is playing on the painting Le Blanc Seing by René Magritte

Kentucky Route Zero

An another influence was Jane Veeder’s 1982 video art piece Montana, the first of its kind, and a brave new world of early 8-bit video graphic art for me.

There was also an interesting breakdown of the mobile game Consume Me by Jenny Jiao Hsia, a puzzle game that frame questions around body image through her compelling imagery. 

Consume Me

You could play the game, and it was fascinating how consumed those who did became, almost a double entendre of the game’s name.

Consumed at V&A Video Games Exhibit

Another game I need to explore is No Man’s Sky, the aesthetic is deeply rooted in the 1970s scifi aesthetic I have found myself drawn to more and more these days.

The game features a procedurally generated, open world universe, which includes over 18 quintillion planets. I have no idea what that means, but the screenshots are quite compelling. Miles warned me it’s not that good, but I want to cruise around it for the aesthetic experience more than the gameplay. 

No Man’s Sky Screenshots

But the thing that most compelled me by the exhibit was the final room which featured a bunch of DIY arcade cabinets.

V&A Video Games Exhibit

Much of which is linked to a “players_offline” idea, wherein folks go to a place to both create and play these games, and they are quite awesome—and according to the following placard define a “punk scene” within the gaming culture where anything is possible and nothing predictable. 

Players Offline

That’s all fine and good, but were the games any good? Actually, they were damn good. The Queers In Love at the End of the World cabinet is a crazy game wherein you have like a split second to make a choice as the world is ending. it is all text-based, and remarkably compelling and compassionate at once. It all happens so fas you don’t know what hit you, and I think that’s kind of the point.

Queers in Love at the End of the World

The Bush Bash is a DIY cabinet from Australia made out of half a car. The car is cut in half and you sit in the driver’s seat and shoot other cars, almost like a full scale Spy Hunter. The gear shift is the joystick and the steering wheel controls the car, while the road is projected on the wall. It is an awesome thing to behold, I want to try and make one of these.

Bush Bash

You can see Tess playing it in the videos below to get a better sense of what I am talking about:

And then there was the Line Wobbler, which blew my mind. It is essentially a full blown dungeon video game programmed on an LED strip. I was absolutely mesmerized; I could not stop looking. 

Line Wobbler

The sheer simplicity and brilliantly evocative and tangible nature of the design and execution of the Line Wobbler was so powerful for me that I could not stop thinking about it since. So much so that I decided to try and make one, and with Tim Owen’s help we did thanks to this clone (I love the internet), but that is fodder for my next post wherein I give a play-by-play for anyone wanting to give it a shot.

I came out of this exhibit wanting to turn transform Reclaim Hosting headquarters into a space to both make and play such video games (amongst other things). An excuse to return to the idea of making part of CoWork a maker space that can feed my growing DIY arcade obsession 🙂 Now to go cut a car n half and figure out how to re-create Bush Bash!

Oh yeah, and my kids had fun too 🙂

 

Posted in art, video games | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Remembering OWLTEH, Part 1: the Open Web Installations

Hard to believe it’s been more than a week since the Learning on/with the Open Web conference (OWLTEH) in Coventry. It was a great conference experience for me, and if I don’t stop and take a bit of time to capture some of it I’m afraid the magic might be lost. Also, I’m going to have to gloss the conversations and resulting panel discussion with Tony Hirst and Anne-Marie Scott because that will require its very own post, so I’m saving myriad thoughts about that awesome experience within an awesome experience for a soon to materialize follow-up. That said, Anne-Marie Scott already did a far better job than I will of capturing some of the excitement (and unease) that was generated as a part of that panel, and I am grateful for her work in so many ways.

For me the OWLTEH experience was so good because it was relatively small (I would guess 40-50 people), a brilliant venue (the Coventry Transportation Museum is a gem), free and open to anyone who wanted to come (and a lot of really good people made it), and more than anything it emanated the positive vibes of the organizers, namely Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL). The event was done on the cheap, and it was energizing in some very fundamental ways—but I’ll touch on that later.

So, while I’m still a bit high on the post-conference experience, that wasn’t the case leading up to it. It’s a lot of work to organize a conference to begin with, but when you are trying to help with that while attempting to build an installation remotely and you have over promised on a series of networked 90s computers, the level of fail can be painful. Needless to say my vision for actually enabling folks to surf the 90s web on period appropriate machines did not materialize. We did have a nice 1997 desktop computer running Windows 95 with various games like the OG Grand Theft Auto, Warcraft II, Duke Nukem 3D, etc., but no web—which makes me sad.

Charlie and Alex modeling the Windows desktop on display at OWLTEH

That said, Rob Farrow’s above Tweet was some consolation, the idea that 90s gaming was the seed of so much of what my kids do regularly now is compelling for me. The Sega Mega, a period appropriate gaming console, with an absolutely gorgeous Sanyo monitor (I want one!) was courtesy of Alex Masters, who was an absolute savior for getting what little I did have working.

But all was not lost because Lauren Heywood rules. While we tossed around the idea of the 90s web exhibit, Lauren made it happen by taking the lead and getting it done—unlike me. It really was cool to see it come together. Below is an image of the intro placards we created above, and for scale this is roughly 11″ x 14″.

I really like the opening paragraph Daniel Villar-Onrubio word-smithed for that one:

“Vague, but exciting.” These are the three words that Tim Berners-Lee’s boss at CERN wrote on the copy of his proposal of an Information System (http://info.cern.ch/Proposal.html), which would eventually become the World Wide Web (WWW). Launched in the early 90s, the Web was imagined by Berners-Lee as a space for knowledge sharing that was by definition an Open Web. Vagueness and excitement, as well as playfulness and ingenuity, also marked the early days of the Web. A time when a still tiny proportion of the worldwide population had the luxury to explore its potential and imagine myriad uses beyond its original purpose. This exhibition aims to convey the spirit of those early days of the Web as a way of rethinking its present and future role in teaching and learning.

He nailed it, and from there we had various community-submitted entries, somewhere between 15-20 sites featuring sites from the 90s web exhibited on a caddy-cornered bookcase from Ikea (Billy to the rescue). A few of the sites featured were Alan Levine‘s various web creations from the era—that guy has a long digital footprint— and I think I’m gonna have to get a separate post highlighting the various entries….damn I knew blogging OWLTEH was going to be an ordeal! 

For my part I submitted two examples, the first was a fan site dedicated to the British 1967 TV series The Prisoner (featured above) with the penny farthing bicycle complementary of the Transit Museum. The brief research I did around this Prisoner fan site (which was also part of a larger Prisoner Webring) led me to UK ISP called Freeserve from the late 1990s that has a pretty interesting story, here’s the label I created

The Prisoner (http://www.the-prisoner-6.freeserve.co.uk/)
The website screenshots captured here from 1998 and 1999 highlight the popularity of amateur fan sites across the web. One of the UK’s most celebrated television series from the 1960s, The Prisoner, had numerous fan sites—a fact demonstrated by the announcement of “The Prisoner Ring,” outlining the various benefits of linking with other similarly focused sites.* This site also provides access to various media such as music (.midi files), video (.avi files), and streaming animation using Microsoft’s proprietary video format Advanced Streaming Format (or .asf) as highlighted here.

As the URL suggest, this site was hosted through Freeserve, a British internet service provider founded in 1998. Freeserve took the bold move of dispensing with subscription fees for dial-up web access, opting for a portion of the telephone charges. Additionally, they provided 10 MB of web hosting space and multiple free email addresses. In two short years Freeserve would have as many as 2 million active subscribers in the UK and be valued at well over £1 billion.

*This refers to webrings, a popular method of highlighting a series of sites linked to one another based around a common theme.

I got taken with not only the budding ISP market in the UK, but also the Dot-com Bubble valuing of tech companies in the late 90s that is easy to forget about in the age of social media insanity where everyone’s got a startup valued in the seven figures. Freeserve was a huge disrupting force for British Telecom, which would ultimately buy them, and strikes an interesting note, at least for me, of what was to come.

My second submission was about the Prof.Dr. website style of the 1990s that Olia Lialina has written about extensively. I already referenced this label on the bava while preparing the exhibit, but to see it as a physical object in the UK was a thing of beauty. But you’ll also note from the above images a collection of open source tools gorgeously designed by one of the DMLL student activators. The color-coded designs feature various open source projects such as Jupyter Notebooks, Mastodon, Twine, Etherpad, and more. The various artistically designed installations and exhibits were indicative of the care and though that everywhere filled the day. The most impressive installation has to have been Rob Hassell and Mat Dalgleishthe’s SIDsynth64: “an 8-bit synthesizer combining obsolete and open hardware.”  Follow that link, and if your too damn lazy, see it in action below:

And, the kind of invisible exhibit highlighting the power of the open web was the conference web presence itself. The spaces where participants added their bios, submitted abstracts, checked the schedule, even added their photos were all built using SPLOTs. Nothing like a return to simple, open web-based tools for a manageable conference. After seeing the innumerable Tweets from the annual EDUCAUSE conference that folks couldn’t manage the deluge of spam from vendors. Jesus, what a nightmare. I take no little solace in knowing there are still folks out there in edtech that actually walk the walk of open and spare us all the blather.

All this and I haven’t even talked about any of the sessions or any of the participants beyond a few of the immediate organizers. I guess Remembering OWLTEH is going to have to be a multi-post series to remember OWLTEH, but it’s worth it!

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I woke up the other day and my phone was on 2%. I thought I had charged it the night before, but maybe not? In fact, the last week or two the lightning cable hasn’t been sitting right, and time and again I’ve found the phone was not actually charging when I assumed it was. Drat.

Anyway, I shuffled downstairs and plugged the phone in….and nothing; 2% juice and the lightning bolt refused to show. Dread.

I’m back on the road in a few days and a smartphone has become a indispensable tool for tethering anywhere, managing tickets, taking photos, restarting servers, checking Slack—did I mention taking photos? Can you imagine all this drama coming from someone who didn’t have a phone until three years ago; the transformation is complete, I am a middle-aged iZombie.

I’ve broken my share of laptop and smart phone screens over the last few years, but a lightning port was new territory. I just assumed I crushed it on my recent journey to the UK fighting off the hordes of foreigners, and was beginning to worry it was beyond the pale. I tried cleaning it out with the sharp end of a steak knife, but no dice. So, I went online to see what the process might be for replacing a lightning port.

Jesus! This video comment says it all, “… and then go down to the store to buy a new [phone].” For the iPhone 7+ you literally have to remove everything to get to the lightning port. I was getting discouraged. There’s a local shop for fixing phones and I was resigned to bring it in, but turns out it was a national holiday and everything was closed. Damn, damn.

Cutting it too close, and my phone was bricked without anyway to charge it—a remarkably frustrating feeling I had not felt until then.

So, I kept searching online and I found this quick tips video from CNET featuring the old reliable toothpick fix. I was skeptical, but it just so happens I co-habitate with some badass cooks and a toothpick is always in reach. I asked Tommaso, my trusty assistant in all things technical, to get the toothpick so we could try a last ditch surgery. And after some digging we pulled out a decent clump of lint that was, indeed, preventing the cable from making contact and foiling any charge.

What was craziest of all was the relief I felt when the phone finally started charging again, I knew I would become dependent once I broke down and gave in to the phone culture, but I don’t think I fully understood just how much it would cost.

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