OWLTEH’s Learning on the Open Web Event

Blade Runner: Owl Eyes

On the 25th of next month I’ll be attending Open Web for Learning and Teaching Expertise Hub (OWLTEH) conference dedicated to“Learning on/with the Open Web” in Coventry. And if you frequent those parts and are interested in exploring approaches to the open web in higher ed this could be your lucky day. I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop on SPLOTs and  exploring the future of ed-tech infrastructure, and that’s just  taste. The event was strategically scheduled as a lead-up to Mozfest (which will take place in London on the 26th and 27th) and we’re hoping folks who attend Mozfest considering making the trip to Coventry.

 Six of One Website from the 90s

And as a bonus, we are planning a 1990s web exhibit as part of the conference.

When Daniel Villar-Onrubio, Lauren Haywood, and myself first start talking about this event we saw it as a follow-up on various programs they have run at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab as well as bring a bit of the Domains 2017 conference to the U.K. If you are interested in exploring a range of open practices and tools to help faculty and students create their own teaching and learning spaces on the web, then this will definitely be worth your time . I would personally love to talk to any and everyone interested in learning more about Domain of One’s Own, SPLOTs, the future of ed-tech infrastructure, etc. and the best part of it all is that is free, as in FREEDOM 🙂  A quick, one-day event in Coventry on October 25th, the eve of Mozfest, to get the open web juices flowing. I’ll be writing more about this as the schedule solidifies in order to further entice you, dear reader, but consider this a “save the date” post. I’ll apply that gold old  bava charm anon to ensure you join us.

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Sebastian Koller-Watters

Seems to me finding an Audrey Watters quote in a ed- tech focused presentation is as common as finding an image of cats. Her work as become synonymous with critical ed-tech, so when Whitney Kilgore suggested creating inspirational quotes based on her work—nothing seemed more natural. There have been some fun ones, but given Paul Bond has started up another instantiation of ds106, I figured I would take the quote prompt as an excuse to ump in the assignment and do one of my all-time favorite assignments: Troll Quotes (or the Triple Troll Quote). It’s dead simple, take a quote, assign it to someone else, and add a picture of a third person just to help feed the fake news ecosystem of the web 🙂 It’s so easy you can do it all in Preview or Microsoft Paint in seconds. 

When I got the idea I knew the quote I would use, the 50 years 10 university quote from Sebastian Thrun that would make Audrey’s blood boil, and become that staple critique of  MOOC-mania, and by extension the Silicon Valley narrative, that was fairly rare in ed-tech. In fact, most folks where figuring out how they could jump on the MOOC gravy train in one way or another, but Audrey and Alan Levine did not let up, continually pointing out what a con the whole thing was. Which, I guess, explains the image of Daphne Koller, who founded  Coursera with Andrew Ng, a company that represented for much of higher ed the great disruption we’ve all been waiting for—and the degree to which money was spent, research time was devoted, and ink was shed for video lectures in a scalable LMS will never really add up for me—so much waste.

So anyway, thanks for the Monday morning diversion Whitney, and hopefully Audrey is a good sport about being conflated with the x-MOOC Mafia 🙂

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Reclaim Hosting: the VHS Days

Image of Reclaim Hosting's new homepage A Rotating Easter Egg is just one of the many features of Reclaim Hosting’s New VHS-Inspired Site Design

It’s official, Reclaim Hosting‘s website got an overhaul, and in addition to featuring Bryan Mather‘s updated VHS-inspired designs it also highlights several new services and products we are offering. Before I go into detail, I have to note that this re-design is entirely Lauren Brumfield‘s brainchild. She did the lion’s share of the site re-design as a professional development project that once we caught wind of it quickly became slated for a Fall launch. That speaks volumes to Lauren’s work ethic and impeccable sense of design, and I’m blown away by what she has accomplished. So, all hail Lauren!

Repo Man Migrations

The site does retain much of the art we used previously. For example, the Migrations page still features the glowing green car inspired by Repo Man (1984), and in many ways in the age of VHS at Reclaim Hosting the visual is more appropriate than ever 🙂

And the VHS Aesthetic is no where more apparent than in the new headers for many of the products. For example, we had soft released the new VHS icons for the Personal, Professional, and Org plans, but the labelled VHS tape in the header really ties the room together.

Managed Hosting at Reclaim

We’ve also added more managed services beyond WordPress MultiSite, including Virtual Private Servers and the soon to be released Commons in a Box offering. And as I mentioned yesterday, we are now offering shared and dedicated hosting for Pressbooks for all you waiting for the open textbook rapture. In fact, providing more managed shared hosting services like this is a direction we are hoping to explore in even more depth in the coming months.

Pressbooks screenshot

We are also now offering Professional Services, which folks can sign-up for if they need a hacked site(s) cleaned up, site monitoring, custom software installed/configured, and priority support and consultation. It is something folks have asked us about repeatedly, like Pressbooks, and for those running accounts that are mission critical, have a history of getting hacked, or just need to go above and beyond this may be a good option.

Reclaim getting all Professional

Finally, Lauren reach out to folks who we currently support, and you will see a number of pull quotes—like those below—punctuating various pages of the site.

Remain a big fan of of that human technology Lora Taub-Pervizpour!

No, YOU are superb, LaNeta! And your taste in academic hosting companies is flawless.

Did Tom Woodward say something positive about someone? A blog grows in Brooklyn!

It’s cool to read what the folks who work with us have to say, and when I look at the new site there is no small element of pride and excitement at how well-rounded and fully-featured our services have become, and I don’t think our personalized support and attention to detail have gotten lost in the mix. We continue to grow intentionally and scale for human growth and that, dear reader, has made all the difference!

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Built to Spill: Further Forays into Managed Application Hosting


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Where will you spend eternity?

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Later today Reclaim Hosting will be unveiling a makeover of our website that Lauren Brumfield executed quite deftly. I’ll let her discuss the particulars given we’re also rolling out a couple of new products and services alongside the redesign, and I did want to take a moment to talk about our continued exploration of new possibilities. Providing managed hosting for specific applications is something we’ve already ventured into at Reclaim Hosting with WordPress Multisite, and given how well that has gone we’re at it again with managed hosting for Pressbooks (NB: link will be live shortly). We have gotten several requests to run this application on our shared hosting servers, and while we have tried to do this for folks, the dependencies for features like exporting books to formats such as PDF, EPUB, etc. make it difficult to provide a consistent environment across our fleet of shared hosting servers.

That said, when good folks like Chris Lott come knocking and asking if we can do anything we figure it’s time to take a deeper look and see if we can offer Pressbooks as a managed application. A couple of weeks later it turns out we can provide a service that is cost effective and gets you most of what PressbooksEDU packages offer. For $125 per month you get an account with 100GB of storage, the option to automatically install Pressbooks, preinstalled dependencies and export formats, 30 days of backups, and pre-packaged plugins and themes provided by BC Campus.

As a result of having moved to Digital Ocean, we already have a number of shared hosting server in rotation through Digital Ocean that we can scale seamlessly if need be. So this semester we setup a shared hosting server in Digital Ocean’s Toronto data center dedicated to Pressbooks, namely Built to Spill. The server has all the requisite dependencies and what’s slick about it is that Tim Owens made it possible to automate the setup at the point of sign-up, so by the time you get into your cPanel account Pressbooks can be all setup and ready to go.

The server’s namesake marks a trend of recent server names such as Fugazi, Pavement, Bikini Kill, and Unwound–recognizing the post-punk bands of the 1990s that became one of the more successful stalwarts of independent music over the coming decades was this Boise, Idaho-based band that formed way back in 1992 Even after signing with Warner Brothers in 1995. Listening to their albums it is noticeable that band did not give up much creatively upon signing, and they went on to release 6 studio albums with Warner before parting ways last year.  The band’s magnum opus Perfect from Now On (1997) and the more polished follow-up Keep it Like a Secret (1999) are probably their best known albums, and they range from deep philosophical musings on the unfathomable nature of time in “Randy Describes Eternity”:

To creative, angst-driven John Hughes-movie themed gems like “Carry the Zero”:

Doug Martsch has been the only consistent member of the band since 1992, and he planned on changing the line-up with every album they recorded. And while that did not pan out, the band ha changed members regularly since the early 90s, keeping it a fairly dynamic, “self-cleaning” experiment in alt-rock that is still going strong. I discovered Martsch’s unique vocals and peripatetic guitar riffs when he collaborated with Calvin Johnson and Steve Fisk to form the Halo Benders, and their 1994 album God Don’t Make No Junk remains one of my very favorite of the 90s. I’ve remained a fan of Martsch tireless work ever since. So it’s official, Reclaim is going to be perfect from now on 🙂

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Blogging at Scale with Google Sheets

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

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

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

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

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

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The Life and Death of the Blog

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

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

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Well this past week has been a quiet one on the blog because half of Reclaim Hosting was traveling or vacationing which meant more time atop the support wall defending against the Winter of our clients’ discontent. To add to what has turned out to be a crazy week has been a new member of the bava tribe. Introducing bavaduke:


The Bavaduke during his morning walk

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I’ve dreamed of having a big, shaggy dog for a while now, and as things happen Duca (which was immediately Americanized to Duke because Duca is too uppity in Italian and then soon after augmented with the suffix bava which is both a family name and Italian for drool—not to mention the ode to another storied canine Marmaduke) was looking for a home after what is a bit of a murky 3-year backstory. There were Südtirolean hunters involved, as well as Veronese Rifugio owners—essentially a lotta ins and outs and whatnot. But he is with us now, and I have woken up around 5 or 6 AM every morning to feed him and go on 2-3 hour hikes in the surrounding mountains. I marvel at his ability to retrieve balls in the thick of the forest. Italian Spinones are renowned hunting dogs, and this shines through when he gets on the scent of a ball thrown in the thicket. He circles and circles constantly until pinpointing his target with nose-driven radar.

I’m completely in love. This dog is thebomb.com. Awesome with the kids, a solid hiking companion, and after just 5 days he has quickly become part of the family.

Not to mention he reminds me of the portrait of the green spagetti monster from season 1 of True Detective, which I recently re-watched for the third time. It’s destiny!


The hairy wood beast has arrived

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Reclaim’s Dedicated to Virtual Infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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Land of 1000 SPLOTs

So, Reclaim Today is a thing. Tim Owens moves so fast it is hard for the rest of us to keep up, but there are officially four episodes of our live video show, and I’ve been in half of them 🙂 The one I was part of earlier this week, Episode 3: Land of 1000 SPLOTs, was a lot of fun. Tim and I discussed SPLOTs with Alan Levine for about 40 minutes or so, and it was a discussion that reinforced—at least for me—the power of small, distributed EdTech. While folks fret about LMS marketshare, Reclaim Hosting wants to provide as many simple, small teaching tools as possible that are easily installed and cheaply hosted. We are starting this with a few of Alan’s personal portfolio SPLOTs built on top of WordPress—specifically the Big Picture Calling Card and Highlights Calling Card:

You’ll notice above they have their own unique installation icons, and once installed they look so pretty:

All this means we can start to expand the number of applications (and not just WordPress-based apps) from the broader community. It’s exciting, and the amazing work the folks at Coventry University are doing with SPLOTs really points the way forward. I could go on about the possibilities forever, but then you would never watch the video.

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