Alta Via Day 1 or, If You Really Loved Me You Would Bring Me Edelweiss

So, I’m blogging from my phone because for the first time in about 15 years I left my laptop at home. I’ll be in the mountains for the next 5 days hiking the Dolomites. An upside of not having a laptop, dear reader, is the posts will be shorter given I’m no iPhone novelist.

Anyway, day 1 Antonella and I started out with an hour train ride north to the town of Bressanone (Brixen) in Alto Adige.* From there a bus ride to a lift that would take us up to the top of Plose Mountain at 2446 meters (or 7300 feet). The place was hopping (most places attached to a ski lift are) and the cyclist defying physics was a highlight during our short stay: https://vimeo.com/352277839

We got up to Plose around 11:30 AM and needed to make it to our first overnight destination Rifugio Genoa (a rifugio is Italian for a mountain hut for hikers with awesome food) before 6 PM which was 10 miles and a 500 meter (1500 feet) ascent away. We knew this would be tight given we were starting late, so we made sure to pack sandwiches to power through. The vistas were already remarkable, and the first 6 or 7 miles were all downhill from 2400 meters to about 1900. We were moving and grooving, we even had some bovine traffic on the trail.


Also, the wood carvings were equal parts amusing and haunting, but seeing s fullblown wood ship sailing through thr aloine woods was refreshing, if not odd.

Wood carving aliens

Do you see what I see?

A ship in the woods leftover from the ice age

All was wine and roses and I was feeling strong and getting cocky, but as I’m sure you can imagine, I would pay for that. By 2:15 we stopped to eat our sandwiches after a solid 3 hours, and then we started our ascent after making it to Passo Rodella (with a short stint on the road) to the Forcella de Pütia, which sucked.

The hills are alive with the sound of bava

Alta Via 2

Brief stint on the road

Oh look at the pretty peaks, everything’s fine” he says

Alook back at the Plose (notice mountains still have snow in August)

It started mildly enough, but the last hour we basically were walking vertically for 300 meters (1000 feet). My 220 pound frame was feeling it, after about 500 feet I started re-thinking the whole thing, which probably won’t be the last time on this trip.

A look at the grueling ascent to Forcella de Pütia

I took a breather and gutted the last bit out, and my reward was worth it. Waiting for me was this guy!

This dog was begging for a picture at the Forcella de Pütia

And then there were the views. of thr views, views, views!!!

In fact, I had been to Forcella de Pütia in the Fall with Duke, but the path we took on that sojourn was much more forgiving. Once at the top a German family was kind enough to point out the rare flower Edelweiss growing in the wild, which immediately meant I would be breaking into song:

I was told this is Edelweiss

The last 40 minutes of the hike was spectacular, and brought us into Rifugio Genoa with an hour to spare. We were feeling accomplished!

Now a few impressions of my first time staying overnight at a Rifugio in Alto Adige:

  • These places are spotless. The Alto Adigeans may even be more orderly and neat than Jerry Seinfeld
  • Sleeping in a common room is a trip, just think of all the late night bodily excretions x10
  • The food in these Rifugi is awesome
  • You know all the hikers who are staying over night cause they’re the ones walking around in flip-flops
  • It gets quite chilly at night
  • The common dinner was a lot of fun, sharing stories with folks from Barcelona, Sydney, and Amsterdam was a real highlight

There are a lot of boots:

And that was day 1, below was the final shot of the day capturing the Odle group of Dolemite as the sun was retreating. Tomorrow we go in search of a path to take us to the other side of this stunning group:

P.S. -looks like I lied about the whole phone related brevity thing, but it’s my blog and I’ll go on ad nauseam if I want to.


*Alto Adige (Süd Tirol) is a border region that was annexed to Italy after WW1 but the primary language is still German, but it is effectively a bi-lingual region if Italy, although there is some tension for sure given the strong-handed measures of Italianizing the region during fascism that still linger. Anyway, all this to say if I know the German name for a place I’ll try and include it in parentheses, like Brixen for Bressanone, etc.

Posted in fun, Reclaim Italy, travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

VHStival at Video Vortex: It’s Happening!

Yesterday I locked into for a trip back to beautiful to Raleigh, North Carolina to attend the 3-day film festival at their local Alamo Drafthouse’s VHStival. I was trying to slow down the travel, but when I saw the insane program (Basketcase (1982), Toxic Avenger (1984), TerrorVision (1986) and Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986)!) it was impossible not to commit. These folks rule the VHS b-movie programming school. In fact, I bought tickets for these four movies before posting this in fear any publicity may mean no space left for me 🙂

What’s more, as luck would have it my oldest son Miles is available, so he will be joining Tim and I as we travel down south for 3 days of VHS heaven. I am super excited, and we are going to try and show off to any interested folks how we have tried to automate Reclaim Video, as well as possibly sit in on the VHS & Video Stores: Past/Present/Futures panel on Saturday. How sick is that? I truly feel like the luckiest guy on the Lower East Side because I have a VHS store and you want to go for an OG rental!

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Happy 6th Reclaim

Lauren reminded us this morning that today is officially the day Reclaim got started back in 2013. And with some quick math that makes us 6 years old. That is pretty damn exciting, as my new favorite GIF on the internet will demonstrate:

via GIPHY

I’ll have more to say anon, but savor the GIF because all my words will never be enough.

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Look around you Tessy

Dad and Tess at a diner in Wantagh

I was going to write a long post about my impressions of being back on Long Island last month. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with that fish-shaped isola since I left in 1989. Almost all my family are still there, and they’re the funniest people I know, but damn that place has aged badly.

I could go on and on, but I think this scene from Mosquito Coast pretty much sums up the experience Tess and I had driving along Old Country Road in Nassau County.

Granted my experience is colored by where I live now, but talking with my dad who grew up there in the 30s and 40s when it was farmland, progress has not been aesthetically kind, which pains me because it’s a beautiful island that plays a huge role in the formation of who I am, but I can’t help but surmise there are just too many damn people on it now.

The high rises of Far Rockaway as seen from Silverpoint Beach Club

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ALT Takes North America

The many faces of Martin Hawksey - Domains19

Photo credit: “The many faces of Martin Hawksey – Domains19” by Tom Woodward

I still have a lot to blog about Domains19, but I have made a significant dent in my blog to-do list since finishing my travels, and tomorrow my vacation starts so I’ll see if I can get a post or two in before then. In fact, this will be a twofer wherein I can point to Martin Hawksey’s brilliant keynote at Domains19 as well as bemoan missing ETUG, as a way to nod to Maren Deepwell’s keynote while at the same time recognizing the month the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) ate North American edtech 🙂

Dr Maren Deepwell - @MarenDeepwell

Photo credit: “Dr Maren Deepwell – @MarenDeepwell” by Tom Woodward

Keep in mind I’m biased having already proclaimed my love for the ALT team on this blog, so take the following musings with a grain of salt. That acknowledged, it’s my contention that ALTs recent headlining talks by Martin Hawksey at Domains19 in Durham, North Carolina and Maren Deepwell at ETUG in Kamloops, Canada represents a kind of “British Invasion” for edtech organizations. One of the things I think the US edtech scene is in desperate need of right now is a solid, grassroots organization that does outreach, development, and runs a conference that really highlights all the central, ethical issues at the heart of the field. I can’t pretend to speak for Canada, but I imagine they’re also scratching their heads these days for conferences to attend that have resisted becoming a vendor-driven pitch for analytics as a way to solve the university’s efficiency problems. In fact, while I’ve never attended ETUG, I have seen the community shaping it over the last decade or so and I have no doubt, given the actors involved, they represent a beacon of hope in the edtech conference fog. 

So, it can’t be coincidental that two of the major talents behind the ALT organization should find themselves in North American last month offering us a peek into the magic they have brewed across the pond with their OER conference, amongst many other events.* I’ll gladly go on record saying that OER19 was the best conference I have been to in the last ten years, hands down. The co-organizers Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz set the perfect tone and the quality and variety of sessions was amazing. What’s more, I think Reclaim was the only true-blue vendor there, so while they’re not entirely pure—their just compromised enough to have some fun 🙂

It’s my contention that Maren and Martin’s presence in the Western Hemisphere last month was a sign from the edtech gods we need try and bottle some of  the  community/conference magic so many of the good folks in the UK and beyond have been brewing, so we can export it to the Brave New World of learning engineers and personalized learning dashboards to provide a needed antidote and alternative to the relentless march of edtech to the vendors’ drum.

Come at me, bro!


*Admittedly I have not been to the main ALT conference just yet, I hope to rectify that sometime soon.

Posted in Domains 2019 | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Year Reclaim Hosting Grew Up

We just passed the half-way mark for 2019 and Reclaim has already accomplished most of the big items on its to-do list—which feels good. Our primary focus this year was pretty clear from the outset, hire more support staff to get Tim, Lauren, and I some relief from frontline support. I find the hardest part of Reclaim’s steady growth is letting go of certain things, but it has to happen. In order to focus on infrastructure, client outreach, workshops, conferences, community building, and planning for the future (not to mention our growing VHS rental market and nascent arcade) we had to stop answering so many tickets.

Hiring, Hiring, Hiring

To this end we started 2019 with a key hire of Judith May as Reclaim’s Customer Support Manager. Once we made the decision to go forward with the hiring process in late October we made the offer to Judith in December and she started soon after the New Year. It was an intense process that Justin Webb ran brilliantly, and we have not looked back since. Judith fit right into the culture, and the idea was to hire the manager first and then let them take ownership of the entire support side of things and from there augment the team and start building processes to make sure we can start scaling that side of the house beyond Tim, Lauren, and I. The crucial element to this transition was Meredith Fierro, who has been with us now for almost two years and has become an absolutely crack support specialist. Having colleagues like Meredith who are able and willing to chip in to make this big shift possible by showing folks the ropes and getting them trained up has been huge, and I am really grateful. 

Not long after Judith was hired we decided to double-down and hire two more support specialist that can begin to cover the nights and weekends, which would effectively begin to realize the dream of getting Tim and I more removed from support after hours. With that we were able to focus the next couple of months on another hiring process for two Customer Support Specialists that Judith ran, and by mid-May we had hired Danny Jimenez and Chris Blankenship for additional support coverage, and they have been an  awesome addition. In just a few shorts months the Reclaim Hosting team almost doubled, which is mind blowing for me. What’s more, I think all of us are beginning to feel the immediate rewards of the increased capacity for support so that we can begin to switch focus to other elements of Reclaim. This was our primary objective for 2019, and I am glad to say it is moving along beautifully.

Domains19

Another huge accomplishment was planning and running Domains19. Much of the credit goes to Lauren who took on that colossal task in addition to her account management, training, support, and sales responsibilities, so it was no small task, but just like in 2017, it went off without a hitch. You can read more about the conference in Lauren’s two-part recap here and here, Judith’s reflections on the sessions she attended, Tim’s post about automating session recording, my initial post about Art at Domains here (there is more to come), and there is even a bigger list of posts that I still have to work through. Domains was encouraging, and as John Stewart points out in his insightful post recapping the event we are at an inflection point, or between acts as it were:

If act one was the development of the technical, financial, and human resource models for building Domain of Ones Own projects, act two will I think focus on answering the existential challenge of integrating Domains into “normal” pedagogical practices.

That’s an awesome frame to revisit in two years, and it gives us all something concrete to build towards, which is something I really appreciate given being freed up from support a bit allows me to return to some serious community building.

Health Insurance, Dental, 401K, the whole damn package

Another big move we made this year is to move away from reimbursing our employees for health insurance and take the leap and provide it for them. It’s not a cheap endeavor by any means, but as we started hiring this year we knew a full blown benefits package was going to be key, so we now provide not only health, dental, and vision, but we also upgraded from a Simple IRA retirement program to a 401K, which means we are official. All we need is a fridge full of Fuji water and we can compete with all those Silicon Valley shit heads.

The other piece of this is we started to do some of that morbid planning that takes into account scenarios like “what if one of the two co-founders were to fall off a mountain”, or “what if one wanted to leave to start an arcade machine repair shop”, etc. This involves fun stuff like personal wills, life insurance, articles of organization, and the like. As we’ve been going through this process Tim and I realized that Reclaim has grown up a bit this year. We effectively doubled the number of employees, made sure everyone had real benefits, and even started to plan for the long haul to ensure no matter what happens Reclaim lives beyond either of us, which is crucial to us, our families, our employees, and our clients. It also means we have an answer for those questions we’ve been getting from potential clients since 2014 regarding what happens if Tim or I get hit by a bus*—which is always a pleasant talking point. I think we have accounted and planned for many of those scenarios at this point, and the process of building in safeguards and redundancy has been a really rewarding part of the first 6 months of 2019.

Investing in the talent you have 

Something Tim and I were keenly aware of after out time working at universities was making sure we acknowledge and reward the talent we have. This is something in our experience universities always struggled with, and was a big reason for the regular turnover. We want to try and keep our team as consistent as possible, and that means regularly evaluating, celebrating, and rewarding good work. We’ve been lucky that we have been able to retain amazing talent like Lauren and Meredith, and we wanted to avoid the scenario we were all too familiar with at UMW were you effectively had to get an offer from another job for them to even consider a raise. It was demoralizing for not only the employee, but also the employee’s team. It’s a bad situation, and we want to try an avoid it at all costs. So, in addition to providing regular raises, we want to start working with our employees to project the next several years of their professional life with Reclaim. Lauren and Meredith have been our longest running employees at 4 and 2 years respectively, so we started with projecting what it would look like if they were to stay with Reclaim for the next 4 or 5 years in order to start giving everyone at Reclaim a larger sense of their growing roles over time.  It’s something I really wish past employers would have done for me, I would have appreciated the opportunity to work towards a broader goal once I was settled in a bit, so we’ll see if this makes a difference in the long run, but it does highlight our philosophy of hiring the person beyond the position and making sure they have the space and encouragement to grow and learn.

Growth

I guess none of what came before would be possible if folks weren’t still hosting with us. So for that, we are ever thankful. Our growth has been steady for the first 5 years and this year is the first we may see a bit more of a dramatic uptick. Already this year we have as much new business as we had all last year, and the thing that has been interesting in this regard has been that while our shared hosting and Domain of One’s Own offering continue to grow consistently, managed hosting of WordPress Multisite and other applications has already doubled. It’s been nice to see this, and even better that many of those new accounts come from clients that are already using Domain of One’s Own—I can think of no greater testament to the fact they are happy with what we have been doing than by giving us more business 🙂

cPanel and the pitfalls of investment funding

Talking of growth, we remain investment free and in many ways got to witness the dangers of that road first hand—as did many other hosting companies this last week. In a rather unexpected move cPanel changed its pricing structure resulting in anywhere from a 300% to 800% increase monthly. They switched from per server licensing with unlimited accounts to charging per account on any given server which will create all kinds of financial havoc for many a host. So, for example, if you were paying $15 per server license for unlimited users, the new license would be $45 per server up to 100 users and either .10 or .20 cents (depending on whether you were a partner) per account beyond 100 accounts. So, if we have a server with 800 accounts, it would now be $45 for the license up to 100 accounts and another $70 per month for the additional 700 accounts (or $140 if you are not a partner-ouch!). So, what cost us $15 a month historically will now cost us $115. Now multiply that by X servers and the increase adds up quickly. We were lucky in that we could leverage educational licenses and avoid the increase on our Domains schools, but it still hits our shared hosting server costs hard, but at least we can manage that without immediate talk of price increases. In fact, we have to thank our account manager Brenda Gehringer who has been amazing at helping us navigate these changes to ensure part of our core business model was not in jeopardy.

It’s not coincidental that cPanel was bought by the Oakley Capital firm less than a year ago, an investment firm that also owns their biggest competitor Plesk. So, with cPanel and Plesk as the only robust alternatives the entire hosting industry felt both blindsided and trapped by the new pricing model. What’s more, the fact that the folks raising the price also own the main competitor infused no one with a sense of faith in moving panels. Even more damaging is the loss of faith amongst their customers. You can see how hard this has been on the employees of cPanel who are trying to deal with the fallout of what is a blatant strategy to squeeze as much money as possible from the hosting community to appease investors. It’s a dangerous road to travel because nothing is more valuable than your customers’ trust, and what has taken cPanel almost 20 years to build could be gone in a week. I feel for all of the folks at cPanel doing the work on the ground that have no control over this decision, but once a company goes down this road it has the real potential to end bad. At this point this is no longer about hosting, it’s all about the money.

Open Source

One of the things I had been thinking seriously about when Phil Windley was here, and a month later during Adam Croom‘s visit, was how we can ramp-up our community building at Reclaim. One approach is more on-the-ground meetups and workshops, which we have been working on already and I want to do more of this year and next. The other is an advisory board of folks from various Domains schools for us to consult and work more closely with. And that last idea, in the wake of the recent cPanel pricing announcement, sparked the idea that this might be the perfect opportunity to spearhead an open source web hosting panel that is developed in collaboration with a number of universities. It’s the seed of an idea I am really quite excited about the prospect of Reclaim pursuing. It would not only provide alternatives to a market that has been monopolized by an investment hedge fund, but more importantly create an opportunity to imagine the next generation of web hosting in light of a new era of applications, while imagining an alternative ecosystem of user-controlled privacy, data collection, and resource sharing. And while this is pie-in-the-sky right now, I am reminded that not so long ago Domain of One’s Own was just that. 

Reclaim Arcade

And lest you think we are too grown up, plans are moving along swimmingly for adding another 3000 square feet to our existing office space in order to realize Reclaim Arcade. If everything goes according to plan it will not only post high scores online, but also allow players to stream video of their gameplay live to the web, cause that’s how we roll!  

Well, what I though was going to be a quick update turned into an all day post, but that brings you pretty much up-to-date with the goings on at Reclaim this last 6 months. Looking forward to what the next 6 brings our way!


*Although they were always more worried about Tim than me for obvious reasons.

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Reclaiming Wake Forest

I’ve been traveling pretty consistently to colleges, universities, and conferences talking WordPress, WordPress Multiuser (than multisite), ds106, and Domains of One’s Own for around 13 or 14 years now. When I visited Wake Forest University soon after Domains19 last month I wondered how many different university campuses I’ve seen over that time? I’m no Bryan Alexander so it’s not hundreds (or even thousands?) of schools,  but at this point it’s probably approaching 100.* But all this self-congratulatory, thought-leaderish campus tour talk is to say it does not get old for me. I like college campuses a lot. I spent most of my adult life connected with them as either a student or a professional, and at their very best they represent a protected space for free thinking, exploring, and experimenting in a collaborative environment. I understand all too well that’s not the whole picture, but it’s a powerful enough reality to make the inevitable campus politics coupled with trailing edge salaries almost tolerable 🙂

Fact is, every time I visit a campus part of me is transported back to the moment I was a freshman stepping foot on George Mason’s campus for the first time in 1989. With that experience came a sense of  personal independence and the promise of possibility that has been hard to reproduce in other experiences I’ve had since. I was there to learn—whatever the hell that meant to me then. It’s a feeling that I often get when stepping onto a new college campus, and that was definitely the case at Wake Forest University last month. It’s a gorgeous 350 acre campus north of Winston-Salem’s Old Town. The university re-located there from the town of Wake Forest  (near Raleigh, North Carolina) after the Reynolds family (of the  RJ Reynolds Tobacco fortune) donated the land in the 1950s. In fact, pretty much everything surrounding the campus is part of the Reynolda Historic District, and we were lucky enough to stay at Graylyn, a Norman Revival style mansion on 85 acres replete with outdoor (and indoor) pools, a farm complex, the garage guest house, and the main manor house. The place was nothing short of insane, making my transition from Europe that much easier 🙂

Staying at hotels on the National Register of Historic Places certainly adds to the overall experience. What’s more, my daughter Tess was traveling with me on this trip and she will never take my complaining about travel seriously after that. 

“But godspeed the punchline, Jimmy, you started this post with an actual point, didn’t you?” You are probably thinking. And, to be clear, I did have something I wanted to share, and while I feel your pain it’s probably not as acute as yours. Wake Forest, thanks to championing of Dr. Carrie Johnston, has been working on rolling out Domain of One’s Own across campus. Carrie already wrote about the workshop on the library blog, so read that because it is better and more to the point then this Gond with the Windbag post.They have been quite thoughtful and thorough about the rollout, and this trip was an opportunity to meet with the various parties involved for a hands-on for system admins, as well as some practical examples of possibilities. Lauren Brumfield and I have done a few of these, and I really think we have a pretty good rhythm at this point. In fact, after this workshop I realized Lauren is probably more on her game during these workshops than I am, between her confidence presenting, expansive knowledge of all elements of a Domains setup (no small thing), and her growing ability to read the room and make the necessary adjustments she has far exceeded the skills of her, admittedly limited, docent. 

Before day 1 got started we got to meet Carrie who was waiting for us at Lauren’s reserved parking spot (they most have sensed what I just articulated finally) and I became an immediate fan. Carrie came to Wake Forest after doing a Digital Humanities post-doc at Bucknell University. It’s at Bucknell that she first started exploring hosting for DH projects through Reclaim Hosting, and when she got her position as Digital Humanities Research Designer at Wake Forest that she started to push for a digital home for a variety of web-based projects. And, filed under it’s a small world, the CIO of Wake Forest is Mur Muchane, who was previously at Davidson College and also came to visit UMW’s Convergence Center when I was working there in 2015.  Mur is awesome, and it was immediately obvious he is a strong advocate for the digital work happening on campus. It was an absolute joy to chat with a CIO that so deeply understands and so willing to respond to the diverse technological needs of any campus community trying to imagine teaching, learning, and scholarship in the digital age. 

So, with Mur being the start of our first day at Wake Forest I already got the sense this was a school with support and resources for the digital work already happening. That was cemented when I realized the workshop would have well over 25 people attending both days. I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of turn out, and when we did the introductions that morning I realized that their were 14 Instructional Technologists on campus, all of whom have extensive experience running faculty sites through cPanel. It’s as if I was in heaven. Wake Forest has been providing much of the resources we package through Domain of One’s Own, and in many ways we are simply a solution to integrate automation of accounts, single sign-on, and get the servers off-campus. It was really a heartening to see that the work we are doing at Reclaim is truly based in the work Instructional Technologists have been doing for years to provide alternative online publishing platforms for their community. Much of the morning was focused on migrating the accounts from their existing cPanel accounts to their Domains instance, a.k.a Wake Sites, which will be dead simple thanks to cPanel’s transfer tool. The afternoon was a deep-dive into managing WHM (the cPanel server) and WHMCS (the client manager software for the cPanel server). It was an intense, but rewarding, first day.

Day 2 started with me giving a talk about some practical examples of Domains and various uses, as well as the philosophy behind the approach that seemed to be fairly well received. My point has not really changed in 13 years, given faculty and students a space on the web to fashion their online identity using relevant tools, and sites they create should be managed and controlled by them and ultimately portable. After that we had Martha Burtis, Lauren Heywood, and Alan Levine  join us remotely to talk about SPLOTs.

They killed it, and the discussion provided the framework for the rest of the day, which was to highlight the power of creating application-based templates through Installatron, and playing with what that looks like with the various SPLOTs we’ve already integrated in Wake Sites, such as TRU Collector, TRU Writer, various portfolio templates, and more. 

The workshop was really heartening for me because sometimes even I sometimes wonder if Domains is the best way at some of these things. And while there are always better ways, my trip to Wake Forest reminded me that the infrastructure Reclaim is providing and supporting is fundamental to framing a digital transformation on campus that is premised on equipping people to both understand and take more direct ownership of the work they publish on the web. A welcome reminder, and a special thank you to Carrie Johnston for making it happened, bringing us there, and being awesome.


*If I ever have the time and headspace I’m gonna try and piece that list together.

Posted in Domain of One's Own, presentations, reclaim | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Video Vortex

One of the most serendipitous occurrences of Domains19 was running into Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks fame who is a media archivist with a stunning collection of 24,000 16mm films. Skid joined a friend of his from college to the arcade evening after day 1 of Domains19, and thanks to Tom Woodward and the VCU crew we chatted. Turns out Skip was instrumental in bringing the Alamo Draft House to Raleigh, North Carolina, which I heard about when they were planning the lobby as an 80s VHS store (be still my heart). Well after chatting with Skip and realizing I had a day between Domains19 and the Wake Forest workshop, I decided to route over to the Alama Draft House in Raleigh and visit the VHS store myself, damn was it amazing!

It was kinda wild to pull into the parking lot of the theater because the only other Alamo Draft House I had been to before was the one in Austin which s right in the city. This one was a bit outside of Raleigh in a strip mall that has obviously converted an old grocery store into a cinema. I was impressed immediately, this was similar what Tim and I stumbled upon with CoWork and Reclaim Video (and soon to be Reclaim Arcade)  in Fredericksburg. A strip mall that was somewhat forlorn but the space is ample with low rent, all of which I’m imagining allowed them to get the space at a bargain, and then  work their magic. And oh did they ever! The lobby is a VHS store, as I mentioned before, and the whole aesthetic is so brilliant. It is called Video Vortex and everything screams VHS revival. 

From the VHS designed shelves to the genre-based labelled tapes, to the new arrival display wall:

It is masterfully designed and laid out. towards the back of the lobby is a huge bar with a mural and neon Video Vortex sign that is stunning. And the bar facade is lined with PAL VHS tape covers for an just a bit more of “we thought of everything.”

They rent VCRs for $9.99aweek

And the colletion is chock full of rare and off beat titles that bare the tell tale marks of a coleltor:

I think Big Foot, Eurotrash, and Kerouac would have been my first 3 rentals if I was a member:

The shelves, tables, and various VHS -designed table-TVs were inspired:

They had the requisite VHS tape dropbox, and you have to remember all this was simply the lobby to a full blown Alamo Draft Movie house with several theaters that plaid current releases as well as gems from Skip’s extensive personal 16mm collection.

I was also impressed at how strong the Italian b-movie poster campaign in the hallway leading to the theaters was. So many obscure films documented and shared in the grandeur they deserve. It was as much a museum and art collection as it was a theater.

Fact is, which Video Vortex and the Alamo Draft House Raleigh has a real unique cultural venue that is one of the things I miss most about America. These crazy folks with a passion, some vision, and a bit of money share their cultural obsessions with others in cool, creatives ways like this place. When I got talking to Skip at the arcade in Durham, before I had the pleasure of visiting Video Vortex, he reminded me of the fact that Kim’s Mondo Video on St. Mark’s Place in NYC had been sold to the town of Salemi in Sicily, Italy:

In September 2008, Kim announced he would be closing Mondo Kim’s and giving away the film collection to anyone who could fulfill certain criteria, stipulating that the entire collection was to be taken intact and that Kim’s members would continue to have access to the collection wherever it resided. In December 2008, it was reported that Salemi, Sicily had made a successful bid for the collection, as part of a village restoration effort.[7][8][9] In 2012, a Village Voice article entitled “The Strange Fate of Kim’s Video” reported that the collection, though remaining intact, had essentially disappeared from public view after arriving in Salemi, and that the initiatives promised by Kim and the government of Salemi remained unfulfilled. [10]

Looks like there was big trouble in little Salemi and  the collection has since been warehoused. One of the things Skip was discussing was have a VHSestival  in North Carolina this Fall to bring folks together the VHS community around a number of concerns as well as seeing whether there is interest in saving the Kim’s collection of movies—how crazy would that be? The other thing they are interested in is custom software for checking out VHS tapes, which we discussed briefly and both thought might be easy enough in WordPress, so I may be trying to build a VHS check-out SPLOT here soon 🙂

This was the second time in less than a month I had been to an awesome VHS store besides Reclaim Video, the other being Naro Video in Norfolk. And I guess the VHS resurgence is in full swing, I mean I got this picture just the other day from a colleague o the West Coast:

Which i think is exhibit A that the VHS explosion is going mainstream.  say what you will about me, but I do know how to big my nostalgic cultural revivals, and I am riding this one straight down the line to the very end.

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Retrofitting Popeye for the Web

When I was stateside last month Tim was talking to me about a couple of his arcade game projects—he is always working on something cool. The one I won’t talk about here is pretty wild, it basically allows you to hack into the video and audio signals of an old gold arcade cabinet and stream it out online while someone is playing (reclaim Arcade meets Reclaim Video). But I’ll let Tim explain that in detail given it is something special. Just the other day he got online high scores working for one of our newest cabinets, namely Popeye. These high score save kits built for specific cabinets allow you to save high scores after restarting the cabinet (a feature not available to many of the earlier machines) as well as enable free play on certain cabinets that may not have that option. What’s more, for certain games like Popeye that have a free play option that does not use “attract mode” (when the screens shuffle to prevent burn-in) a save kit allows you to override those settings. The following video  from the folks at Canadian Arcade explains this quite well and even takes you through the installation of a save kit on Popeye:

Now, you can actually buy a save kit that also allows you to collect and push the high score data collected to the arcadehighscores.com website

Arcadehighscores

So, not only are we able to enable free play on Popeye now, but we can also push the high scores to a Reclaim Arcade website that tracks not only top scores, but the most recent scores as well:

And looking at the site it looks like 9 other arcade cabinets we have currently (namely Pac-man, Tron, Asteroids, Defender, Kangaroo, Galaxian, Galaga, Track and Field, and Centipede) could also have high scores saved to this website. I love the retro-culture around arcade machines that re-imagine them for the web, this is some niche-ass retrofitting which makes it that much more awesome.

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The Art of Domains19

There was a lot to love about Domains19,  and I’m just starting to get my head around the event. But I think the most gratifying part of the conference for me was to see the art exhibits really take. I’m at heart a frustrated artist, I desperately want to be one but I lack much of the talent and work ethic required, so I just reproduce 80s living rooms, VHS stores, and soon video game arcades. It’s a kind of art I guess, if art is a bad imitation of life.

Anyway, all this to say I was thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Ryan Seslow on his featured art piece around accessibility for the conference, namely “The Art of Accessibility.” The development of this piece is worth documenting a bit. We had Ryan down to Fredericksburg twice before the conference as a way to both brainstorm and let the piece gestate a bit. The first visit was in February. Ryan came down and we spent a Saturday playing around at CoWork. We had in our mind that we would try and get screens to highlights his various GIFs as part of the piece, but this is where serendipity and being together worked its magic. We had a bunch of old TVs and VCRs laying around the office that we picked up or folks had given us for Reclaim Video, and Tim had the idea that we could repurpose them to show off Ryan’s GIF for the exhibit. This started us down a really fun path of playing with the Raspberry Pi Video Looper setup, and soon enough we had a pretty solid sense of the piece:

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Make art with @ryanseslow, dammit

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That was a few hours one weekend, and we decided then that one more trip down would allow us to spend another weekend to finish the piece together. So, to that end, we brought Ryan down again in late May and actually built the pyramid of 9 monitors and mapped out all the other pieces like which Raspberry Pi would go with which TV. Also, to work around the fact we had more TVs than Raspberry Pis, we actually recorded 6 hours of a looping GIF onto two different VHS tapes and had two of the 9 screens actually running a GIF via VHS. We also introduced the video projector which would feature a whole wall of GIFs and then, finally, we got not only a GIF running in an Internet Explorer browser on Mac OS9, but also used one of the TVs to act as a monitor for a 1999 Apple Quicktime camera George Meadows had donated to Reclaim Video. 

The whole thing was really fun because Ryan was so damn easy and awesome to work with, and he just let Tim and I shoot ideas about how to highlight his art, and together we built a piece I am inordinately proud of. Tim was a master at adding a number of cool features (the Apple spy camera, the Mac OS9 browser GIF, etc) as well as making things work, and this exhibit is testament that most good things are a collaboration of many people contributing what they can. I think it’s awesome, and it highlghts what my work life has felt like fo the past 15 years, I have been very lucky in that.

More importantly, I do think the piece does justice to Ryan’s attempt to capture the chaos of making sense of the digital world as a deaf person, and the array of dead technology highlights the prison house of form and style of that defines our media landscape.  It was a truly a generative collaboration, and folks seemed to appreciate the resulting product. In fact, while setting up the night before a group of young artists were digging on it pretty hard, and it made me happy:

But pretty much everyone brought their A-game to Domains19 when it came to art. The TmCertified crew consisting of Matt Roberts and Tommy Birchett were educating the Domains community about the real value of the new derivative art on the global exchange market known as the web. I may, or may not, be able to get a version of the art Tess and I collaborated on for their installation, but they were nothing short of awesome. It was performance art and interactive, creative fun. I loved it.

Also, Zach Whalen‘s Glitch Art frame was amazing. He built the frame and stand that encased the GIFs though two monitors and each day a new combination of Glitch GIFs. It was mesmerizing, and reminds me how awesome Zach is!

Speaking of UMW, they really brought it hard for the art fair, Jess Reingold and Jennifer Hill’s Battle for Silicon Valley triptych hat maps the techno-plutocrats of our era on top of the an historical painting from the 18th or 19th century (not sure which one though):

There was a visit from the good Dr. whose drone could put to sleep an entire room of folks.

While not a Domains19 art work per se, it was good to see SPLOTs represented in the general collection 🙂

Martin Hawksey and Bryan Mathers teamed up to create a photo booth where folks could use the Fabulous Remixer Machine or create a GIF from back to the future with McFlyify.

And Martin Hawksey out did himself with one of the best keynotes I have seen in a very long time. He actually built a the  “They Live” generator that “lets you relive the seminal moment [in They Live] when Nada walks down the L.A street and the real truth is revealed.

They Live

Martin used Kairos to demonstrate how accurate that software is at detecting if you are wearing sunglasses, it also returns other demographic data such as age, gender and ethnicity. 

And then there were sava saheli singh and Tim Maughan‘s Screening Surveillance films, which were an awesome addition, you can hear them discuss A Model Employee in the video above.

I am thrilled so many folks took the idea seriously and brought made this little experiment possible. It built on the Domains Record Fair last year in some important ways, and I really love the idea of highlighting art and creativity as part and parcel of good edtech. 

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