Marsha, Marsha, Marsha

I use this blog to track time, and in many ways it’s a chronicle of my warped history of the world. Many of the most regularly recurring themes on this blog, such as WordPress, UMW Blogs, ds106, Domain of One’s Own, etc., were part and parcel of the work I did while an instructional technologist at UMW. I spent 10 years at UMW, and crazily enough it will be 4 years this September since I worked there. Part of me will always be #UMW4life because I recognize and appreciate that that small, liberal arts public institution provided me a prolonged opportunity to dream about the possibility of edtech in partnership with some amazing colleagues. It’s hard for me not to look back with pride at the work we did together, and it makes Tweets wherein public higher ed is simply lumped in with for-profit that much harder to stomach.*

One of those colleagues who was particularly central to my professional development during my time at UMW was Martha Burtis, who recently announced she will be taking a job at Plymouth State University. In many ways this post is not only a congratulations to Martha for her new position, Plymouth State just got that much more awesome, but also as a way to mark history on this blog. With Martha’s departure does definitely mark the end of an era for edtech at UMW. Martha’s accomplishments in the field are legend, and there is no need for me to rehash them here. So, in an attempt to mark the occasion I just wanted to recount a memory of one of my earliest professional interactions with Martha.

When I was just getting my feet wet at UMW, not on the job more than a week or two, Martha came over to Campbell Hall (at that point all the instructional technologists were embedded in buildings rather than co-located as a centralized group) to accompany for one of my first faculty visits. We were to meet with Linguistics faculty member Paul Fallon, about what exactly I don’t remember. But I do remember strange details like Martha was wearing a brown  overcoat, it was really cold outside, and how much that meeting set the tone for my career at UMW. Martha brought me to the meeting and modeled for me what it meant to be an instructional technologist at UMW. After the meeting we walked across campus and I remember her telling me how excited she was we finally had a team (Patrick Murray-John and I had just been hired, rounding off a 5 person team that would be more or less in tact for 10 years) and her genuine sense of the real possibilities for all of us was both inspiring and prescient. I’m not sure why this moment still sticks with me, but I think for me it was my formal initiation into a career in educational technology that I have come to love. Martha is one of those people who “made me.”

We did go on to do a lot of amazing stuff together, and while I wasn’t always the best colleague—I was unbearable for a while when Martha was director—but coming back to UMW after my 6 week sabbatical at the University of Richmond was the beginning of one of the richest professional collaborations I’ve ever had. Martha’s work on UMW Blogs, her WordPress development chops, the building of the ds106 infrastructure, the co-teaching ds106, the framing of Domains, the building of DKC, and on and on. I promised I would not re-hash her long list of accomplishments, but how could I not?

So, here is to the end of an era at UMW, but more importantly the beginning of a new chapter of possibilities for Martha and her family in New Hampshire.

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*The edtech landscape is increasingly dire these days and it has been depressing for me to think about. I am struggling with writing more about it, but until then can I say how much I am missing Audrey Watters’ voice online these days. She did a lot of heavy lifting fo the rest of us.

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Katexic, Emphemera, and the Joy of Snail Mail

Just the other day I hot what might be my last Katexic Newsletter. I hope there are more to come after the hiatus because I dig the format, but I can only imagine the time that goes into each of these carefully curated missives. Filled with crazy ass vocabulary words, an excerpt of some brilliant literature, and a list of awesome, annotated links it was one of the highlights in my email inbox. In fact, after a quick search I see I subscribed in October of 2017, and looks like he may have been sending them out since 2014 making for over 400 newsletters! Since October 2017 I’ve gotten roughly 100 of those newsletters, and I have the email archive to both prove and cherish it. What a run.  

Thanks Chris, I really appreciate your razor sharp sensibility and absolute, undying love of words, it makes me better reading you.

To heal my wounds I just subscribed to Notabilia (I know, I know, I’m late to that party too), but reflecting on Katexic and the life of any project we engage over time, I can’t help but think of Chris’s championing of online emphemera, in fact he has been known to just up and delete a blog or two—which is akin to Grand Moff Tarkin obliterating Alderaan for me. So what struck me about Katexic, and by extension newsletters and email, is that the archive is built-in.I now have 100 issues in my email archive, and I am sure many others have the newsletters I am missing. It could almost make for a peer-to-peer seeding archive that is insurance against Lott up and deleting katexic.com 🙂 Interesting that despite my tongue-in-cheek smack-talking on email newsletters, many years later I can see the long-term archiving value as near and dear to my anti-ephemera stance to shared resources (on, and sometimes off, the web).

Finally, for all my love of writing, linking, and then futilely trying to preserve my little plot on the web, something about getting snail mail from an online friend is special. Dr. Garcia has been consistently awesome about this, and she sends the family postcards on the regular. On the other hand, I have been terrible at responding. So the same week I read about the shuttering of Katexic I get a letter from Chris for National Poetry Month 2019 with two chapbooks, and a typed poem by Stanley Moss titled “Allegory of Evil in Italy”:

The Visconti put you on their flag: a snake
devouring a child, or are you throwing up a man
feet first? Some snakes hunt frogs, some freedom of will.
There’s good in you: a man can count years on your skin.
Generously, you mother and father a stolen boy,
to the chosen you offer your cake of figs.
A goiter on my neck, you lick my ear with lies,
yet I must listen, smile and kiss your cheek
or you may swallow the child completely. In Milan
there is a triptych, the throned Virgin in glory,
placed on the marble below, a dead naked man
and a giant dead frog of human scale on its back.
There’s hope! My eyes look into the top of my head
at the wreath of snakes that sometimes crowns me.

This whole thing brought me so much joy. I know have two typed poems from Chris (he sent me another by Oscar Wilde in 2016) so that I can’t say, with any authority, that no one writes to the Colonel anymore—and that make me very happy. 

Posted in Archiving, poetry | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Completely Unreliable Assholes

I don’t know why, but I love that someone took the time to isolate this 3 second clip of Scatman Crothers speaking truth to power in The Shining.

And if you’re not into the whole brevity thing and you feel you haven’t gotten your money’s worth for clicking on the link, the scene below may be my favorite of the film (at least right now):

There ain’t nothing in bavatuesdays, so stay out, ya hear me, STAY OUT! 

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Slaying of Self

I already referenced on the bava how much I loved the amazing Ama-Zine session at OER19 run by Amy Burvall and Bryan Mathers. Thankfully Bryan wrote it up recently provides links to all the resources they used/created for the session, and it really is something others should consider integrating into their conference because it was so good. I could go on about it ad nauseam, but I’ll spare you the pain. One pleasant surprise for me was Bryan used a video wherein I jokingly use my best “like and subscribe Youtuber octave” to narrate my Zine, which, in the end, I was very fond of. In fact, it was Amy’s cut-out prompts that were so evocative and compelling that what I first thought of as a throw-away exercise quickly became something I was truly excited about and oddly proud of. What better sign of an awesome workshop?

The zine was meant to be a play on a schtick Brian Lamb and I have been joyfully re-hashing since 2016 when we did our co-facilitated residency at Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab. The gag was I was Brian’s therapist and he was in my constant care, I planned on doing my zine around that conceit but once I got hold of the prompts and images I went almost entirely cut-out and used a more impressionistic, abstract idea of my therapy so it could be more broadly applied beyond Brian 🙂

Anyway, that was the vibe for me at OER19, not only serious, critical, and probing (cause it was all that for sure), but also a lot of fun with some amazingly creative people. I want more!

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VHS Quality Streaming at Reclaim Video

So the experiments continue at Reclaim Video with making this a fully functional, web-based VHS store. It is non-sensical, but that is kind of the point. We heard that streaming might be all the rage i the future, so we wanted to get out ahead of the curve given our long-term existence may depend on it. As Tim already noted in his recent blog post our streaming love affair with Youtube for Reclaim Video did not last long because you can’t have a real cultural relationship with an ID Content bot. So, as Tim is wont to do, he setup a Stream of Our Own using Ant Media Server and now we can experiment in peace*:

….as luck would have it the great Tom Woodward blogged about a new (to me anyway) software called Ant Media Server. Completely open source (it’s a fork of Red5) and it was a very straightforward setup on an Ubuntu server which I had spun up on our DigitalOcean account. Within just a few minutes I had a new RTMP stream URL that I plugged into OBS and we were back in business, now on our own system.

So, we were back in action with the stream and Thursday and Friday of this week led to more experimentation. Namely, how could we remotely program and get videos to play on the TV in Reclaim Video given we can already control most of the store remotely (lights, signage, power, etc.). So, given we have a archived video versions of VHS tapes that are being pushed to the TV via a Raspberry Pi, during Tim’s experiments he realized we can actually have the livestream pull directly from the archived VHS tapes video and audio, which avoids some of the glare and scanning you get with the nest camera pointing directly to the camera. And as Tim’s Tweet below suggests, anything on the livestream at http://reclaimvideo.com/live will be exactly what is playing on the TV in Reclaim Video.

And what is even cooler is using Tunnelblick (free software for OpenVPN on macOS) I can actually login to the local network at Reclaim Video and if I am logged into Plex Media I can decide what films I want to play and they will appear on the television there. To be clear, if you go to the livestream from our Nest camera in Reclaim Video you can see whatever I have selected playing locally on the television:

It’s awesome!

So, to recap, I can essentially watch and program whatever is happening at Reclaim Video from thousands of miles away, which opens up the idea of guest curators to program and clerk Reclaim Video!

Reclaim Video Streaming

“Don’t worry, Mom, I know all about cannabilism…” Now playing at @reclaimvideo as seen from the home office.

I find myself in dangerously familiar territory on this blog threatening to wax poetic about all this, but the idea of re-thinking streaming video through the frame of an 80s VHS store in order to imagine how we might share the cultural artifacts that have come to shape us within and beyond the web-based marketplace that everywhere surrounds us is truly fascinating to me. There are various frames to the whole experiment, but for the moment I am more than thrilled with the simple fact it gives us the ability to remotely program and curate the Reclaim Video television to our heart’s content.

Reclaim Video Streaming

Witnessing the many frames within frames of Reclaim Video while watching The Night of the Living Dead .


*The upside of eschewing overly corporatized social media hubs like Youtube is not only relative anonymity, but opting out of their platforms creates a bit of a buffer from their algorithmic surveillance. Sites of b-cultural resistance 🙂

Posted in Reclaim Video, television | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Katie Martell on “Why Domains”

I got a note last week from Katie Martell, an Instructional Technologist at Plymouth State University (PSU), letting us know she would be leaving PSU. That’s a huge loss for PSU given Katie has been the engine behind running their Domain of One’s Own instance. She blew us away when she presented about their work at the Reclaim Roadshow in November at Skidmore. So much so that Lauren and I immediately followed up with a Reclaim Today episode to have Katie discuss the Why of Domain of One’s OwnIt’s well worth a watch to listen to Katie’s passion and enthusiasm about Domains if this is something you are interested in.

Reclaim Today: Why Domains at Plymouth State

From what I understand Katie is heading down under soon, I know this because we were so impressed with her that we wanted to invite her as a featured speaker at Domains19, but the stars did not align given she will most likely be out of the country starting her new life adventures. Thanks Katie for all you have done with Domains at Plymouth, here’s to the open road that is life and all that it brings you! 

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Origin Stories and Making the Myths at Reclaim

Lauren ran an awesome episode of Reclaim Today yesterday (I’m not biased!) wherein Tim, Lauren, and I did a live, streaming discussion about the “History of Reclaim Hosting.” It may a bit early for the Reclaim biopic to be picked up by Hollywood, so we’re getting out in front of that tidal wave now 🙂 Major kudos to Lauren and Judith for thinking of this as a way to give new, remote employees a sense of the history of Reclaim, and while we will not only be interacting with new employees through the new flesh of video like Dr. Oblivion, I enjoyed capturing this moment of our growth and tracking how our own little mythos of Reclaim is getting built. “The planet is screaming for change, Morrison, we gotta make the myths!”

We all have our origin stories and they’re all more complicated then we let on and often elide various realities, but they also remain essential for defining who we are and where we are going, and I luckily remain quite proud of the stories we tell at Reclaim and who we are!

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The Art of Surveillance

Yesterday Lauren and I spoke with Chris Gilliard and sava saheli singh in preparation for their keynote at Domains19 next month, and while we were discussing the various details I was searching for the link to sava’s Surveillance Studies films to share in the chat when I noticed these films were featured on Boing Boing back on April 9th!  That is pretty awesome, and I remember talking with sava in a coffee shop in Brooklyn before her imminent move to Canada explaining she would be a post-doc at the Surveillance Studies Center at Queen’s University, and damn did she make the most of it! The three short films she directed for the Center themed around surveillance (all of which you can find here) are starting to gain the attention they deserve, and the way in which they frames the human impact of this ubiquitous invasion on not only privacy, but the very essence of what it means to be human, is timely and laudable.  

After some discussion, we decided during the check-in that Frames,  the dialogue-free exploration of the human implications of a smart-city will be added to the art installations for folks to watch as they will, with the other two films screening at pre-defined times over the two days. I am partial to Frames because it is a perfect blend of Black Mirror narrative set against the background aesthetic of a Michelangelo Antonioni film.

I also love the way the way the dialogue is unnecessary as you find yourself reading the data of the image to draw conclusions, however wrong, that place you within the system that is consuming us all. It’s art, and it will be on display at Domains19 next month, what’s more you can hear the artist herself talk about these films, which is just another reason to register by May 15th, and help support the art of surveillance 🙂

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Art and Tropicàlia at Domains19

Lauren and I recently spoke with Amy Collier about her Domains19 keynote, and we could not be more thrilled with her updated frame. Her talk “Ambitious futures for (digital) education: Perspectives from Tropicàlia” explores the questions of resistance, authoritarianism, and nationalism through the lens of Brazalian art, music, and educational theorists, what could be cooler? Read the entire talk description on the Domains19 site here.

We now have a full list of art installations at Domains19 for you to peruse, and if such kick ass presentations and art installations don’t convince you to register then you are truly an edtech zombie 🙂

Posted in Domains 2019 | Tagged | 2 Comments

WordPress Multisite: Multi-Network versus Multiple Independent Networks

One of the things we find ourselves doing more and more of at Reclaim Hosting is managed hosting, in particular for WordPress Multisite (WPMS). In the end was the beginning for this blog. So, I was on a call last week were the discussion around running multiple, independent WPMS instances versus one WPMS instance with multiple networks, i.e. sites.stateu.org and courses.stateu.org represent two functioning WPMS instances using subdomains (or subdirectories) such as mysite.sites.stateu.org or mycourse.courses.stateu.org that both point and share one set of core WordPress files. I experimented with this over 10 years ago by running a WPMS (then called WPMU) service for Longwood University off the core WordPress files of UMW Blogs. I thought it would be revolutionary for the ability to share infrastructure across Virginia public institutions of higher ed, but not so much. That said, I was glad to see Curtiss Grymala to take the whole idea of multi-networks to the next level for UMW’s main website.

Anyway, enough about the past, that was then, this is now …. for now. The question is why would you run several independent WPMS instances with distinct core files versus running multiple instances of WPMS off of one shared set of files, plugins, themes, etc.? For me the value of running everything off one shared set of files was shared themes, plugins, and updates that make management easier than across numerous separate installs.*  Another benefit was a single space for site/user administration between networks. Additionally, managing single sign-on through one instance should prove a bit easier for setup, but will need to double-check on this one. I also know you can have various portals for each WPMS network mapped on a single set of files, so it will not be confusing for the users, for them the fact they share core files will be invisible. So, in this regard the choice comes down to whether or not consolidation makes sense for the WPMS admin, which is often a question of convenience.

But there may be some practical reasons not to use a multi-network setup. Like, for example, if you are planing on running thousands of sites on each of these WPMS instances you may want to keep them separate given scaling issue with the WPMS database.** Having three WPMS instances share core files means if one goes down, they all go down, which can be an issue. Also, if you have an existing WPMS site you want to incorporate into an existing multi-network setup it may get tricky depending on whether there are shared users across the various instances of WPMS that you’re combining. I will have to do more research here, and would love to know about anyone’s experience in this regard, but I imagine users across a multi-network instance would need to be able to access the various networks with the same email/username across networks for the sake of both convenience and single sign-on (which are often one in the same).

Which raises another question that I’m unsure of,  if users sign-in through one network of a multi-network setup can they cleanly move between sites on different networks? I’m wondering if keeping single sign-on and users separate in this instance may prove less problematic in the long run. I’ll be working through these scenarios this week, but wanted to post this here cause I know a few folks have experience with running multi-networks on bit sites and wanted to be sure I was not overlooking any major red flags before making some recommendations.


*It also allows you to share any premium themes or plugins across one instance.

**Although if this is the case you will have to shard databases anyway, so one could argue it would be easier to do that for one instance rather than many. 

Posted in WordPress | Tagged , , | 4 Comments