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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Tommy’s Chocolate Doom Pi

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+

I got a Raspberry Pi 3 recently in an attempt to get some Windows emulation going in preparation for an exhibit about the 90s web at the OWLTEH conference. I am playing with the emulation software QEMU, and I have gotten DOS running smoothly, but still working on Windows 95 and 98. Tommaso has been my partner in this adventure, and I have to say he is really into this stuff. I told him once we get the emulation working he can check out the original Doom and Duke Nukem for the 90s PC. This sent him over-the-top with excitement given PC gaming for him is the end-all-be-all of existence. We currently have a PS4 and a Switch, but the siren’s song of the professional PC gaming machine is powerful in casa bava. That said, I tried to impress on him that the Raspberry Pi 3 is by no means a gaming machine with little success.

DosBerry Pi

Anyway, Tommaso has been cheerleading me through my struggles with QEMU, as well as reminding me I’ve made some promises. When he realized I was a long way from home he finally took matters into his own hands and pointed me to this tutorial for getting Doom running on a Raspberry Pi. Needless to say, it worked seamlessly and he has experienced the original Doom in all its 640 x 480 resolution glory. We tried a similar process for Duke Nukem 3D using the RetroPie Setup but got tripped up, so that is a work in progress. Playing with the Raspberry Pi to re-create old computing scenarios has been a more than welcome diversion; I’m not sure my exhibit work is as far along as I had hoped, but the time with Tommy playing Chocolate Doom on the Pi is no small consolation.

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Migrating a cPanel server between Cloud Hosting Providers

This post is a quick run down of the steps for migrating servers so the next time I have all the steps in one place. The scenario in this case is we’re migrating a school’s server from Linode to Digital Ocean. In preparation for such a migration you need to make sure that a) we have control over the DNS for the domain (i.e. it is registered through Reclaim) or b) the domain is using a CNAME record rather than an A record. Why? CNAMES point to host names like stateu.reclaimhosting.com rather than an IP address. When moving servers the IP address will most likely change, whereas hostnames do not—which means by using CNAME records the DNS switching will be seamless.

So, once you can confirm you control the domain and/or it’s pointed to a CNAME you can start the process.

1) Setup cPanel on the target server (in this case Digital Ocean) using Reclaim’s deploy script
2) Update your local host records to point to target server’s IP address
3) Login to the target server and use the Transfer tool in cPanel to move all account from the old server (in this scenario Linode) to the target server (Digital Ocean)
4) When using the Transfer tool make sure you enter the IP of the old server rather than a hostname
5) After all the accounts have moved successfully point the hostname (which for Reclaim is in AWS’s Route 53) to the IP of the new server on Digital Ocean
6) You will also need to update the DNS Cluster on the nameservers (both ns1 and ns2) with the new API token or access hash
7) The final bit is to make sure all traffic hitting old server is redirected to new server using this guide

Here’s the code to enter in the command line on the old server:

The other thing particular to Reclaim is that monitoring is using a URL so that will not change, but R1Soft (our backup solution) will need to have the public key refreshed. 

And that should do it.

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Bava Mountain High

I was tickled when I read Adam Croom’s recent post about his trip to Trento this Summer. When someone visits the gorgeous country of Italy, it is no small feat when their visit ranks as a highlight. Entertaining so many good folks in Trento has been a lot of fun, and thankfully the scenery makes the job easy. In fact, I have begun to fall in love with the mountains of Trentino and Alto-Adige, when I am lucky enough to be hiking here, the rest of the world feels far, far away. 

Dolemiti di Sesto

A View of the Dolomiti di Sesto from an off-season Ski Slope

But I’m no Romantic poet, I can barely write a cogent blog post. So adequately penning the beauty of these alps is beyond my powers. So, being a lowly edtech, I’ll stick to the iPhone 7+ (which continues to blow my mind) and this humble blog. It’s hard for me to regret getting a phone after amassing more than 15,000 photos during my travels over the last  3 years. It’s become part of my daily rhythm, which is something I was aspiring to. I’m pretty much addicted, and this obsession is fed well by my surroundings. When heading up to Alto-Adige/Süd Tirol for a hike—one of three regions that are home to the Dolomiti, the other two being Trentino and Veneto—it’s impossible not to be visually inspired. 

Dolemiti di Sesto

The prato leading to the Dreischusterhütte

In fact, we took a day-trip to Val Pusteria in Alto-Adige, which might be one of the most spectacular spots and in region chock-full of natural beauty. We did a hike part way up the Drei Zinnen (Tre Cima di Laveredo) in Val Pusteria before dropping the kids off at camp.

The road ahead

Tess always leads the pack on hikes

Cyclist in Dolomiti di Sesto

Some cyclist scale

Of Maps and Phones

Lost in the mountains

Dolemiti di Sesto

Moon landing

Dolemiti di Sesto

Like the wild west

Grand Hotel --> Youth Hostel

Site of Tess and Miles’s summer camp “Grand Hotel.” Cats in NYC pay top dollar for these accommodations….

And the climbing continues, we finally did our first trail with a significant ferrata (kind of guided rock climbing) where we all had to strap on a harness and be attached to the iron guide rails at all times. It was wild, and the kids ruled:

That shot is everything to me! We did a ferrata on a smaller mountain over Lago di Garda and the views were stunning and the fear of doing a ferrata pretty firmly behind us, though being out there in the mid-day sun for a couple of hours on the rocks can wear you down.

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View of Lago di Garda from 3000 ft.

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Luckily the new and improved bava is virtually indestructible:

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Achievement unlocked

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Ask me again how I’m doing? #NOBODY!!!!

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Old Gold VHS Mold: the Fungus Amungus

Looks like we have fungus growing on a couple of our Betamax tapes. You can see it above on the Goldfinger tape. Kinda eats into the tape like the opening title sequence of John Carpenter’s The Thing. We are gonna have to get a headcleaner for the Betamax and do a full inventory check given this can spread communicatively through the machine! What’s more, we will have to do a fairly thorough inventory check for mold. Mold is pervasive and it ruins both the VCR and any tapes you play through it. I love this description from a forum post I found, this is no joke!

It is not safe!!!

What will happen is the mold will spew all over the inside of the VCR, ruining it, as well as infecting any future videotape put into it. Mold spores are pervasive, and often toxic. They will leech outside the deck, through every vent hole, and get everywhere in your home.

The only DIY method to mold cleaning is to take the VCR outside, and don’t be downwind of it. Wear a face mask. Realize this VCR will be trashed afterwards, and only usable for mold removal. Never again to be used inside, never again for playing tapes.

We are gonna try and avoid the “nevermore, nevermore” scenario above and be sure to check all VHS and Betamax tapes given this is one of the scourges of the trade. It would be a good, fun 80s horror, b-movie, no? The VHS mold that feeds off the customers viz-a-viz the machines? “Get Stevie King on the line, I want to talk a script treatment.” Lunchmeat’s Spare Parts provides a good guide for removing mold, and it is a fairly intense process that would take a while, I am pretty sure from the looks of it that that the mold on the Goldfinger tape is too far gone for repair, but I’m open to being wrong on that.

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Reclaim Video Laserdisc and VHS Haul

I have been quiet on the Reclaim Video front with everything going on with the Fall semester start-up, so before they become a distant memory I wanted to mention a couple of nice hauls of  Laserdiscs and VHS tapes we got in the last couple of months. Back in late August I took a trip to the Fat Kat Records location in Ruther Glen, Virginia to stock up on laserdiscs, and that I did. 

There are a lot of gems, I particularly enjoyed the Japanese import of Blue Steel (1990), which I proceeded to watch the next day, its cool to re-visit early Kathryn Bigelow after seeing her career develop as a filmmaker, althoughI think I most enjoy  her early films like Near Dark (1987) and Point Break (1991)—but what a career.

I also picked up some VHS tapes on this trip to Fat Kat, and I was happy about that:

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And of course some VHS as well @reclaimvideo

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I wanna do a Quest for Fire/Waterworld double-feature at some point 🙂 I even got a cassette tape:

And a book:

But the real score was a few weeks ago when I found a lot of 300+ VHS tapes on Craig’s List. Full blown lots like this are harder and harder to find, and this one was a total gem. Meredith went to Maryland on her way back from the Nationals game and after hearing about Reclaim Video the Ingram family donated the whole lot for free, including  ton of empty VHS cases. This is a particular collection, I will get more pictures and add them to the ones below, but here is a small taste.

The back seat of Meredith’s car after pickup

6 Boxes of 80s VHS Tapes

Some VHS tapes from the Ingram Haul, love Turk 182, The Star Chamber, The Bad News Bears and Rambo, and even Night Hawks! (a personal favorite—we now have that one on laserdisc and VHS).

You had be at Mad Max

We still have to inventory it all, but our collection to a major jump with the addition of all these titles, and I have to think we approaching the 1000 mark for VHS tapes alone. I’ll need to confirm as much, but I have to think this haul pushed us over that number. Meredith also got the perfect card for the Ingrams, and now they have a lifetime membership to Reclaim Video 🙂

Thanks you card for the Ingrams for their generosity and support of Reclaim Video!

Thank you letter to the Ingrams

And beyond that haul, I got a 4-VHS set on Ebay featuring Streets of Fire (1984), the rock musical from the 80s you might not have ever seen. I was inspired by Paul Bond’s post on the film and his awesome GIFs—it’s a truly bizarre film.

4 Tapes

Willem Defoe at his very best

One final note, we have a second part-time employee at Reclaim Video that started a bit ago, so it’s becoming more official everyday. I am pretty hands-off on the day-to-day (understatement), but I understand people actually rent videos on occasion 🙂 And the big news is that there may be hope of telepresence via an iPad robot by as early as December, one can dream. I love Reclaim Video, and I don’t blog about it nearly enough.

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Tripod

After my last post I started searching round for timelines and details about early web hosting companies like Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc. and I found a pretty neat timeline from The History of the Web site. Of particular interest was not only that tripod.com pre-dated Geocities.com by a couple of months (Tripod.com was registered on September 29, 1994 and Geocities in November). But Tripod was not up and running until 1995 framing itself as a hosting service specifically for college students to create a space for themselves online:

Tripod

The domain name for Tripod is registered, pre-dating most other free web hosting services like Geocities and Angelfire. Tripod’s explicit goal is to give college students a way of setting up a spot for themselves on the web, though it would eventually come to be known as an easy-to-use service for free web homepages.

Nothing new under the web’s sun. Reclaim roots! I was now intrigued, and I wanted to get a better look at Tripod back in the day, and the Wayback Machine has a mint screenshot from December 21, 1996.

Tripod.com on Dec. 21, 1996

I took the screenshot using the Full Page Screen Capture extension in Chrome, and I’m liking it. I think the whole page is interesting because of the dead space in the bottom right, and the links all the way down on the left are telling. I also like the Fidelity Investments banner ad. At the end of 1996 the service claims to have 150,000 users, a number that seems almost quaint two years for a web-based tech company. I also like the branding with AOL as a “Members’ Choice” site. So much goodness here, so going to add this as another possible site for the OWLTEH exhibit. Are these posts jumpstarting your 90s memory? If so, post a link using this form to a site from the 90s with your description to be considered for the Exhibit happening in Coventry in exactly two weeks. 

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Prof. Dr. Style

Lauren Heywood, Daniel Villar-Onrubio, and I are working on the exhibit for the Learning on the Open Web conference (OWLTEH) in exactly two weeks. One aspect of the exhibit will be framed examples of the 90s learning web. This will entail framed posters of websites from back in the day along with a placard crediting the person whom submitted the site and as well as their description. It’s been cool to see the submissions we have gotten thus far, and feel free to add your own examples of 90s web sites that have anything remotely to do with learning (which means a whole lot of them). 

So, when I was originally think about this exhibit I harken back to personal homepages on the academic tilde spaces that were a prevalent part of the academic web. Professors would create a fairly simple website with links to research, papers, professional organizations, and so on. .Net artist Olia Lialina termed this genre of websites the Prof. Dr. style, and has written extensively about the aesthetic here. Im blown away at the level she gets into in terms of browser copatibility, blink tags, web safe colors and more. I’m submitting the website featured above of German professor Werner Römisch as an example of such a site which will include the following text on the placard which quotes Lialina at length:

.Net artist Olia Lialina wrote extensively about early web design, and she classified a whole set of personal sites from the early 90s as “Prof.Dr” websites (http://contemporary-home-computing.org/prof-dr-style/).  As she notes:

“Prof.Dr” is a codeword, a tricky search request. I am aware of the fact that there are users outside of academia as well who always designed their sites in pure markup or redesigned according to 1993 standards recently. Still I suggest to use this name based on a scientific title as a tribute to the history, and reminder that all around the internet the very first pages were build at universities. To cement this term, within this article I’ll use only pages of senior academics holding a doctoral title.

The site highlights the minimalist, static design of the early web as well as reflecting a commonplace in the 1990s for universities to provide web space on a web server hosted by the university before the relative popularity and affordability of shared hosting in the early 2000s. The accounts were commonly referred to in the U.S. as  one’s “Tilde space” (~) and provided a small amount of storage and the ability to upload media and  HTML files via FTP.

I like how Lialina underscores the vital role of universities in building and shaping the early look and feel of the early web. I was also wondering what services Europeans used that was akin to 90s shared hosting where sites like Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc. would give you free web space much like universities. I’d love to get a sense from anyone in the UK who used hosted services for web pages in the 90s.

What’s I was talking with Lauren yesterday, and we started to make real progress on the layout. We are thinking 10-15 printed website with blurbs distributed around the entire conference (on hanging racks or easels), with a central pre-fabricated wall with an over view and rationale. It’s kind of cool to build an impromptu exhibit like this, and given the goal is modest in that it just wants to highlight the long history of the web aesthetically. I’m also working on re-creating a 90s desktop and laptop experience in the lobby of the venue, and I’ve been on Ebay looking for OG hardware which is always fun! Anyway, I have more to say on these sites, but I’ll save that for my next post.

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The Long Search for Duke

Back in November of 2010 a much younger bava family visited a dog breeder in Bumpass, Virginia when we were seriously considering getting a Spinone. When we finally did get one eight years later Antonella reminded me of the videos we took years earlier. She asked if we all could wach them and as I often do these days when it comes to archiving my past, I froze worrying these videos were part of the Great YouTube Deletion of 2012. And, as it turns out, they were on my Youtube that was deleted in 2012. “No worries, I have backups, right?” One would hope, but the two backup drives I had and the backup folders on AWS delivered nothing. [At this point I usually curse myself for not backing up a version to this blog apart from Youtube and their ilk.]  I was searching across all video formats, though I was pretty sure I shot them with a flipcam which would be mp4. File names were going to be standard flipcam fare, but everything I found was not showing me any Italian hunting dogs from 2010. Damn, and then sets in that depression which follows the idea these recorded memories were lost. Sad bava…

But, but, but, I had a third backup drive I had forgotten about in the bookshelf that has just about all the videos I lost on Youtube in one fashion or another (except “Embedded!,” the lost EdTech Survivalist episode featuring a First Blood parody -but that was a casualty of the Blip.tv famine of 2013 🙁 ). Finding this stash of videos led to a good hour or two of all of us watching our younger selves playing with 10 or more Spinones and even a Bracco. It was good to find the videos, it was wild to see what time does, and it was a small victory in my unorganized attempt to hold onto memories I might have otherwise lost.

A five year old Miles, a three year old Tess, and Tommy not even a year. A small time capsule of video that captures a strangely long sense of our personal history. It’s weird when you start measuring time by intervals of twenty years. I’m not always sure why I wanna capture what I capture, but it seems to take on a life of its own that I was only initially part of. The archiving continues, and the Spinone thrive! It’s been a long search for Duke.


*The desire to get a Spinone has been with us even earlier than that, I saw my first Spinone on the streets of Brooklyn in 2001 and was smitten from then on. 

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