in Project Reclaim

Swapping Apps for #ProjectReclaim

Last time, I outlined my feelings about self-hosting some free and/or open-source alternatives to popular web apps in the name of Project Reclaim (as in, your data).  Below are the apps I’ve started with.  Instructions for how to set up your own installations can be found at the provided links.

What I Gave Up: Delicious (social bookmarking; like a text-only version of Pinterest for us old-timers)

What I Installed: Shaarli

How I Use It: For broadcasting and warehousing interesting articles.  I don’t need the network component of Delicious; I only ever used it as a central “storage unit” for articles, and I use an IFTTT recipe to auto-Tweet articles I save to my Shaarli account (like Delicious, Shaarli generates an RSS feed you can pipe out anywhere onto the Web).  In addition to going out via Twitter, I also embed the RSS feed on the sidebar of my portfolio website under the heading “What I’m Sharing”.

Going Mobile: The Android app allows me to save articles to Shaarli directly from my phone via the Share menu.  I couldn’t find one for iOS that didn’t look sketchy.

What I Gave Up: Google Reader / Feedly (RSS Readers)

What I Installed: FreshRSS

How I Use It: Just like any other RSS reader, only I don’t have to worry about it being discontinued, being charged for it, or seeing ads.  Has many of the same features as Feedly/GReader (grouping feeds, favorites, etc.).  Requires a Cron job to auto-update feeds, which is beyond my scope of knowledge, but it’s easy enough to just refresh the feed manually whenever I want to read.

Going Mobile: No official iOS or Android apps, but FreshRSS is highly responsive and looks and acts very nice in my mobile browser.  This looks like an attempt at a client, but I don’t speak French so I’m not positive.

What I Gave Up: Instapaper / Pocket (offline article readers; removes most formatting)

What I Installed: Wallabag

How I Use It: This was pretty much a straight swap out for Instapaper as far as basic functionality is concerned (Wallabag makes it dead simple to import your data from your existing Instapaper, Pocket, or Readability accounts).  I can save articles to read offline, adjust fonts, colors, & layouts, generate RSS feeds of stories, share via Twitter or email, or print them out.  There’s even an option to export stories in ePub, Mobi, or PDF formats.

Going Mobile: Wallabag has apps available for Android, iOS, and Windows phones, as well as extensions for Chrome and Firefox.  See them all here.

Stumbling Blocks: I haven’t been able – nor will I be – to switch everything over to self-hosted.  The advertised alternatives to Evernote, for example, just don’t seem to hold a candle to the product I’ve used daily for the last six or so years.  I also don’t foresee moving away from the Google suite of apps anytime soon (although I do host them on my own domain); they’re both just too valuable to me in their present states to compromise.  I’ve also tried setting up self-hosted photo albums, to no avail, so I’ll be sticking with a locked-down Flickr account for the time being for sharing private photos with my extended family.

What’s Next?  No specific plans as yet, though I’ll continue to keep my eyes open for opportunities to reclaim bits and pieces of my digital identity where I can.  I tried a few different self-hosted to-do lists, but they’ve all been missing one or more of the key features I find so valuable in ToodleDo, so I’m staying there for now.

I am intrigued by Reclaim Hosting, and plan to investigate them as an alternative to my current webhosting service – which I must confess has been quite satisfactory as far as customer service is concerned, but I like Reclaim’s connection to and roots in the education community.  I am also drawn to supporting small businesses whenever possible (it also doesn’t hurt that Reclaim’s hosting package costs a fraction of what I currently pay), so this seems like a potential win-win.

Summer is a perfect time for me to tinker and explore this sort of thing, so I will gladly take any suggestions you have about alternative services.  Please feel free to share!

Taking Back My Data with #ProjectReclaim

In my ongoing effort to consider my digital identity and all that it entails (including, but not limited to, privacy and control over my data), I’ve been migrating some of my cloud-hosted services over to my self-hosted domain.  This process started in 2008, when I moved this blog from Edublogs to a self-hosted WordPress installation, then continued in 2009, when I moved my online professional portfolio from Wikidot to another self-hosted WordPress site.  That was about it until fairly recently, when I began exploring free and/or open-source alternatives to some popular cloud services.

Unbeknownst to me then (but beknownst to me now), I wasn’t alone in my thinking.  This was/is part of a larger online movement called Project Reclaim (more on this later).

Anyone who uses cloud services – especially free ones – assumes a certain level of risk that the service will one day disappear.  I’ve lost count of the number of services I’ve used that no longer exist (e.g., Quillpill, MyEmailReminders, PingMe), but they were all replaced easily enough.  The one that really impacted me (and many others) was Google’s decision to pull the plug on its RSS app, Reader.  I used Feedly for a while after that, and while I had no real complaint with the service, it always irked me a bit that I might lose access – yet again – to an app that was a major part of how I consume and share information.

That, coupled with the desire to start tinkering a bit and using all the hosting I was paying for anyway, led me to seek out some alternatives to the free cloud-based services I enjoyed, but feared losing.  I’ll detail some specific examples in my next post, but for readers who are thinking along the same lines, I recommend checking out OSALT and AlternativeTo; these sites are wonderful directories for searching for alternative services and applications of all types.

While I realize that I’m still very much at the mercy of my webhost, my hope is that the more services I can maintain “in house”, as it were, the more control I can exercise over my information consumption and sharing, and the less I am at the whim of external forces.

Further reading: Boon Gorges wrote the original Project Reclaim posts; Doug Belshaw has a series of blog posts on his personal Project Reclaim as well.

Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

I’m going to start this off with a not-so-humblebrag: I’m proud and pleased to announce that my school district was recently recognized as a Best Community for Music Education by the NAMM Foundation.  I’m proud not only because I work in the district, but also because I happen to supervise the music program across K-12 in my district (along with about a half-dozen other disciplines).  But believe it or not, this post isn’t about all that.

As you might recall, I’ve only been on the job since September, so I can’t take credit for the building and maintenance of this program (which has been previously recognized as a NAMM BCME); that groundwork was laid well before I stepped in.  If you’ll allow me a brief moment of indulgence, I’d like to think that my main contribution to the process this time was coordinating a more collaborative application process than had been in place in years past, one that actively solicited input from our teachers across the K-12 spectrum.  In the end, the teachers on our application committee represented grades K-8, a sizeable chunk of the program.

With just a few weeks left to go in my first year as an administrator, I look back on 2014-2015, and I think that the collaborative approach to this project is a microcosm of what I have tried to do in all facets of my job, in all the disciplines and buildings I supervise: encourage collaboration among and between staff.  I know ‘collaboration’ is a big edu-buzz word and is a great idea in theory, but it’s not always so easy to put into practice.  I’ve learned that putting the systems and structures in place to enable that takes a lot of planning and doing, both on my part and the part of my teachers.  This is made even more difficult by the fact that we are spread across seven different buildings, each with its own start and end time, and even within buildings I rarely have two teachers with common prep.  To be honest, it would have been less time-consuming and less difficult for me to do the application myself, or to ask one of my teachers to do it on her own.  Yet our philosophical commitment to – and belief in the value of – professional collaboration is what drives us to find ways around logistical challenges.  And I believe that this year, our department has been made the stronger for it.

Being part of the overall district-level planning process for the upcoming school year, unlike last year, has allowed me to start putting measures in place already to better structure and facilitate cross-building articulation and collaboration for next year, not just for the BCME application, but for more global purposes as well.  I’ve been dying to implement more of what I learned about distributed leadership and shared decision making during my dissertation research, and while much of that occurred strictly at the building level, I think the concept is transferable to, say, a K-12 fine & performing arts program.

I’m not going to lie: right now I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the end-of-year rush that faces all administrators.  This is my first time through it, and that’s natural.  But I’ve already got one eye on the weeks ahead – not so much for the upcoming vacation, but more for the opportunity to quietly sit, reflect, and flesh out the framework that I hope will allow us – not me – to plan and do great things for our department, our programs, and our students.

St. Baldrick’s Day 2015

Told you I was going to do it:


Shout out to the LIS Brave Shavers, the LHS Bald Buddies, event organizers Drs. Mike and Melissa McCue, host venue Amalfi’s, and all the Lawrence Township Public Schools teachers, administrators, staff, students, parents, and community members who came out to support the cause.  According to the event site, as of 9pm today we nearly doubled the stated goal of $75,000, raising over $136,000 for childhood cancer research, a figure that will undoubtedly go up in the coming days as they count all the cash and check donations not collected online.  The show of support for this event is just one more reason why I am immensely proud to be a part of this community.

Update, 3/16/15: According to an email from the organizers, the current total stands at just a few dollars shy of $140,000, with more still coming in.  This event is now the 18th-highest earning St. Baldrick’s event in the nation and 1st highest in NJ for 2015!

Update 2, 3/16/15: We have officially passed $140,000 raised.

Update 3, 4/15/15: Evidently the donations have kept dribbling in over the month since the event!  The Lawrenceville St. Baldrick’s group announced today via Facebook that they have surpassed the $150,000 mark.  This will be my last update to this post regardless of how much more money comes in, but suffice to say that the donation ripple effect is wide-reaching with this event in this community.

Also, my hair grew back a lot faster than I thought it would.  I already need a haircut.

Shaving for a Cause

I’m in my fourth year working in Lawrence Township Public Schools, and as long as I have been here, students and staff have participated in St. Baldrick’s Day, a fundraiser for childhood cancer research in which participants shave their heads.  I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact the event has on our schools and community, and this year I’ll be joining the fun.

On March 14, 2015, I’ll join the Brave Shavers, a team of students and staff from Lawrence Intermediate School.  I’ve never shaved my head before, so who knows what lies beneath?

If you can spare a few bucks, please visit my fundraising page and sponsor me.  I’m hoping to raise at least $100, but if we can surpass that, all the better.  You can feel confident in giving, as the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has a high rating on Charity Navigator.

Please consider making a donation to this worthy cause.  While you’re on my donation page, you can see my “Before” pic (it’s a few years old but you get the idea); check back after March 14 for the “After”.  Thanks for your consideration!

As I Pronounced It, Trippingly on the Tongue

Last month I attended both the hooding ceremony and commencement ceremony for my doctoral program.  I was asked to speak at each event, which was a tremendous honor, if a bit intimidating.  

Below is the text of my speech at the 44th Annual Commencement Ceremony at Wilmington University on January 25, 2015.  There were actually three ceremonies that day, each one for two of the colleges at the university.  My ceremony was the last one of the day and was for the College of Education and the College of Technology.


Thank you for that introduction, Judge Farnan.

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Varsalona, Faculty and Staff of Wilmington University, Parents, Guests, and Friends, and my Fellow Graduates of the Class of 2015:

Welcome! It is my distinct honor to speak – briefly, I promise – on behalf of the graduating class of 2015.

I’ve worked in some facet of public education since I graduated from college in 1999, and as I think any career educator will tell you, teaching can be a very isolating profession.  Can be, but does not have to be, nor should it be.

One of the philosophies that drives the Educational Leadership doctoral program here at Wilmington University is that when it comes to leadership, you can’t lead by yourself.  True leaders work with others to build trust, relationships, and a sense of community, because that is the foundation upon which good work is done.  It’s true that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but if I can mix my metaphors for a moment here, none of us is as smart as all of us.

And isn’t that true of our time here at Wilmington University as well?  Every one of us here today had some kind of support system to help us on our journey, whether it was our parents, our partners, our professors, our friends, and especially our classmates.  These are the people who laughed with us and cried with us.  They believed in us when maybe we didn’t believe in ourselves.  They celebrated success with us – as we do today – and when we failed, they helped us to make sure that we failed forward, turning disappointment into an opportunity for learning and growth.

And that’s what I hope we all take with us moving forward from today.  As graduates of the College of Education and the College of Technology, we are all, in our own ways and in our own roles, trying to make the world a little bit better.  We leave here today with a great deal of knowledge and skill in our respective major areas of study, but let’s never lose sight of the fact that the relationships we create are not incidental to our work, they are the foundation of our work.  Because if we’re looking to leave this world a little better than when we found it, that’s how we’re going to do it – not by breaking off and doing great work in isolation, but by breaking down barriers and working collaboratively and cooperatively to meet any challenge and exceed all expectations.

Once again, my deepest congratulations, Wilmington University Class of 2015.