Melissa Wantz: Notes from West Egg

Teaching English and Journalism at a California High School

When is enough enough with web hosting failures?

November 1, 2009 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

out of orderToday the Ventura County Star, our county newspaper, came out with a really nice article about my journalism program. It was splayed across the front of the lifestyle section and jumped to the back. Three photos. Online, it featured our video and a link to our site. It was great! Well reported, lots of student quotes. I threw the link up on our Facebook Fan page to share with our 529 fans.

An hour later, the site went down.

Couldn’t get to the front end, back end or cpanel. Not just our site but the hosting service’s entire site system. Their own corporate web page. All the web sites they serve. This is the third time in six weeks this has happened. It was hacked once about a week before we launched. Some Saudi Arabian hacker, or so it appeared. Then as they tried to beef up their security a week later, it went down again (on the eve of our launch) for several hours. And then yesterday and today. Today’s crash lasted at least 4-5 hours.

Right when we had the opportunity to get lots of new eyes on our site.

The company owner sent out (another) email explaining how a routine upgrade turned bad and crashed the servers, and how they worked really hard to fix things but ultimately had to revert to a backup from 1.5 days ago (oh, and any changes since that time would have to be redone).

So, when is enough enough? When do I switch to another hosting company? Is this a normal situation for hosting companies?

It’s really irritating that I can’t count on our hosting company to, um, host 24/7. I have a contract that’s up in April, but should I leave now? And is switching over that difficult?

Skype for beginners

October 23, 2009 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

skypeYesterday I set up a web cam and Skyped for the first time with a journalism class in Indiana. It was so much fun. My class watched the videotaping on the big screen via projector. They sang happy birthday to Tyra, an Evansville, Indiana, student, who was wearing a crown and a birthday sash. They decided to do a joint story on “What’s hot?” together (two students form my class and two from theirs will complete the story). They really seemed to bond with the students two time zones away.

I also started my group that will be participating in Project Hello: Notes from the Edge of the World yesterday. I gathered a dozen students, mostly AVID students, together and told them about the ning exchange we’ll be attempting with kids from Sierra Leone. They looked like they didn’t really get it. That’s okay. It’s a huge experiment. It might fail. But I’ve got a $5,000 NEA grant to spend, and I’m going to give it a shot. The two Flip HD cameras I ordered came in the mail yesterday. One will go to Africa, via Washington DC, when I go for JEA in November. The other will stay in Ventura for my students to use. More to come on this project as we proceed.

I’m in Boston right now and tomorrow I will help present 21st century technology in the journalism classroom at a conference being held at MIT. I find this a bit surreal, considering this is my first year advising a journalism program and considering that literally two years ago I knew only how to surf the internet and get my email off a gmail account. I’m excited, jet-lagged and stuffed with yummy clam chowder from Skip Jack’s down the street.

The world is small.

Creative Commons photo by malthe on Flickr.

Permanent beta mode

October 18, 2009 by · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

beta mode photoI added this sign to the front of my classroom this year. So far, one kid has asked about it, about what it means to be in permanent beta mode. I got the term from bloggers, I guess. They encourage new businesses to be constantly testing and responding to mistakes, especially on the web. The idea of waiting to announce or sell until you have the perfect product is apparently being relegated to the history bin in this new technology landscape. Wait too long and someone else will beat you to the market. Plus, the clients are more forgiving of mistakes as long as they believe you are working on them (and as long as you do fix them).

When a business releases a website or web-based company, the product has already been through alpha mode where it is unavailable to the public — for good reason. Beta is when the public can access it but with the warning that their experience may include mistakes or less-than-perfect service. I’m not even sure what comes after beta because, as a teacher, the next stage doesn’t really interest me.

I will never have the perfect classroom with a perfect “product” to pitch my students. That would bore me. At the point where I feel like I’ve crafted the perfect World Literature or journalism program, it will be time for me to hand it over to someone else and look for new challenges.

That’s just me, I guess. I know some teachers who are happy teaching the exact same lessons from one year to the next, with little to no changes. The kids change, the relationships change and that’s enough for them. That’s okay. But it’s not for me. I thrive in experimental mode, and I think the kids like it that way because it reminds them of themselves a little bit, constantly striving, sometimes failing and starting over. You have to be both confident and humble to work like this. I couldn’t have done it in my 20s or 30s. I guess that’s one good thing about the 40s, you tend to get over yourself faster.

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Okay, two minutes

October 14, 2009 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

I’ve uploaded the video to Youtube. I couldn’t get it down to one minute but I’m happy with the result. I think it packs a lot of energy and shows the breadth of the program I’ve started at my high school.

I titled the video: “We Don’t Use Paper for This.”

Enjoy!

(Not sure why I can’t embed the video into this post.)