Review: Drobo FS Network Storage Array

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Wow, that title’s a mouth­ful — Net­work Stor­age Array — but don’t let that tech­nic­al-jar­gony sound­ing term scare you, this Drobo FS device is really as easy to use as your Fridge. And for me, that’s a Holy Grail — some­thing that you use and basic­ally for­get the com­plex­ity.

Whut?
But let me back up a moment and describe what a Net­work Stor­age Array (or NAS — Net­work Attached Stor­age) device is.

Basic­ally, it’s a box with a bunch of hard drives in it, and some net­work intel­li­gence. You con­nect your NAS to your home or office net­work, and it appears to your com­puters as if it’s anoth­er com­puter on your net­work that’s shar­ing some drives.

You copy stuff to your NAS and share files with any oth­er com­puter on your net­work.

Pretty simple, yet dif­fi­cult to do well

And this is where things get a little squir­rely. Some people have a house­hold with mixed com­puters shar­ing the same net­work. In my case, I’ve got Win­dows (2 vari­et­ies), OSX and Linux machines. And some net­work stor­age devices don’t play well with dif­fer­ent machines on the same net­work. Sure, the box may say Win/Mac, but invari­ably issues arise. Not so with the Drobo FS. Con­tin­ue read­ing “Review: Drobo FS Net­work Stor­age Array”

I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer

A couple of years ago, I was all into and enjoyed build­ing desktop com­puters, pick­ing out the right video card, select­ing the best mother­board and gen­er­ally dig­ging deep into the innards of my future com­put­ing plat­form. And design­ing the per­fect ‘office’ com­put­ing envir­on­ment with short cable runs, ample power for my accessor­ies and lots of desktop space. Yes it was com­plex and involved and detailed, but it was a hobby — build­ing com­puters.

These days, I’m not so con­cerned about it. What I need to do on a com­puter hasn’t changed, but the com­put­ing industry has matured, my needs are now becom­ing much more main­stream, and the sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences between one com­pon­ent and anoth­er aren’t quite so sig­ni­fic­ant any more.

Put anoth­er way, what I have been doing and want to do on a com­puter, is now much more in demand by every­day con­sumers. And the hard­ware, is becom­ing much more homo­gen­eous. They’ve caught up. Wel­come to the future.

Honey, I shrunk the CPU
Moore’s Law has also caught up, to the point where the hard­ware is smal­ler, light­er, faster, and cheap­er to make. On today’s hard­ware you can have full audio and video edit­ing stu­di­os in the soft­ware that runs your phone. You can remotely pilot vehicles with your phone or mobile com­put­ing device, and you can eas­ily com­mu­nic­ate with any­one on the plan­et using any num­ber of mobile tech­no­lo­gies.

Any of the mod­ern note­book com­puters have all that stuff in a very tiny pack­age.

Home file shar­ing
It used to be that you had files on one com­puter, and you shared them with the oth­er. Both com­puters had to be on to share the files. Now, with ubi­quit­ous WiFi and home net­work stor­age appli­ances (basic­ally net­work-aware hard drives) in your house­hold, any com­puter or com­pat­ible device can access any doc­u­ment, video, mp3, at any time. No need to have a big Mas­ter Serv­er.

Print­ing
The same goes for net­work-aware print­ers. Most man­u­fac­tur­ers have WiFi mod­els avail­able that know how to play nice with your home net­work envir­on­ment. Again, no need for a com­puter dir­ectly con­nec­ted to a print­er.

Stor­age
I men­tioned home net­work stor­age above, but these days stor­age devices are dirt cheap. So much so that it’s become pos­sible for com­mer­cial busi­ness to be built up around the concept of offer­ing you free online stor­age of your doc­u­ments, pho­tos, music, whatever…for free.

And they won’t only store your files, they’ll give you free access to applic­a­tions and tools to cre­ate and edit your stuff. Again, I no longer have a need for a huge drive attached to a big desktop box — all this stuff is in the cloud.

One caveat
There’s only two real reas­on that I can think of for need­ing a ded­ic­ated desktop com­puter these days; high-qual­ity media cre­ation, and gam­ing.

If you’re into music mak­ing, video edit­ing, pho­to­graphy, art, design, any­thing that needs you to move masses of pixels or gigs of data around, the archi­tec­ture of a desktop com­puter box is more suited to that than many of the note­book com­puters on the mar­ket. And you’re likely using the com­puter in a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting as a pho­to­graph­er, com­poser and the like.

Gam­ing also is a hard­ware resource hog, and falls into that cat­egory as many of the same com­put­ing tasks in media cre­ation are also neces­sary in game cre­ation and play­ing. Of course, there are excep­tions — I’ve seen some very power­ful (and pretty) gam­ing laptops.

Inter­est­ing, but not enough
But gam­ing isn’t enough for me to build my desktop around it, any more. Con­sole gam­ing sys­tems have edged in with com­par­able graph­ics and game­play, on much big­ger screens than could fit on my desktop.

So it looks like my next new sys­tem, likely in a year or two, won’t be a power-suck­ing behemoth that sits under my desk. Rather, it’ll be some­thing small, light, can con­nect to desktop mon­it­ors, mice & key­boards, and the home net, yet is still port­able. And I think the same holds true for most of you too. Yes, wel­come to the future 🙂
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Need a mic? Find a Yeti.

In the last few years it’s got­ten a bit easi­er to use a micro­phone to record audio on your home com­puter — USB head­sets with qual­ity micro­phones have been avail­able for a while, but only recently have USB desktop micro­phones oved out of the niche and spe­cialty retail­ers into the main­stream, driv­en mostly by the devel­op­ment of pod­cast­ing and Gar­age Band record­ing sys­tems.

But qual­ity desktop micro­phones were expens­ive — the keyword there is were — now we’re see­ing a bunch of new, high qual­ity USB desktop micro­phones in the retail­ers at a much more reas­on­able price-point.

The Blue Yeti is one such micro­phone that has quickly developed a bit of a repu­ta­tion for itself, in a good way, of course. So let’s take a look at some of the reas­ons the Yeti is get­ting some buzz.

All this on a micro­phone?
First off, the Yeti isn’t just a micro­phone. Inside the sturdy, heavy, burn­ished alu­mini­um case is actu­ally 3 con­dens­er micro­phone cap­sules, stra­tegic­ally loc­ated to provide 4 record­ing pat­terns. I’ll get into those in a moment.

And it’s a THX cer­ti­fied micro­phone:

THX cer­ti­fic­a­tion is either pass or fail. And product pri­cing is nev­er a driv­ing factor. If a product meets the THX test­ing stand­ards, then cer­ti­fic­a­tion is gran­ted. With all of this test­ing from THX, the con­sumer is assured that the TV, receiv­er or speak­er  sys­tem they are pur­chas­ing meets the highest stand­ards for qual­ity and com­pat­ib­il­ity right out of the box.

backcontrols.jpgAlso inside the unit all the hard­ware neces­sary to trans­late the ana­log audio into digit­al audio, and then pump it out the mini-USB port and into your com­puter.

This hard­ware includes a pre-amp (con­trolled by the Gain knob on the back) and a zero-latency head­phone jack so you can mon­it or the micro­phone audio without hav­ing to plug your head­phones into your com­puter, and  exper­i­ence that annoy­ing bit of audio lag (latency).

Three, no four mics in one.
Cap_300.jpg You see this neat shot of the three con­dens­er mic cap­sules? Well the way the Yeti uses them is kinda cool, because these three mics work­ing togeth­er give the Yeti the flex­ib­il­ity of four dis­tinct micro­phone pickup pat­terns.

The illus­tra­tion below shows the pat­terns and their best usages.

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Mobile Record­ing Stu­dio
One of the oth­er reas­ons I wanted to take a look at the Yeti was to explore it’s func­tion­al­ity in a highly mobile envir­on­ment — spe­cific­ally how it worked when con­nec­ted to the USB input in Apple’s Cam­era Con­nect­or Kit for the iPad.

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By com­bin­ing a high-qual­ity micro­phone with some of the soph­ist­ic­ated digit­al audio edit­ing soft­ware for iPad (such as Mul­ti­Track DAW), a poten­tially power­ful pod­cast­ing setup could be cre­ated.

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Sweet Sounds
Yep, the Yeti works as a very nice and clean mic in a mobile situ­ation.

I recor­ded some audio of my wife set­ting up her acous­tic gui­tar, and while I’m no sound engin­eer, was quite impressed with the sound! Much bet­ter than any of the home / con­sumer mic’s I’d tried pre­vi­ously.

Ste­reo Nor­mal­ized by bgri­er

And, of course, I recor­ded the first para­graph of this blog post to give you an indic­a­tion of what voice sounds like through the Yeti. The Yeti was con­nec­ted through an inex­pens­ive USB hub to the iPad, which was run­ning Mul­ti­track DAW. Yeti gain was up a bit, and the mic was set into the Car­di­oid pat­tern.

Yeti Mic Test by bgri­er

Then Apple Changed Things
Sadly, in the last OS update, Apple changed the way power was sup­plied through the Cam­era Con­nect­or Kit USB port — and the Yeti stopped work­ing *when con­nec­ted dir­ectly to the iPad*.

The work­around is that you now need to put a powered USB hub between the Yeti and your iPad in order for the sys­tem to work again.

Mostly Mobile
So, as things stand, I’ve got a mostly mobile record­ing and pod­cast stu­dio.  The one major draw­back with the Yeti is it’s heft — it weighs in at 1.85kg.

Add to that the need for a powered USB hub now, and things are a bit more com­plic­ated — but not enough that I’d not con­sider using the Yeti / Hub / iPad com­bin­a­tion in a mobile set­ting.

Need a mic? Find a Yeti.
If you com­pare prices on sim­il­ar mics, you’ll find the Yeti extremely inex­pens­ive — con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of addi­tion­al fea­tures you get built in (multi-pat­tern, THX cer­ti­fic­a­tion, intern­al Pre-amp, etc), well worth a ser­i­ous look, or listen.

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It’s cold! Pamper your tech

frost_250.jpgWith the amount of gear I have around I’m sur­prised this doesn’t hap­pen to me more often.

The weath­er in Edmon­ton has been rather cool of late, in the -20 to -30 degree range in fact. And today, since it’s warmed up to a reas­on­able -2, I decided to drive the car, rather than our oth­er, warm­er, SUV.

After dig­ging it out, scrap­ing it off, and jump­ing in to wait for it to defrost, I rum­maged around in the centre con­sole — and dis­covered that I’d left my TomTom GPS in the vehicle since the fall.

Hmmm, this was not good. Weeks of cold-soak­ing the bat­ter­ies at extreme tem­per­at­ures can harm their life, and per­haps even phys­ic­ally dam­age them.

As well, bring­ing the device into a nice warm room also has it’s own haz­ards. As any­one who wears glasses and shovels snow in Canada knows, mois­ture quickly accu­mu­lates on these frozen devices. Wet elec­tron­ics are not a good thing.

So, what can you do to keep your gad­gets safely work­ing through the winter? Here’s a few ideas:

Don’t let them freeze (duh)
Staged Warm­ing — If they do freeze, warm the slowly, in stages, in a humid­ity free envir­on­ment. In my case, I left the GPS in my gar­age for an hour (warm­er than out­side), then moved it to my car (warm­er than my gar­age), and finally moved it inside the house. This reduced the shock to the com­pon­ents, and reduced the capa­city for humid­ity to form as the unit was warmed.

Out­door use
Cam­er­as, music play­ers, phones — keep them in an inside pock­et, next to your body if pos­sible. This’ll keep the bat­ter­ies warm and extend the charge of the unit. Cold temp reduces the power of a charged bat­tery.

While not all elec­tron­ics are designed for Canada’s extreme cold swings, there are things you can do to enjoy your devices in the great out­doors. What do you do to keep your tech work­ing in the weath­er?
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Hardware helps information be free

i1_300.jpgInform­a­tion wants to be free, an inter­est­ing phrase sum­ming up the concept that tech­no­logy has the poten­tial to be lib­er­at­ing, rather than oppress­ing. It was first used in the 1960’s and attrib­uted to the founder of the Whole Earth Cata­log.

Today, that phrase is often used to sup­port open file shar­ing activ­it­ies. And recently I found two hard­ware pro­jects that facil­it­ate the ‘free­ing of inform­a­tion’.
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Dead Drop
This one hit the news in Octo­ber of last year. Basic­ally a USB stick stuck in a wall. Hook up your device to it, and check out the con­tents.

I am ‘inject­ing’ USB flash drives into walls, build­ings and curbs access­ible to any­body in pub­lic space. You are invited to go to these places (so far 5 in NYC) to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favor­ite files and data. Each dead drop con­tains a readme.txt file explain­ing the pro­ject.

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Pir­ate Box

This one is new. It’s a serv­er, router, and bat­ter­ies in a port­able box.

Using the Pir­ate­Box is easy. Simply turn it on and trans­form any space into a free file shar­ing net­work. Users with­in range of the device can join the Pir­ate­Box open wire­less net­work from any wifi-enabled device and begin upload­ing or down­load­ing files imme­di­ately.

Usages
Aside from the obvi­ous, pop­u­lar, and ques­tion­able shar­ing of copy­righted soft­ware or media, how else could these be used? Here’s how.

Let’s say I’m in a mod­er­ately pop­u­lar ind­iband and I’m look­ing for ways to get the band in the news, and get our music heard.

i4_300.jpgWhat bet­ter, and inex­pens­ive way than to install dead drops (loaded with our band’s tunes, natch) around the major cit­ies that I’m inter­ested in tar­get­ing.

Then ‘leak’ the word to our fan­base, tech blogs, boing-boing, and our name is in the news, and our tunes are get­ting heard.

Or I’m an author and use the Pir­ate Box to serve out cop­ies of my books to people attend­ing my Book Sign­ing or speak­ing events.

Or I’m a cit­izen in a coun­try where the news media is con­trolled by the state… yes, you can see the poten­tial.

It’s cool to see this kind of tech being developed. The poten­tial uses and real-world impact are as vast as the ima­gin­a­tion, bey­ond shar­ing the latest Justin Bieber tune to my friends.
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DOS on the iPad? There’s an app for that.

5374144373_36b6e593f5_m.jpg[UPDATE — looks like Apple has pulled it from the app store again]

I’ve got a rather strange, yet fam­ily friendly habit — I tend to col­lect com­puter emu­lat­ors; soft­ware writ­ten for hard­ware, that acts like older hard­ware in order to run older soft­ware.

With me so far?

Over the last few years, Apple has been slowly relax­ing the emu­la­tion stand­ards in the iTunes App store for emu­lat­or apps, wit­ness the Com­modore 64 and rumored
Amiga emu­lat­ors — though sadly, I doubt we’ll ever see one for the Apple ][

In the last 6 months, a DOS emu­lat­or has appeared, dis­ap­peared, and now reappeared in the store. And it’s a pretty sol­id app. Con­tin­ue read­ing “DOS on the iPad? There’s an app for that.”