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.”