Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 3)

Following on from Part 2 which looked at the consumer plug computing server solutions for your personal cloud. In this post I’m looking at another solution to NAS (Network Attached Storage), the HDD enclosures specifically designed for this task. As I was researching this topic there was one particular producer who consistently received positive reviews and that was Synology. I think that they have put a great deal of effort into the user experience; consequently they have received numerous awards. With their DiskStation products they not only focus on the enterprise solution side of things but they provide consumer focused products as well; though not quite as functionally right as their enterprise products they are cheaper and still (very much) stacks up favourably against the competition.

The two Diskstations that I’m interested in are the Synology DS110j – single disk enclosure  currently retailing at ~ £113, and the Synology DS210j – double disk enclosure (RAID) backup ~ £152.50. Stick a SATA disk or two into these beauties and you’re set up.

(If you’re not familiar with RAID what it does is automatically backs up data between two or more disk drives so that there is redundancy between the two disks; one disk fails and all your data is retained on the other disk(s). Swap the failed disk out for another disk and the whole process begins again.)

I really am drawn generically to this concept as a solution, and to these Synology products in particular. This video might just highlight a little more:

  Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Information in the Personal Cloud (Part 1)

I’ve been considering the area of information storage for a while now. As we go about our ordinary lives (both personal and work lives) we accumulate lots and lots of files; photos, videos, documents, etc. There are plenty of online cloud solutions available that could be used to store these: photo hosting sites, video hosting sites, or just plain file storage solutions. I have a track record of producing and hosting content directly online; and being willing to combine multiple different free services, keeping track of them all. However, whilst investigating some of the more comprehensive functions of such services, I was surprised at the rapid ramping up of costs beyond the initial level. To some extent it is the ease of access and backup facilities that you’d be paying for, but these costs would soon mount up. I wondered whether the majority of people I’m looking at solutions for would be willing to go down this paid for route, even though I am seeing an increasing number of them becoming mindful of backup, loss, retrieval and sharing of data and information.

So are there any other possible solutions? It occurred to me that if I was starting out to provide a file store solution now, would I come up with what I’ve been using previously? Well possibly not. So when I’m considering the topic  I need to think radically with a clean sheet of paper what would be the combined ‘best’ and ‘cheapest’ solution available.

It appears from a quick ‘straw-poll’ of a broad cross-section colleagues that their requirements seem to include:

  • easy access from work and home (and probably anywhere else)
  • large enough disk space for their needs & this can be quite large
  • ability to share files
  • 2-way file synching
  • ‘Dropbox’ type functionality
  • store a range of different file types
  • fast access
  • easy to use
  • potentially stream media files

There seems to be a big use of internal HDD for storing work, external HDD for backing up, pen drives for transporting and sharing work (particularly presentations), and services like ‘Dropbox’ for multi-location access and sharing files. There is less use of centrally provided file storage for a number of reasons. Also there’s a need to reduce the CO2 impact of services. Can this be built into the solution?

It’s true that some of the online file drop/store/share services fulfil some of these requirements and could well meet the needs of several people. However, from my perspective, there are limitations.  The biggest of these is the space limitation. Generally, you get a limited initial free file store of perhaps a couple of GB; equivalent to a pen drive for transferring files between work, home and other locations. After that, monthly costs quickly being to accrue with for example 50GB of space costing of the order of $10/month and 100GB costing say $20/month. Even that seems to be a limited amount of space for my needs.

If there was a more de-centralized model with individuals taking more control and responsibility, would it lead to greater support requirements? Or could it mean putting fewer resources into maintaining standard services and innovating more elsewhere?

Well thinking along these line I’ve come up with some solutions that might do just be the answer. But this post is already too long, so I’ll leave the details until next time.

What I’m thinking about is using a plug computer server solution with a (or multiple) connected external HDD and an Ethernet connection to their home Internet connection to host their own file store (NAS – Networked Attached Storage), backup and synching service, that they can use to access content over a browser with an Internet connection from anywhere and any device. 1TB of USB external HDD storage costs about £50 currently.

This would meet many of the requirements expressed by colleagues. Of course advice has to be given about using these services, and retaining integrity of data, hard disk failure, etc.

British Library Sound Map – Sheffield

The British Library has a project just started where the general public can record short soundscapes to be kept and archived for posterity. The pilot phase is happening right in the gorgeous city of Sheffield.

There was an article about it on BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight yesterday (listen via iPlayer from 39min42sec to 44mins) plus an article in the Sheffield Telegraph.

I spent my lunchtime recording some soundscapes in town, geo tagging and uploading them. By the time I got back to my desk they had already made it onto the British Library Sound Map.

Here’s my tweet about it. Follow the #uksm on Twitter.

Application of this concept has some great potential for education. It also shows what a multi-tool the smart phone has become.

So if you want to be a little part of history, get recording sounds to Audioboo. More details are on my previous blog post about Audioboo.

Audioboo – podcasting has never been so easy

Here’s the history part: I started creating podcasts over half a decade ago. I created and ran courses about podcasting when no one else was interested. I even ran them locally for the community in conjunction with the local BBC centre. Initially it was reasonably technical to create podcasts. There was all the teaching of how to use Audacity, uploading the files somewhere, and to make an enhanced podcast you had to turn to a Mac and use three line-code programmes (pre-Garageband I’m talking here).

More recently running parallel to this we’ve seen the ever simplification of video production and upload, particularly to YouTube via Flip cameras, etc. I remember a couple of years ago working with Qik on a smart phone when it was in private alpha testing and then with Flixwagon as well with the idea of creating and streaming video from a mobile to such a site and then automatically squirting it out to YouTube and creating a vblog or video podcast. (I might revisit this idea with different hardware.) But there are still some things were video isn’t really necessary. If I just want to make some notes or regular comments to myself and/or others then my ‘talking head’ is surplus to requirements and just eats up bandwidth unnecessarily.

Well I’ve just found the easiest of podcasting solution and it’s Audioboo. This is an audio recording site that enables you to create high quality audio recordings direct from an iPhone or Android phone via some apps, or you can use the website if you don’t have one of those phone times, and before it’s rolled out to other phones.

There’s an editor built into the site, so you can cut out the bad bits from your recordings. Use the embed code to stick your ‘boos’ into a blog or elsewhere. However, it goes on from there, because it makes it easy to syndicate your feed via iTunes or via the ‘RSS’ (Atom) feed. And there’s more, there is also a social element to Audioboo where you follow and have followers – Twitter stylee. You can also link in with your Twitter account.

Here’s the 2min vid:

The British Library are using public uploads to Audioboo to create a soundscape map of the UK; simply tag your uploads uksm for possible inclusion.

I’ve set up an account that I’m going to use as an impromptu, quick and convenient podcasting platform for notes on new tech for education. Check me out at Minimarkuos.

Multiphysics simulation – Physics engine

I’ve seen a fair bit of discussion relating to the Lagoa Technology Inc.’s video since it was posted three days ago, mostly relating to how we are going to see advances in gaming technology as a result. But it occurs to me that the potential of such a high definition physics engine for teaching principles of Physics or modelling in a Physics, Material Sciences or Engineering research environment is substantial.

You can see the action of granular material, deformation of structures, elasticity, and more. Anyway, take a look at the video:

The programmer, Thiago Costa, is obviously very talented. He also created this smoke simulation.

Socialwok via Google Apps

I’m currently looking into the Apps available from the Marketplace for a Google Apps for Education installation. One area of particular interest is social collaboration. If, for example, you are running a dedicated social collaboration enterprise solution that is good but expensive, is there a viable cheaper alternative through Google Apps?

Well, I think there is a serious contender and it’s called Socialwok.

Some people call Socialwok – Facebook for business on Google Apps

If you think about it, Google Apps is a loose collection of Apps. Socialwok does an amazing job of tying this collection together and enables you to see all the activity across the Apps, be that Calendar, Google Docs, Activities, etc. Content can be kept private to a company/university/school, with restricted access to specific groups via the ‘feeds’ arrangement within Socialwok. However, it’s also possible to publish to Socialwok while simultaneously publishing out to Google Buzz, Twitter, and Facebook; a time saver and potentially great publicity mechanism. Also external collaborators can be granted access to a specific Socialwok feed, something that I know is required.

The personnel at Socialwok are technically very impressive and rather astute business-wise, which is always a plus point when considering longevity in today’s world of technological winners and those that fall along the wayside. I think this video by Robert Scobles (Scobleizer) from Google I/O 2010 Conference in which he asks Is Socialwok the best of the collaborative enterprise social services? demonstrates both these aspects.

Another innovation with Socialwok is the integration with Seesmic to create a desktop facility (read the Seesmic blog post) to monitor and contribute to your ‘corporate business activities’, or ‘course studies’ in an educational setting, alongside maintaining your PLN of contacts via Twitter and Facebook. This is bringing Google Apps to the Desktop in a full featured client, with real-time social search and relevance ranking functionality. This integration is a point of pure business genius, and is highly significant, which I have to applaud.

My interest is in educational uses. When it comes to appealing to students and encouraging them to work with social collaboration media, the fact that the environment has a ‘look & feel’ of something they are already used to has distinct advantages.

Of course you might need to hammer home the differences in the philosophy underlying each. Something I wrote previously on the subject:

[Facebook/MySpace/etc] is out there, it’s open, just do what you do in there. The [university/college/school] collaboration environment is something different; it’s not trying to be [Facebook/MySpace/etc], and it’s certainly not trying to compete with [Facebook/MySpace/etc]. Our collaboration environment is more akin to a professional environment you might see within companies when you’ve graduated [uni/college/school], or a social network relating to a particular area of professional interest (an international science social network for example).

The [uni/college/school] has provided our environment as a secure place, where you can work through your ideas, collaborate with others, develop an understanding of how to participate in a professional manner, with the assurance that your work is secure and that your ideas remain just that belonging to you and the [uni/college/school]. The loss of your Intellectual Property is a consideration if you use openly available tools and environments hosted elsewhere. Put more simply, if you put your work or your ideas somewhere on the web, you might just have given those ideas away (the chances are you won’t have checked the small print).

By developing the additional skills that using such a tool can enable, you can demonstrate to future employers your ability to work professionally within a collaborative environment.

There are probably particular benefits to using the environment for researchers, with respect to Intellectual Property and the ability to work and share with external colleagues, partners and collaborators from anywhere in the world.

I’m rather interested by Socialwok and I need to investigate more fully its potential for educational use with colleagues.

Swype for Android

It’s not often that you encounter something that significantly changes the way you do things in such a subtle fashion. I’ve signed up for the Beta of Swype for Android. Registration will probably only be open for a few days; demand is high.

So what is Swype? Well it’s a new means of inputting text into an Android device (at least for starters). I’ve a feeling this is going to be on so many devices in the future. I’m sure there’s a complex algorithm under the bonnet, but this is so quick and easy to use it’s going to make a significant different to the way I’ll be able to work into the future. For example, I’m thinking of creating a mobile blog for jotting down quick thoughts throughout the day, and Swype will make that practical and possible. It’s so easy to get started with using as well.

The special thing about Swype is the way you just slide your finger or thumb across the keypad and spell out the word, increasing the input rate significantly from the customary double thumb approach preferred by many. So much so that the texting world record has recently been set using Swype.

This video of a presentation by the CEO (perhaps a bit long but you don’t need to watch it all) demonstrates things better.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1378748&dest=-1]

There’s a set of Swype tips videos on Youtube. This one shows you a trick to type even faster: