It’s easy when we’re running around to not spend time updating the infrastructure we’re working in. But it’s important.
Akvo’s HQ is in Amsterdam, where we have about 10 people working. In Sweden, Thomas runs a super-connected base, that would satisfy the most discerning James Bond villain from his house in the woods on the edge of Stockholm. But our office in London is my base and it’s where we run our communications process from. It also goes through bursts of activity where it gets really busy with partner and development team people. I especially want us to play a bigger role in software developer events over the next six months. We also do a fine party, out in the back courtyard.
We’re in Bermondsey and my company, the Movement Design Bureau, moved in here in 2004. Run by Jools at Sign Graphic Design, it’s a shared studio in a Victorian warehouse. The Akvo RSR system itself is run from a data centre in Coventry in the UK, so I only need to worry about office infrastructure. But we do a lot of video now, and a lot of video links. The underlying tech infrastructure here is pretty good – better than Amsterdam actually. We have extensive power and ethernet connections built into the floor, laid out evenly around the space. It’s nicely heated, stays cool in summer and is generally pretty fab. The internet connection is ADSL and just about ok – handled by Zen Internet it’s 20MB downstream, and a marginal 500kb up. We’re on the Zen Office tariff. It could be better but there’s no fibre connection option in this street right now.
There have been some things I’ve wanted to fix for a while.
We do a lot of Skype video with other offices – mainly to Amsterdam, to Thomas’s house in Stockholm and to San Francisco. While this seems to work ok from my ethernet-linked iMac, it’s been unreliable via Wifi from our meeting room. For a while I’ve been aware that the router we’ve had has been a bit flaky from a wireless perspective.
I use Macs and have been using Time Machine for backups for ages now. Time Machine is nice, but you tend to find yourself in a trap where you backup but never archive. So you run Time Machine, but what happens if that backup drive dies (which I think they eventually do)? Or the computer dies. Meanwhile with Time Machine whirring away you can’t clear the original computer of enough data to free it up. This is a particular problem as the drives on laptops like Macbook Airs get smaller – I have 128GB only to play with on my laptop, so need to offload data but have it mirrored in two places. You need to put data somewhere else and then have it backup again.
Our meeting room is made up of a wooden floor, glass or brick walls and a big wooden door. So there’s quite a lot of reverb. I’m looking to really improve the audio qualities, turning it into something closer to a radio studio.
For a few years I’ve used a combination of an iPhone 3GS and a 2006 Blackberry 8700g. This never ceased to amuse our late, great, design director Gino Lee. The Blackberry has been used to compensate for the iPhone’s weaknesses – a battery that doesn’t last a full day if I’m using it much, a horrible email app and a general fumbliness when you’re collapsing out of a train or bus or tube. My Blackberry is an ancient one with a thumbwheel and I love the tactility of it – it’s a proper physical device to control. It’s so old that when you take it abroad it doesn’t ever pull down any data apart from text and if you try to click on a video it just goes “meh”. So it’s really cheap to travel with and it always works (and if it doesn’t you pull the battery out and put it back in, and then Hey Presto!). I also love the push/pull nature of Blackberry Internet Server, which is nice and laid back. You’re never exposed to the idea of being connected or not being connected. You just read and type and the BB worries about sending/receiving when it can. The other upside is that the battery lasts for days and days and I have a neat T-mobile tariff that means I can call any European or US landline or mobile within my minutes. One or two people I work with also know it’s my equivalent to the Bat Phone. I know it’s them when they call – and I always answer. Oh, and be in no doubt – the finest ever “you have mail” alert is the gently flashing red light. Works a treat.
So here’s my new stuff:
This is a lovely thing but I’ve made some changes so that I’m ok getting rid of the ancient Blackberry. The Blackberry T-mobile contract expires on 30th March…
I’ve installed Tweetbot, which is a brilliant iPhone app. A big reason I love it is that it’s easy to switch to Lists, which I use all the time, to see what the Akvo team are up to. And it completely ignores “trending” (“Ommigosh!”). Almost everything else about it is also better designed than other Twitter apps (especially the default Twitter one). The other big revelation has been installing Sparrow (as recommended by Robert Brook). It’s great, snappy, encourages you to keep your inbox under control by archiving, and it’s just generally really nice. I’ve also switched off a load of the push and location-based notification services, which have improved the battery life dramatically. Oh, and I bought a charger for my car, I plug the thing in at the office for a bit and I take a charger in my hand luggage when I travel. So now it doesn’t go flat.
I’ve switched off the wifi element of our Technicolor router and added a Belkin N600 DB as a wireless access point. It creates two wifi networks on different spectrums – one at 2.4 Ghz and one at 5 GHz. I’ve set one for everyone in the studio as our main network and reserved the 5Ghz one as our meeting room video link. I tried it out yesterday, with Thomas (always the best person to test connections with, coz his is fast). It worked brilliantly – a dramatic transformation compared to the fuzzy old wifi link. Almost can’t believe the difference.
There are a few things I still need to work out – right now I can’t connect a laptop over wifi into the wired network… need to fix that but less important than decent internet over wireless (we tend to transfer files via Dropbox now anyway). Also since I switched the Belkin to a pure access point I can’t log into its admin console. It is working fine, but I need to fix that…
I’ve installed an Iomega StorCenter ix2 which is a network attached storage box that has twin 2GB drives set up in a RAID array. This means that you backup to the drive and then it mirrors your data onto a parallel drive. RAID has been around for years in serious IT, but being able to buy this kind of kit for £320 in PC World is a revelation. In fact, while PC World can be the world’s biggest rip-off when it comes to buying a USB cable, it always has decent deals on hard drives and routers and stuff – only a fool could buy a hard drive this spring that isn’t vastly better value than the same priced one would have been a year ago.
Which is the great thing about the computer industry. It keeps getting better. And cheaper.
The meeting room
Finally, I want to look into whether we can work with Jools to improve the sound proofing in the meeting room. This will make the place much nicer to have video and audio conferences in. I think it will involve some sound proofing and the introduction of a Phoenix Quattro 3. So I’m wondering how we make it more like a music recording studio. I’m thinking Motown studio, with a 27 inch iMac. Over to you Jools…
Mark is a co-founder of Akvo and director of communications