Hardware Notes: The Rain Design mStand Laptop Stand

On my desk, I have a 27″ iMac. But I often need a second computer in my work – to be able to test software, do screenshots, and more. For this, I have a 12″ MacBook, which sits on an angle to my left.

I don’t like having a laptop on my desk (I’ve had a number of laptops over the years as a second computer), and for a long time had a plastic stand that raised it off the desk on an angle. But the biggest problem with that stand was that it wasn’t stable enough; when I would type on the laptop, the stand moved, making it annoying.

Doing a search of mail-order vendors, about three years ago, I came across the Rain Design mStand (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Selling for around $50 in the US, this stand is exactly what I needed. It raises the laptop, tilts it on a good angle, and provides room under the computer to stash things (in my case, a cloth to clean my screens, and some other stuff). It’s easy to slide on the desk, since it has felt feet, and it’s really stable. When I type, it hardly moves, unlike plastic stands.

If you need a good stand, either if you use your laptop as your main computer, with a keyboard connected to it, or, like me, for use with a second computer, the mStand is an excellent choice.

Fujitsu ScanSnap: One of the Best Hardware Investments I’ve Ever Made

I’m scanning today. My partner has a couple thousand pages of documents that need to be scanned. And it’s pretty easy. Because I have one of these:

Scansnap

About three and a half years ago, when I had decided I would move from France to the UK, I realized that the 12 linear feet of shelf space that my accounting records took up would get in the way. Not that I didn’t have lots of other stuff to move, but those records – for a business that I was closing in France – would become unnecessary. However, I needed to keep them, to finalize my tax payments, to have bank records, and to have records of purchases. So I decided, at that point, to go paperless.

I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which had been recommended by a couple of people I knew who had gone paperless. It was expensive; about twice what it costs now, but the amount of time and hassle it has saved me over the years has been invaluable. (To be fair, it was a bumpy start.)

Scanning those accounting files took a couple of weeks, working a few hours a day. (Plus a lot of time shredding.) After I moved, I decided to go entirely paperless. I used David Sparks’ Paperless, and Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Your Paperless Office, to understand the principles of going paperless, and it didn’t take long before all my files were digital.

Once you’ve converted – and shredded – all your documents, you don’t even notice the minimal work you need to stay paperless. Each scan takes a few seconds, or a couple of minutes if you have a long document. When you’ve developed a filing system, it becomes second nature. It’s only on days like today, when I have a huge stack of files to scan, that I even realize how beneficial this purchase has been.

If I had known, I would have opted for the more expensive ScanSnap iX500 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which has a larger document feeder, and wifi, and is faster. And I’ve thought from time to time that, if mine dies, I’ll replace it with the better model, but it seems to be a workhorse. It’s rare that I have a lot of documents to scan, and it’s no hassle to have the device connected to my Mac.

But, for now, this is one of the best pieces of hardware I’ve ever bought. It’s an essential tool for a modern home or office, where we are inundated with paper.

Review: WD MyCloud EX2 Network Storage Device

There are lots of cloud storage services you can use: iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and more. While these are generally easy to work with, and great for sharing files with others, you may not want to store your files on someone else’s servers. Western Digital’s My Cloud EX2 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) lets you create your own personal cloud, as well as have a home repository for files and backups.

You may be familiar with network attached storage devices (NAS); these are (to simplify) networked hard drives, which can be complicated to set up and manage. My Cloud EX2 is a type of NAS, but with a much more user-friendly interface. It doesn’t have all the features of a true NAS, but, if you want a device that’s easy to set up and use, the My Cloud EX 2 (and the other versions that Western Digital makes) is a solid device with a rich feature set.

Setup is just a few clicks, and, during this process, you also set up a “personal cloud” account. This allows you to connect to the My Cloud EX2 remotely, from a different computer, or even from an iOS device, using Western Digital’s apps. (There is no fee for this service.) You can add users to this account, and set their permissions – which files and folders they can access – from a web interface. The device’s software manages the network address translation, so all you need to do to access it remotely is connect it to a router.

After the initial setup, you fine-tune your device through your web browser. This allows you to set up RAID configurations (Raid 0, RAID 1, Spanning or JBOD; just a bunch of disks), You can add, remove, or edit users and groups; manage shares; configure cloud access; add apps, and more. While the Mac Cloud EX2 is very user-friendly, it’s still a complex device, and there are lots of settings available in the browser configuration pages.

Mycloud settings

You interact with the device in several ways. There’s a WD My Cloud desktop app, which you can use to view, upload, and download files. You can add files to the device by dragging them onto this app’s window; or you can mount the shared volume in the Finder, and add and manage files in Finder windows.

Mycloud

You can also access files using the My Cloud iOS app, whether you are on your network or remotely. You can view and download files, email them, and send email links so others can access them without being able to see your other files (similar to the way you share a public link to a file in a Dropbox folder). You can also link other cloud accounts, from Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, to this app, and transfer files from those cloud services to your personal cloud. And you can stream music or videos stored on the device.

One of the most practical features is the ability to use this device for Time Machine backups. My iMac is set to back up to a local disk and to the My Cloud EX 2, while my MacBook Pro backs up only to the remote disk. (You may not know it, but you can have Time Machine alternate its backups among multiple disks.) You can also connect an external USB drive to back up the files on the device.

The device has lots of other features, such as the ability to download files directly, via HTTP, FTP, or P2P. It lets you add apps, such as Plex Media Server and others. You can access media files via iTunes Home Sharing, though I found this to be unreliable. And you can access photos using a dedicated iOS app.

I was impressed by how easy this device was to set up and use. I’ve barely scratched the surface in the features I use – for me, it’s just for backups, and remote file access so far, but there’s plenty more that it can do. The My Cloud EX2 is an affordable way to add storage on a local network, have a backup disk for multiple Macs, and to have a free, personal cloud, without the limits of cloud services.