Uses for a Synology

I got my hands on a Synology DS920+ a couple of years ago. It has two Seagate Ironwolf 4TB drives in it meaning I have a few TB of backup space sitting on my desk in the basement. But besides backing up your files, photos or computers, what else is a Synology good for?

  1. Plex Server – I run a Plex home media server on my Synology along with Sonarr and Deluge (in Docker to pull down shows automatically). I generally use this to run a home PVR, downloading mostly stuff I could already get with my cable package. The downloads are nice though because there are no commercials.
  2. Homebridge – I also have a Homebridge server running that bridges my non-HomeKit smart home devices over to the HomeKit world. You can read more about my Homebridge and HomeKit setup if you want.
  3. OpenVPN – one of the best uses for a home server is running your own VPN. With OpenVPN, I can connect back to my home network (and internet connection) from virtually anywhere in the world. That means secure connections on public wifi and also access to shows and services like Bell Fibe TV from outside Canada since the data actually flows through my home internet IP.
  4. Photo backup – I have my entire Lightroom library of photos backed up to my Synology in addition to being in Adobe Creative Cloud. It gives me some peace of mind in case something were to go badly with the cloud service.

Some other uses for a Synology include acting as a Apple Time Machine backup destination. Since the Synology is networked, it can be a great solution for providing storage for multiple computers in the household.

It’s also possible to run your own Dropbox-type solution via apps like OwnCloud. You can even host a WordPress blog and your own email server if that’s your thing.

Twitter for News and Information

Do I miss Twitter? Not really.

There are a few things that bring me back occasionally to do a search. Mostly it’s real-time news or information, including breaking news events like earthquakes or plane crashes. It’s also things like updates from our transit service on diversions and closures.

Over time as more and more people join Mastodon, there will invariably be more of that kind of information away from Twitter as well. A bot sort of provides re-posts of the transit information in Toronto, but it’s not all that reliable. I might just create my own with a combination of the various services I want all in a single Mastodon account.

When Twitter started, it didn’t have all this stuff either and it took a long time before it became the place the world went for information and news. Mastodon will get there eventually.

Wading into HomeKit

I’ve had a few “smart” devices around the house, but generally they all used Amazon Alexa for control and not Apple’s HomeKit. But with the recent updates to HomeKit (coming in iOS 16.2) and the news that Amazon is losing mega money on Alexa, I decided to give HomeKit a try.

I don’t have the most complicated setup:

  1. Logitech Circle 2 camera – front porch.
  2. Wyze Cam v2 camera – floats around as needed.
  3. Wyze plugs (2) – desk lamp and other things as needed.
  4. Wemo plug – fan.
  5. TP-Link outdoor two outlet plug – Christmas lights.
  6. Wyze Colour bulbs (6) – basement lights, front porch light.
  7. Ecobee – smart thermostat.

Three of those devices have HomeKit support built in – the Logitech Circle 2, the Wemo plug and the Ecobee. Adding them to HomeKit was a snap. The rest doesn’t have HomeKit support so that meant I needed a solution for all the Wyze gear and the TP-Link plug.

Homebridge

That solution was Homebridge which is a server application that builds bridges between non-HomeKit devices and HomeKit. It runs on a server like a Raspberry Pi, or a Mac mini. In my case, it’s running on my Synology DS920+ NAS.

Set up was a little complicated, but not ridiculously so. Homebridge was easy to setup and get added into HomeKit. Once that was done, it was a matter of adding the plugins to Homebridge that I needed for my specific devices.

I used Homebridge Wyze Smart Home and TP-Link Smart Home. That took care of the bulbs and plugs plus the outdoor dual plug. That left just the Wyze Cam v2 which needed a different plugin. I used Homebridge Camera FFmpeg for that which required the Wyze Cam v2 to have the RTSP firmware (which I had already installed on mine).

HomeKit Hub

HomeKit also requires a Hub for all this to work. That hub can be either a HomePod mini or an AppleTV. I opted to get a new AppleTV 4K as I only had an older 3rd generation AppleTV around and it doesn’t offer full support for HomeKit.

Everything is all set up now and I can see my two cameras in the Home app. Plus everything is controllable via the app, by talking to Siri and also using HomeKit automations. That last part is really exciting to me as I’ll be able to do things like have lights turn off and on as people leave and arrive back home.

I’ll probably swap out the Wyze stuff over time for Philips Hue or something else. But until then, Homebridge does a great job bridging the non-HomeKit devices and the HomeKit world.

Some Mastodon Tips

I’ve been full-time on Mastodon for a week or three now and don’t really use Twitter anymore. I check there every now and then, but I don’t follow anyone or post there.

In my time on Mastodon, I’ve noticed some things that are very similar to Twitter, but also a few things that are a little bit different. Here’s a few notes if you are just wading in.

  • If you are on an instance that is not “general” and aligns with your interests, then the Local Timeline is worthwhile to look at. You can find new people to follow or at least see everything that is posted across your entire instance. If you are on a huge instance like mastodon.social, it’s not as great.
  • The Federated Timeline is a little bit bananas. If you were on Twitter back in 2006-2007, then you might remember that you used to be able to just watch literally ALL the tweets go by. The Federated Timeline is like that and it’s exactly what you would imagine.
  • DMs are different than on Twitter. If you have a DM conversation going between you and someone else, and then you mention a third person, they get pulled into that chat and can see the previous messages in the conversation. So be careful with that.
  • Posts (sometimes called Toots) have different options between public and private. You can post public posts, unlisted (like public, but they don’t show up in searches), followers only and @mentioned only.
  • Hashtags really matter on Mastodon. Search is generally best with hashtags so if you want your posts to be found, sprinkle a few #hashtags through your #posts and enjoy some increased #engagement.

I’ve noticed significantly more conversation happening on Mastodon. I’m pretty sure that the majority of Twitter users don’t read or even see a lot of the tweets of the people they follow thanks to the algorithmic view that Twitter forces on users.

It’s also clear to me that a high percentage of Twitter followers aren’t even there anymore. You might have 200 followers, but 100 of them no longer use Twitter, and when you Tweet, perhaps ten of your followers actually see what you posted.

On Mastodon, it’s far more likely that a higher percentage of your followers are actually using the service and will also actually see your posts.

Does Mastodon Need Twitter to Die to Succeed?

Is Twitter dying? I don’t think it matters anymore. Mastodon is growing and people are discovering that there is an alternative social network to the bird site owned by the egomaniac billionaire.

I believe Mastodon has nearly reached a critical mass or inflection point where it can go from fringe alternative for geeks and nerds and will become something that anyone can, and will use.

The average person has now at least heard of Mastodon. They know it’s a Twitter-like service. They’ve heard of the fediverse and at least have a sense of how Mastodon is different from the centralized Twitter service. It’s all over the mainstream press and not just the tech blogs.

A few things could happen in the next little bit that would have significant impacts on Twitter and Mastodon.

1. The World Cup or another event brings back the fail whale – historically, large sporting events like the World Cup have put signficant strain on Twitter. Between the recent layoffs, firings and resignations, it’s possible that a significant event might lead to downtime. If Twitter goes down, there will be further and significant influx of users to Mastodon.

2. Trump reinstated – Elon Musk could reinstate the account of Donald Trump. If Trump returns to Twitter, it may very well be “a last straw” for some users. Until recently, there wasn’t a viable option for them, but Mastodon is growing quickly and many of these users who quit Twitter will head to Mastodon. UPDATE: Trump was reinstated not long after I posted this.

3. Brands and celebrities join – a few brands have waded into Mastodon, and if Twitter continues to implode, more will follow. Similarly, some of the “nerd” celebrities have joined or moved to Mastodon. Mainstream celebrities will naturally follow if they see the platform grow.

4. The media joins – Twitter is widely seen as a place to get realtime news and information. Right now Mastodon is not there yet, although as more users join, more info, videos and photos about significant events like storms, accidents, etc. will show up on Mastodon. If journalists and media outlets start to join, this will have a big impact on what kind of content can be found on Mastodon.

5. Bots – there are a ton of bots on Twitter sharing weather warnings, earthquakes, news, quotes, and fun stuff. Mastodon welcomes bots and makes it easy for users to create them. There are already bots on Mastodon, but not the breadth of what’s available on Twitter.

6. Apps and sites integrate Mastodon features – so many apps and websites have things like “Share to Twitter” built in. If Mastodon gets enough users, app makers and website owners will add “Share to Mastodon” making it far easier for users to quickly share content.

Mastodon has very little control over these things. But users of Mastodon can have a big impact on adoption.

We can quit Twitter and make a point of saying why we’re leaving and that we are going to Mastodon. We can push brands and celebrities to make the switch through tweets and encouragement. We can do the same for media outlets and journalists by suggesting they at least join Mastodon and cross-post. We can build bots to bring news, weather, alerts and other information to Mastodon. We can push app makers to add “Share to Mastodon” buttons and suggest to websites that they do likewise and we can add that functionality to our own sites.

This is the best chance we have to bring the fediverse and Mastodon into the mainstream. It’s not going to be a single event that does it, but a series of events that are used to build momentum that will take it to critical mass. Once we get there, it’ll be unstoppable.