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Photography, Technology

Power Outages and the Connected Home

Just one day after writing about powering the secure, automated, wireless workflow, I experienced the one thing that can throw the whole system into disarray. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re experiencing a strong seasonal storm, and this morning, a power outage hit our neighborhood. While my primary computer is backed by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), my Mac Mini server is not (yet). So, when the power went out, access to my server from the outside world was also severed. Power was restored in a little over an hour, and the Mac Mini turned back on since I had the checkbox Start up automatically after a power failure checked in System Preferences > Energy Saver.

Ensure your Mac server starts up automatically after a power failure in Energy Saver settings.

Ensure your Mac server starts up automatically after a power failure in Energy Saver settings.

If for some reason, I needed to re-enable the secure, automated, wireless photography workflow  during an outage, I have some options. First, I would have to put both the Airport and the Mac Mini on backup power. Next, provided cell phone service has not been interrupted, I could tether my iPhone to the GL-ARM300M mini travel router and connect the router to the WAN port on the Airport Extreme base station. Now, instead of getting internet through Comcast Xfinity, my iPhone would be providing network access. On the Mac Mini, my dynamic DNS provider would update the server’s new (but temporary) IP address. The graphic below shows this alternate workflow in action:

An alternate way to get a home server back to being accessible on the internet during an extended power outage.

An alternate way to get a home server back to being accessible on the internet during an extended power outage.

Another option that I mentioned in my workflow article is to colocate the Mac Mini server  at a hosting provider like MacMiniColo. That would completely avoid the power problem and give my server access to a far faster network than what I have at home.

I would be remiss in mentioning an annoyance about power outages and the Internet of Things. Many IoT devices, like Philips Hue lights, require you to have them turned on at all times. Continuous power allows the lights to communicate with the Philips Hue Bridge, which controls whether they are on or off. Now, when the power comes back on after a power outage, all of the Hue lights in the house turn back on. This is fine if we’re at home when this happens, but if we’re traveling, I don’t currently have a way to be notified except via our neighbors. As a result, I’m going to have to write a script that:

  1. Detects the power outage (maybe via the UPS’ ability to send an email)
  2. Sends the All Off signal to the lights

Fortunately, we don’t get a lot of power service interruptions where we live. How are you prepared to handle them within your household? Is something like a Tesla Powerwall (coupled with solar panels on the roof) in your future?

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When portability is paramount, this slim 2200mAh battery bank will power the Wi-Fi travel router for nearly 8 hours.
Photography, Technology

Powering and Charging the Secure, Automated, Wireless Photography Workflow

My secure, wireless, and automated photography workflow relies heavily on power-hungry devices, from a portable Wi-Fi travel router, a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR, and an iPhone 6S Plus. I have a definite need for supplemental power for each critical component in this workflow.

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My wireless workflow back in 2009.

I’ve been down this path before. In 2009, months before the introduction of the first MiFi device from Novatel, I was using a USB EVDO modem attached to a Cradlepoint Router and an external battery pack to provide hotspot access while traveling to promote my documentary film Autumn Gem. Additionally, my Canon EOS 5D Mark II was equipped with a prototype CF-SD card adapter, which I tried to use with an Eyefi card (I recall having some connectivity and interference problems and it not working as well as I had hoped).

From 2002, a prototype solar powered battery charger for the Canon EOS 1D NP-E3 batteries.

From 2002, a prototype solar powered battery charger for the Canon EOS 1D NP-E3 battery pack.

In 2017, USB is the standard for powering portable devices, and there are battery banks and solar chargers that fit everyone’s needs. We’ve certainly come a long way since 2002 when I was testing a solar-powered battery charger for the original Canon EOS 1D DSLR. As you can see from the photo, that arrangement was not practical size-wise nor was it particularly speedy at charging the NP-E3 batteries.

Today, I have two battery setups. One handles casual use and the other covers a intensive day of photography.

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Marrying the quality of a DSLR with the sharing convenience of the smartphone, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV represents what's possible with future cameras.
Photography, Software, Technology

Set It and Forget It – Automated, Secure, and Wireless Photography with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Imagine you’re at Disneyland with the family. You’ve decided to tote around your DSLR or mirrorless camera with you on the trip. You’re happily taking photos of your little ones as they experience their first time on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It’s a Small World, Haunted House, Pirates of the Caribbean and other rides that you loved as a kid. You just captured this wonderful photo of your child and Tow Mater at Radiator Springs, and you absolutely have got to share this with your friends and family on Facebook.

Tow Mater at California AdventureDo you:

  1. Fumble around in your camera bag for a cable and dongle to connect your camera to your smartphone?
  2. Turn on Wi-Fi on your camera (if available), connect to it from your smartphone, launch the camera connect app, wait for the connection to be established, select the photo, and download it to your phone?
  3. Tap your smartphone to your camera if they both support NFC, wait for the connection to be established, select the photo, and download it to your phone?
  4. Hope your wireless SD card (Eyefi, FlashAir, etc.) is working properly and your phone is connected to it to receive photos?
  5. Wait until you get home before downloading the image (and let that social moment pass you by)?
  6. Take another photo with your smartphone and share that image on Facebook instead of the one from your bigger camera?
  7. Say forget it, and keep the photographic proof to yourself?

There’s no reason why getting a photo from a dedicated camera to the smartphone or tablet should take so many steps and be so cumbersome, yet that’s the reality many photographers face today. Some argue this is precisely why sales of point-and-shoot, mirrorless, and DSLR digital cameras have fallen so much in recent years. Smartphones’ ability to share good enough photos trumps the boost in image quality from a dedicated camera for many people.

For the past several weeks, I have been developing a workflow that addresses this problem for me. It currently requires a certain kind of camera, namely the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and some additional hardware and software. This workflow transforms my camera into a fantastic tool that marries the sharing convenience of the smartphone with the impressive image quality of a DSLR. Photos taken with this setup are automatically, securely, and conveniently transferred to the smartphone and cloud photo services of my choosing, including iCloud Photo Library, Google Photos, and Dropbox.

My solution requires some initial setup, but once implemented, it’s awesome! Perhaps it can inspire camera manufacturers and software companies to provide a better experience for dedicated digital cameras in the future.

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At the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos
Decluttering, Minimalism

Retiring the Original Anatomica T-Shirt

The monsoon-colored Icebreaker Anatomica t-shirt that I have been using for the past year has developed several more holes. There’s three in the back and one near each of the armholes. As a result, I am retiring it from daily use and transitioning it for use during my runs. The merino wool used by Icebreaker in this shirt is great for temperature regulation, odor resistance, and fit, but durability has not been one of its strong suits.

A few months ago, Icebreaker revised the Anatomica shirt. The old version was made from 96% merino wool and 4% Lycra, and the new one is made from 83% merino wool, 12% nylon, and 5% Lycra. Icebreaker says the updated fit is more comfortable and durable. I wonder how the added nylon will affect its odor resistance after repeated wearings. While the new Anatomica retails for $70, you can still find the old version at 40-60% off if you shop around. REI, for instance, has been trying to clear out its stock of Aegean Blue and Lucky Green for months now and is currently selling them for $31 (54% off). Stocks of those are bound to dry up soon, so get them while they are still available if you like the available colors.

When my current shirts have worn out in one to two years, I may take a look at the new Anatomica or try out the wool t-shirts from Wool & Prince and Outlier. Until then, I have four more of these shirts in my minimalist closet, three short sleeves (red, heather gray, and black) and one long sleeve (monsoon), that I’m rotating through. Pictured above is the black v-neck, which if given the choice, I would standardize on as my default t-shirt color.

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Technology, Travel

Continuing Thoughts on Portable Keyboards

I’ve been on a keyboard buying spree lately after cancelling my WayTools TextBlade order two weeks ago. While I like the iPad’s software keyboard, I can still type faster on a physical keyboard. Writing code on iOS devices prior to the iPad Pro has been a torturous exercise, with constant tapping and re-tapping of the 123 and #+= keys to access commonly used programming characters. An external keyboard makes this all so much easier.

With the money that was credited back to my account from WayTools, I now have three working keyboards that I can use with my iOS devices or Mac computers:

  • iPad Keyboard Dock (iOS only)
  • Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard
  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (MFK)

These are in addition to my venerable Logitech K760 solar-powered keyboard which I’ve been happily using for the past four years.

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Apple, Photography

Migrating from Apple Aperture to Google Photos

In the middle of 2014, Apple announced they were ceasing further development of Aperture, the company’s professional photo management application I had been using to catalog and post-process my images since 2005.

Aperture continued to work in OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and it works more or less under OS X 10.11 El Capitan. All bets are off for OS X 10.12, so I have finally decided to take stock of my options for migrating away from Aperture. I had compiled quite a library of tagged, annotated, and organized images since I started taking digital photographs in 1999 with an Agfa ePhoto 1680, a 1.3 megapixel camera with a swivel lens).

I use iCloud Photo Library, and the majority of images there are from my iPhone camera. I have over 174,000 images in my Aperture Library totaling 1.68TB in size and only a handful of those photos have made it into my iCloud Photo Library. Apple doesn’t offer a storage tier greater than 1TB (I have the 200GB plan), but I don’t think I would sign up even if they did. As much as I like the idea of having all of my images in Photos and accessible from all of my devices, I am concerned about the performance hit of such a large library.

Exporting over 174,000 photos from Aperture took three days.

Last week, I exported all of the images in Aperture to JPEG files, a process that took three days. Last year, I purchased my 2015 Retina 15″ MacBook Pro without the discrete graphics chips expressly because I have had two laptops crap out due to overheating chipsets. The fans were on 24/7 for the entire export time, and the battery was actually discharging very slowly even though the computer was plugged into power. Knock on wood, but I hope I didn’t cause my laptop’s motherboard any permanent harm!

A little over one hundred thousand images remaining to upload.

Right now, I am uploading all of my images to Google Photos. The service offers unlimited storage if the images are downsized to 16MP. That’s a fair tradeoff for me, since I already keep multiple offsite backups of my RAW images. I am also very interested in the automatic tagging of photos, animated GIFs and panoramas that Google Photos offers. I have spent probably months manually adding metadata to my images; I am ready for a machine to do the job for me now. Yes, there are privacy concerns about giving Google access to my photos, but as with the megapixel limit, I am at peace with the tradeoff at the moment.

I did not get around to making each RAW image perfect before exporting a high-resolution JPEG in Aperture; that would have taken forever. I figure if I come across a photo in Google Photos that needs adjusting, I could edit it in Google Photos itself or open the original in Aperture (if it’s still working, otherwise Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop), dicker with it, and re-upload it to Google.

I did consider other options before choosing Google Photos, such as SmugMug and Upthere. While the megapixel limit is higher in SmugMug, there is a 5,000 images per gallery limit; I didn’t want to spend the time right now to upload my photos in 5,000 file chunks. I have some friends who work at Upthere, but I haven’t found the time to use the product. Upthere is also a startup in a space where there’s been much consolidation, and I can’t speak to its long-term prospects. While Google’s track record with new products hasn’t been the best, I don’t think Google Photos will go the way of Google Wave or Picasa; I feel reasonably confident that it will be around in some form or another for the next decade.

As far processing and organizing my RAW files moving forward, I am still looking at DAM and RAW processing products. There’s Lightroom, but I have never warmed up to its file organization system. I used to use Capture One, but I am hesitant to plunk down a few hundred dollars and have to upgrade every few years (something I’d have to do with Lightroom too). Knowing me, I’ll probably continue to poke along with Aperture until the software finally dies or until I buy a camera that Aperture doesn’t support. My Canon EOS 5D Mark II is almost 8 years ago, but it still gets the job done. That’s one piece of technology that has lasted the test of time thus far!

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Rants, Technology

Cancelling my WayTools TextBlade Order

There was a draft of this post that had been waiting to be published on this blog for over four and a half months ago. It’s time to post it and provide a four-month update.

“I’m still waiting for my WayTools TextBlade multi-touch keyboard that I ordered back in January, 2015. The company said that they would ship in February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and now mid-October. Unexpected hardware changes and revisions to firmware are the reasons for the delay, but WayTools keeps telling its customers that shipments are right around the corner. I’ll believe it when the TextBlades ship. Other customers are getting restless, judging from the increase in the amount of order cancellations and disappointed posts on the WayTools forum. The company has not done itself any favors with its passive aggressive attitude on the forums and its habit of cancelling orders for those customers who complain too much.”

As a way to pass the time, I drew a twelve-month calendar for 2016 called, Waiting for TextBlade.

Waiting for TextBlade

It’s now mid-February, and the TextBlade remains an elusive product for customers. At the end of December, 2015, the company released the companion app for the keyboard on the iOS App Store, which gave hope that they would ship in January. Then, at the end of January, WayTools announced the Test Release Group (TREG), which is a shipment of pre-release TextBlades to a small group of customers (hundreds). The TREG is designed “to accelerate validation and help refine the product quality and experience.” WayTools also noted yet another hardware problem with the shield layer (that protects against leaking electrical noise) that they would be fixing.

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