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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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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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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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Decluttering, Minimalism, Musings, Technology

My Tech Workspace from 2004 to 2016

Every week, The Sweet Setup interviews an Apple aficionado about his or her computing environment. I enjoy looking at the the products, software, and workspaces these people use on a daily basis; it gives me ideas on what hardware or apps I might want to try out in the future. Plus, I like looking at photos of minimalist desks!

In the process of uploading all of my photos from Aperture over to Google Photos, I came across the photo below. It shows how my computing environment looked like twelve years ago on January 10, 2004. Nearly all of the technology items in the photo are now obsolete, have been recycled, or are gathering dust in my house. The items cost many thousands of dollars in total; I got great use out of some of them, not so much for others.

My workspace circa 2004

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Reviews, Technology

The Roost Laptop Stand and an iPad Pro at CES

Last year, I supported the Roost Laptop Stand on Kickstarter. The Roost is a portable, height-adjustable stand for laptops. At home, I use a Rain Design mStand with my MacBook Pro. It’s a nice stand, but it does not travel well. The Roost appealed to me because it was lightweight, foldable, and could adjust its height, features the aluminum mStand lacks.

I’ve been at CES 2016 the entire week, and I had the opportunity to walk the showroom floor on opening day. There is a large section, sponsored by iLounge, devoted to mobile gadgets and accessories. When I turned the corner at the end of the exhibit hall, I immediately saw and recognized the Roost and its inventor, James Olander. I introduced myself as a backer and told him how eager I was to receive the Roost later this month. He graciously fulfilled my Kickstarter pledge right there on the show floor!

On this trip, I left the laptop at home and brought only my iPhone and iPad Pro. Using the iPad Pro as a drawing tablet has been a revelation, but I do notice increased neck and shoulder fatigue while illustrating because I am constantly hunched over. And, while it doesn’t replace the MacBook Pro for all my use cases, the iPad Pro can certainly function as a laptop replacement for many of my needs. If I paired it with an external Bluetooth keyboard (I am still waiting for the TextBlade to ship), the height of the iPad propped up with the Smart Cover) is still lower than I would like. The dynamic design of the Roost allows me to use the iPad Pro for both purposes, and my initial ergonomic impressions are positive.

For drawing, I place the iPad Pro, sans cover and with the volume buttons facing up, onto the Roost. When working in this position, I am more upright, and my neck and shoulders feel much better. Increased arm strain is a possibility, since my hand is now angled upwards instead of resting on the display and table.

To make the iPad Pro more suitable for use as a laptop replacement, I attach the iPad Pro’s Smart Cover and rest the folded triangle on top of the Roost’s two vertical arms.

It’s not as precarious as it sounds and might look, and I am able to tilt the Roost + iPad Pro side to side. See this animated GIF below:

The Roost has medical-grade silicone around the pivoting grips, which provide friction to keep a laptop from slipping. Two reminders when using it with the iPad Pro: first, don’t tilt the Roost towards you, as the iPad will fall out. Second, be sure not to place the Pro in the Roost such that the volume buttons get pressed accidentally in the right pivoting grip.

I’m happy that I ran into James and the Roost booth today at CES. I got my Roost early and was able to chat with the inventor. The product looks and operates exactly as it has been described. And, although it wasn’t designed with the iPad Pro in mind, it works well with it.

If you’re at CES, be sure to visit Roost at the Las Vegas Convention Center, North Hall, Booth 6635. James is sharing the space with Steve King at California Pacific Designs, who is demoing several well-designed Apple accessories. Steve showed me his BASE Apple Pencil charging stand, the FLOAT, an elegant shelf for the iMac or Cinema Displays, and a series of nice aluminum headphone (and Oculus Rift) stands. Check them out!

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