Friday, December 30, 2011

A year's end, time to preserve memories and history...

That time when a year ends and a new one starts. Many memories passed by and it's time to go through them and sort what's important and what's not, properly preserving what needs to be preserved. Hence the best and simplest thing you can do to preserve your memories and family history is to have a routine.
Yes, let's say end of the year, when you're (hopefully) at home taking some time off, make sure to dedicate some time to properly go through what's important (and not) and organize as needed. This is especially important if you're a photographer as you don't want your work to accumulate and you certainly want an efficient way to properly catalog and retrieve your work as needed. Of course if you did nothing important during the year and have nothing worth preserving then you can skip this whole document.

Why bother?

Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and this specially applies to your own personal history. Not properly knowing or preserving your family's history (or work) for future generations is nothing but been irresponsible. Now that been said, not everybody can have a climate control museum dedicated to the preservation of family (or work) photos and other important documents. Still there are some basic things that you can do so at least the next couple of generations can enjoy and inform themselves about their own family's history or enjoy the art works you have created.

About preservation...

Let's start with a clear idea of what conservation or preservation as it pertains to this topic is: The application of techniques or treatments that do not alter the item to be protected or conserved and which can be completely reversed. Light, heat, humidity, acids in papers, plastics, and adhesives, other objects, pollutants, and pests need to be avoided or kept under control. Keeping that in mind we have put together a list of easy things to do (or avoid) to help preserve such memories. Most important also included are sources for the required materials or more information to help you succeed.

Figure 1: The PrintFile company offers a vast array of preservation products to keep your valuables safe for years to come. Very important is that all of these are ACID free which is key for long lasting documents.

Things to AVOID:

  1. Acid - Well many say that it can set your mind free but as it pertains to this case it's the number one enemy. Acid or acidic compounds will deteriorate or completely destroy all printed materials. Unfortunately most of the things you're trying to preserve contain acidic chemicals within themselves hence the only thing you can do is keep such chemicals under control. Use acid free paper to print important documents and most important any storage medium must be acid free. Keep the surrounding environment under control, that's a proper temperature and humidity, thus slowing such chemical reactions that release acid.
  2. Extremes - Talking about extremes, that normally means either high (or low) temperature or humidity levels. NEVER store important documents in places such an attic or a basement as they normally are exposed to extremes. There's no one generic temperature and hummidity setting as different collectibles might require different such combinations, but a general recommendation for mixed item collections is a non-fluctuating relative humidity above 25% and below 65% and temperatures between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (lower if possible as that slows chemical reactions). So for starters let's say 45% humidity and 65 degrees Fahrenheit seems to be a good starting goal. Understanding that such might not be possible, try to keep your valuables as close to possible to those numbers.
  3. Insects and other living pests - This should be a no brainer, but if you keep storage areas clean, avoid hording, you'll keep pests from ruining your valuables. Most important, hard to see mold and mildew, love dark and humid places and the big problem with them is that they spread not only ruining your valuables but can hurt your health. Simplest thing to do is to keep the humidity low, specially using dehumidifiers (as simple as silica gel) where you store such valuables. Others suggest exposing valuables to UV light every now and then as it kills mold and mildew, especially if unseen. The problem is that UV light will also ruin some valuables too, hence tread carefully if you choose to use UV lights. For photographers a simple and safe use of UV light is with cameras and specialty lenses. If you have lenses that are stored and not used frequently, best thing you can do is sit them under an UV source to kill any mold they might have.
  4. Laminates - A bad favorite is lamination of documents. Even though it might seem that laminating documents helps to protect them it actually can do more harm with time. The problem is that such process violates our rule of preservation is that you can undo the process once it's done. Hence the original document has been altered after is has been laminated. The problems resides in that lamination may potentially damage a document due to high heat and pressure during application and as if that wasn't enough, the laminating materials themselves may contain harmful chemicals that might release document killing acids which contribute even more to the deterioration of the document.
  5. Plastics - One acronym you need to memorize: PVC or polyvinylchloride, which is commonly found in "store-bought” cheap binders, as the chemical name suggest it has a chloride in the formula and that results in the worst possible byproduct that could be released: hydrochloric acid (HCL). That's the number one killer of documents and unfortunately many cheap binders and albums sold are made of PVC. If you have those, get your documents out of there into "acid-free" binders and pages. Not all plastics are bad. Plastic enclosures are safe for documents ONLY if they are made of polyester, polypropylene, or polyethylene.
  6. Mixing - One of the worst enemies of storing documents is the documents themselves. There are documents that will indeed release acids (especially old newspapers), hence avoid mixing documents together. If you must do so, then make sure to interleave them with acid-free paper to prevent acid migration from one document to another. Acid-free paper that is buffered will also counteract the formation of more acids in the future.
 Things to DO:

  1. Archive - The simplest thing you can do is at least have a file cabinet, properly divided with binders or folders, to temporarily archive documents while a more permanent and safe environment can be provided. If not for preservation, at least for organization of important forms, after all the only other sure thing than dead is taxes, and having your documents organized for that certainly will make it less painful. From my perspective archiving serves a simpler yet important task: organizing. That should be the first step with any such valuables: The classification and organization of such documents as that will help you in later determining the best way to proceed for permanent storage. So what do you do with your old negatives, slides and other documents? After you have all organized and classified you need to look to proper preservation media (remember acid free or neutral). These are some highly recommended products for each different type of use:
  2. Backups - I can't say this enough, back all your digital media or into digital media. It's amazing the number of people that have their photos and important documents in their computers. What's wrong with that? Well computers, actually their storage media, do have a limited life often measure in MTBF (mean time between failures). The hard disk in your computer stores the bits and bytes of information in magnetic media. Such media has a limited lifespan and it's sensitive to magnetic pulses and current spikes. Hence all it takes it's a good storm and a lightning close by and bye, bye to your memories. Storage units such as hard drives are cheap, hence you should have a backup of all your data stored in at least two different places that are not close by. For example if you have your photos in your computer, you should have a copy in an external drive which is stored at a different location than your computer, such as safe box. The important thing to remember here is the "don't put all the eggs in one basket" effect. Another important thing to concider is longetivity. Ironically it is optical media and how similar it is to photo film, that looks like the longest lasting alternative to storage. Remember that when you write an optical disk, you're literaly burning the data into it (changing the material permanently) hence you want to get the best quality possible such as "gold" or Professional level quality optical media. See our article on backing up files and the different available alternatives and an "Pro" level disk media vendor:
  3. Fireproofing - Nothing more scary that fire and losing all to such. Safest and simplest way to protect your memories is to have a SentrySafe fireproof safe box. These can not only wistand a major fire but protect their contents for more than an hour without any damage. Hence it's where you will put a backup hard drive, disks, video tapes and depending on the size, you might be able to even put your photo albums and other important documents. Check the following web site for information on safe boxes:
  4. Scan - Nothing safer than digitizing all important documents. A digital copy is often as close as it gets to the original and in some cases the only way such might be preserved. Scanners are extremely cheap these days (LED or LiDE type) and an easy way to go through important documents to not only protect them, but to share with friends and family. If you want to get it to another level, get a true optical scanner such as the Epson perfection family of scanners with Digital ICE software or Canon CanoScan series as shown here:
  5. Professional services - Finally if all of this is too complicated or you don't have the time or worst, mold and mildew have damaged some valuables, the best thing to do is to hire a professional to fix such. Depending on how precious such memories are, any cost incurred in preserving them will be insignificant to their historical or personal value to you. Hence don't be cheap, expend the money wisely and protect those memories. Some sample services:
  6. Self publishing - What better way to preserve your images and documents than publishing them as books. This is fairly easy to do these days and these are several businesses that specialize on this type of work:

All of this might seem like a lot of work to do and digest, hence let's go back to the original statement: Key word here is routine. Make it a year end event and it will become not only an easy thing to do, but a good way to go back and remember and share some good memories.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Well dress photographer: Dump the photo vest!

Recently at a photo gathering noticed the rather large number of Kaki, old style photo vests and understand that often you need to compromise because of the need to carry a lot of unnecessary stuff. I said compromise because to be totally honest to me nothing screams photography dork than old style vests. This time and day, nothing worse than attracting too much attention to you, specially while carrying a lot of expensive hardware.

Furthermore, especially if shooting well dress people, do yourself a favor, be well dressed. Nothing screams professional more than a well dressed man (or woman). Hence go to a Men's Warehouse and get yourself a suit. Now for everything else and I know you still need to carry a lot of stuff there are some modern photo vests to consider. One brand that really stands out for their extremely good looks, high build quality and an insane amount of pockets is Scottevest:

I first became aware of the brand while looking for alternatives for travel clothing. In these days of barely one carry on a simple way to beat carry on limits is to carry all key hardware on you. You see what you wear doesn't count for weight or carry on restrictions (very important for international travel), hence a discrete photo vest or jacket could allow you to either off load hardware from your photo bag (in case you go above weight restrictions) or simply to keep it handy. Enter Scottevest; their travel line of clothing is superb when it comes to been discrete, stylish and practical. Just take a look in Figure 1 at their basic photo/travel vest compared to their traditional "kakis":

Figure1: Nothing screams geek more than a traditional photo vest like the one shown to the left. In contrast notice the modern stylish look of a Scottevest to the right.

Style is a relative thing; no piece of cloth will change your "coolness" factor, but if not for looks at least do yourself a favor and get a Scottevest. You'll immediately notice the difference in the clothes quality and practicality. To the old photo vest, R.I.P.

PD: Concealed Carry

This is a different use for this type of vest, but indeed it makes for an awesome concealed carry tool. Rather than using typical holsters, the pockets of any Scottevest have enough compartments and even locks to hold any concealed items. Best of all in a discrete way, not drawing attention to yourself.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The wireless photographer always connected…Be your own Hotspot or live news agency!

I remember years ago at a baseball game looking at the SI or other big news organizations photographers. They had wireless uplinks to their news organizations and as they shot their pictures they made it back almost instantly for publishing. Some of the configurations were complex and proprietary, often custom made and involving wearing some laptop or other device in their jackets. Surprisingly, this is something that can be done by anybody, really easily these days. As always, I’ll show you an easy, quick way so you don’t have to read the whole thing, and a detailed more sophisticated alternative.
Easy, quick and wireless:
Let’s get something clear from the start; although some of the newer smart phones can be shared as a Hotspot you can't consider that as a best alternative for one simple reason: Power output. The RF (radio frequency) output for any cell phone is around .3 watts. This is way much lower than for any of the dedicated 3G/4G devices. Such devices have a power output above 1 watt and that’s a huge difference. We’ll go back to that later, for now there two main things you need:
1.   Camera enabled with WiFi or a card that will add the WiFi capability: Let’s assume your camera doesn’t have WiFi as the majority doesn’t, so to add WiFi is a simple as to get an Eye-Fi card like the following models:

2.   WiFi Hotspot: You can do that two ways:

a.   If you get the Pro version of the Eye-Fi, that gives you access to many public Hotspots hence as long as you're close to one of those, you're up and running. Still it's better if you have your own Hotspot, that way you don't depend on other people's ones.
b.   Your smart phone with a Hotspot feature; you can connect your Eye-Fi to it and you’re up and running. However, I don’t like this because of the lower power output of phones and quite frankly, the phone somehow limits the whole thing.
c.    Get a dedicated Hotspot device: There are many alternatives, but one of the most inexpensive ones is the MiFi 2200 available from VirginMobile. It’s about $150 for the device and the service has no contract and is “Pay as you go” hence you can simply get access as needed. Here’s the info:

I’m not going to go on details on how you set them up as there’s plenty of information on how to do that. The general idea is you setup your Eye-Fi to recognize and see your MiFi device and as long as it has a connection, your photos will be uploaded as you’re shooting. A secondary benefit of the Eye-Fi is the option to upload to devices such an iPad so you could actually do a live preview of your pictures as they’re taken. Clients love to see the picture ASAP, and there's nothing faster than as they're been shot. That’s pretty much it, you’re mobile and wireless!

A truly more reliable and powerful way

Figure 1: Something different? Picture shows the antenna on a Kata 3N1 series backpack which hides a fully secured and reliable Hotspot wireless setup based on a Cradlepoint PHS300 mobile, battery powered router with a 3G/4G wireless device connected to an external antenna to boost ERP RF signal strength. As pictures are made and saved to the camera's Eye-Fi card, it sends them through the Cradlepoint, then 3G/4G to a home server or any service of your choice such as Facebook, Flckr, etc. The PHS300 can securely handle up to 16x Wi-Fi devices simultaneously!
As we mentioned before, the smart phones have a lower power output. Dedicated broadband devices not only have a higher watt output but on top of that most of them have external antenna ports. If you add such an antenna to any of them, you'll bump your antenna gain, bumping your ERP (effective radiated power or equivalent radiated power) probably borderline FCC illegal depending on what type of antenna you’re using. More details on this at the end.
We’re going to focus on a secure and powerful hardware combination to achieve this as partly shown in Figure 1. Key word here is Cradlepoint which is a secure device manufacturer:
Cradlepoint’s are mobile routers which offer and unparallel level of security and capabilities and they can be the base of your mobile Hotspot network. Not only for Photography, but for your car, RV or even as a home backup for Broadband access, hence a versatile and reasonable priced solution.
In that case the typical situation is that you're in an activity and as you work information is feed via Wi-Fi to the device and from the device to the 3G/4G connection out. The following table shows you how each of the devices compare to each other. Remember that the Cradlepoints are routers, hence you still need a wireless device for 3G/4G access. The important thing to remember that the sum of the parts is way much more than the parts by themselves:

3G/4G Device
Mi-Fi 3G/4G Mobile Hotspot Device
USB Mobile Broadband Router
Multi Device Mobile Broadband Router
USB/PCI express dongle (any)
Mi-Fi 2200 (Virgin, Sprint), Verizon Hotspot 4G LTE
Cradlepoint PHS300
Cradlepoint CTR500
Number of simultaneous devices
1 direct plugged
5 via Wi-FI
16 via Wi-FI
32 via Wi-Fi
250+ via Ethernet.
1 USB for 3G/4G device, Wi-Fi access to users.
1 USB for 3G/4G device, 1 PCI express for 3G/4G, Ethernet port. Wi-Fi and/or Ethernet access to users.
Tied to wireless carrier and/or contract
Tied to wireless carrier and/or contract
Completely independent, can be reconfigured to support any carrier's device on the fly.
Completely independent, can be reconfigured to support any carrier's device on the fly. Supports Cable, DSL and Satellite modems via Ethernet.
$50 to $100 plus monthly fees.
$100 to $300 plus monthly fees depending on provider.
$90 from OEM direct.
$200 from OEM direct.
USB stick or PCIe card.
Cigarette pack.
Cigarette pack. Optional AC/DC adapter.
Cigarette pack plus AC/DC adapter.
Connected device dependent or limited
Basic (WEP, WPA)
Multiple encrypted solutions
Multiple encrypted solutions
It's a stick, you have to plug in to use. Very limited.
Battery powered, but limited number of users and tied to the wireless provider.
Battery powered, support double digit users, Needs an USB 3G/4G for Internet connection.
Needs AC/DC source, but provides maximum possible number of connected devices. Allows for 3 different alternatives of WAN connection (USB, PCIe, Ethernet) which can be used independently, as backup redundancy or a shared load balancing system. Networks can  be  joined or independent. Can be used with cable, DSL, Satellite, etc. modems or simply share a Ethernet connection. For 3G/4G needs a USB and/or PCIe device.

Cradlepoint has even more powerful models that are considered "Mission Critical Class". These provide connectivity through multiple Ethernet connections and to even 5 simultaneous 3G/4G devices and can be used in extreme environments. So your Hotspot can be as complex as you want it; there’s a solution to get you there. Potential usage scenarios are:

  1. Users in remote locations: You have several guys on travel. The need Internet access. Rather than paying an exorbitant fee at the hotel or using a slow connection at an unknown site, they could use 3G/4G if available and share such connection.
  2. Site meetings or events were you have no or limited connectivity, or have attendants that can't be in our network, yet need Internet access for whatever work is been done. You can provide such access without any interaction with our network, while our users could VPN to ours. So the networks are not, joined.
  3. Your mobile office: Rather than finding a location with connectivity, bring the connectivity with you; a Cradlepoint router can be used to either share an Ethernet connection via switch or even Wi-Fi to the internal network, linked, share an unlinked 3G/4G connection for both wireless and wired systems, or it could serve totally wireless solution, for unplugged mobiles while at a secure area, avoiding mixing environment, but allowing Internet access.
  4. Roadwarrior, lone wolf: Covering news or potentially dangerous events? Have your pictures stream as they're shot, just in case you don't make it, at least your photos can make it to a location of your choosing. You can also think of it as insurance policy, just in case your camera get's lost, confiscated, broken, etc. Gives another meaning to the concept of pictures been your ultimate witness...
Finally, the Cradlepoint's firmware algorithms make your connection faster than if using the device directly. Don't know how they did it, but I've measured it to be around 5 to 15% faster depending on the connection (the stronger the link the faster they go). Most important it's safer as you're elminating the wireless vendor own applications that manages the device. One application less to run, a lower lever of risk involved. Also the Cradlepoint routers have a well documented and powerful set of tools to handle such situations.
Initially there's a shock factor and the router and SIM card add an initial cost. As an user of this configuration I assure you that not only serves as redundacy backup, but as a facilitator of connectivity. See Figure 2 for my actual setup. This is a simple, proven, reliable and powerful way of making your own live news, or simply as insurance policy depending on your style of photography. Either way, give it a try and enjoy. As always let me know if you have any questions or suggestion.

Figure 2: A Cradlepoint PHS300 router with a 3G/4G USB wireless device plugged in. Notice that rather than using the wireless device built in antenna an external antenna is plugged in to boost reception and power output. This setup provides a discreet yet powerful setup that will allow you to live feed your work to your desired media outlet.
About RF and ERP

We talked before about ERP and what that means is Effective Radiated Power (or Equivalent Radiated Power). In simple terms it is the way that Radio Frequency (RF) signal output is measured using the standard units of Watt (everybody has heard that word before, so hopefully we're clearer now). Here's some more detail on ERP from Wikipedia:

There are multiple sources that will show you how to calculate ERP and antenna gain. This is a sample calculator:

Also here's a table that shows the effects of ERP based on power input and antenna gain. Notice that if you keep the power input into the antenna constant, for example as what's coming out of your wireless device, notice how the antenna gain affects the output. Hence the more antenna gain, the higher the output therefore range of your device:

Antenna Gain (dbd)
1 Watt Input
Keep in mind that each country's RF regulations are different hence you need to make sure that when you match your antenna to your device you want to keep it legal, hence look for what's the maximum allowable ERP output. Again, this is just to help and give you an idea. The information here is provided for informational purposes and at the end it's your responsability on using it properly.

Note that the PHS300 model has just been discontinued, but you can still find them in eBay for around $50. The other current alternatives are more powerful in features, although not battery powered. You can always use an external battery source or a 12V car adapter depending on what you're doing. The CTR500 for example can handle 3x simulataneous broadband connections (Ethernet, USB and PCIExpress) so you loose some, gain some...

Added Bonus: Home Backup or Redundant Connection

If you get the CTR500, as pointed in the chart above is its capacity to handle 3 types of simultaneous connections. These can be set as backup or even do load balancing with the 3. Most important is that when properly set, the CTR500 will keep you connected as long as there's a wireless connection available. Check Figure 3. Item 1 is where you tell it where to find your main connection or broadband gateway. Item 2 is where you tell it what operation mode you want it to perform. Finally Item 3 shows the active connections.

Figure 3: CTR500's Failover/Load Balancing setup allows you to configure the router as a backup unit with your existing broadband setup. These versatile units have a wealth of configuration options and features and work well with others or as standalones.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day to remember those wrongfully taken away; special for my son and I...

9/11 is probably the most tragic day in the history of our country. It certainly has impacted everybody in one way or the other as we are all interconnected in a smaller world. For me personally is a day in conflict as it's a sad event, yet one for special significance. You see, I almost flew 9/11/01 on AA 011 hence 9/11 in a way it's my second birthday.

That shouldn't be that estrange at all. I'm sure plenty people probably browse through flights, changing them back and forth, etc until finally get a flight and day combination/schedule they like and then get the tickets and maybe then change it again, so nothing estrange about that. At least that's how I do it all the time. I was supposed to go to a conference in Tucson to present a science paper on work I was doing at my company. The conference was supposed to start I think Monday 9/10 and ran through 9/12 or similar. So my original plan was to fly from Boston to LA and then LA to Tucson.

Like I've done all my life, always pick up early morning flights to get maximum day time at the destination. What changed it this time was that I was returning from a week off vacation I took in PR and returned to Boston on Sunday, 9/9/11. I thought, I've been out on vacation for a week, maybe should not go immediately on another trip Monday and catch up with work, and let me go on Tuesday. At the time I almost only traveled through AA, I picked up 011 as it was a no brainer, early morning flight to LA.

Can't explain why, for whatever reason, there was something I didn't like about that number, 011. Don't know why, call it premonition, call it an act of God or simply sheer pure dumb luck. Maybe the excuse of attending an early project review meeting on 9/11 that I really didn't have to attend as I was supposed to be on travel. Bottom line is that for whatever reason I decided to change the morning flight to LA to the afternoon flight to LA, hence I'm here.

That 9/11 morning, as I came out of the project review, could hear all the commotion. Everybody running wild. Notice a call from the limo that was going to pick me up at my office to Logan (BOS), so I'm thinking the limo is already outside. Let me grab my stuff and say bye to everybody. As I'm walking down the hall with my bags a manager asks me, "Where are you going". Not knowing, I reply "to Logan to catch a flight" and he goes, "buddy, put them back in your car, you're not flying anywhere, we're at War!”

Needless to say, I was kind of shaken by that, especially considering I work for a defense contractor. As I'm going down the hall to my secretary's office, I could hear the level of commotion increasing, and then suddenly someone grabs me and hugs me really hard. It was my secretary crying her heart out because she thought I was gone in AA 011. As others came and hug me too, we started counting as we knew others were supposed to fly that day. At that point I realized my phone has been vibrating like crazy and I was just ignoring it. It hit me then that my mom, girlfriend, friends, etc that knew I was flying were desperately calling trying to reach me.

As I was going through the voice mails, you could hear their desperation growing. Finally was able to catch up with them to let them know that I was flying the afternoon flight, not the morning one; that all was OK and was heading home because the facilities were shut down. As I was leaving, check to see if we knew more about our people. By then we realized that indeed, we have lost some.

That day 4 other employees died in those flights (Peter Gay, Kenneth Waldie, Stanley Hall, David Kovalcin). My understanding is that one of them, David, was attending the same conference I was attending as he was a Mechanical Engineer and presenter too. Our company, which always has had a reputation of taking care of its own, made sure to totally take care of their families, etc. In this day and age, it’s rare to see private entities do such and our company is simply second to none about that. There are monuments at each of our facilities remembering them. Certainly it changed my life.

I remember my friends Eydie and Eric came to check on me and my luggage still there ready to leave. It took me awhile to go back to that bag. At that point, a couple of months later, I was taking my first post 9/11 flight. As you can imagine, people are tense, looking at each other, suspicions high and something weird, yet funny happened on the plane. A big, funny looking Puertorican guy gets up from his seat and with a strong accent shouted “There better not be any asshole Islamic terrorists in this plane, I'm going to visit my mom that I haven't seen in 15 years and if you try anything funny, I will personally kick your ass". The whole plane burst laughing and in a weird way, I instantly felt safe and that we as a nation and as a people somehow were going to be OK.

There are events that affect your life, and then there are EVENTS that really mark your life and this was certainly one. So decided to take the plunge and even though she thought we were just going to get engage, I actually went all the way and told my girlfriend, let’s get married and now! Ended up that we couldn't do it that quickly, but couple of months later did it nicely as we went to Hawaii in April of 02 and got married there in an insanely beautiful beach then took a cruise through the islands for the honeymoon; a pretty awesome vacation. Early next year it turns out we were expecting our first baby. At the time it seems that life has taken a turn for the good and always though how the whole 9/11 thing touched us in so many different ways.

September of that year, my wife started having issues with her blood pressure and her Doctor was very concern and decided to induce her as soon as the baby turn 35 weeks. The baby wasn't due for another 5 weeks so as you can image we were super worried and kind of shaken, not ready at all. After a whole day of intense labor work, the baby finally came out. We couldn't stop crying in happiness to see this little yet absolutely perfect little guy. Special is some many ways, he choose to come out September 11, 2003 around 10:28AM!

Amazing how a new life will bring new meaning to an older one and to the memories...

I don't know what’s more amazing. If the fact that I missed AA 011 by for the first time in my life not traveling in an early morning flight or the fact that my first son was born in the anniversary of that event at the time the first tower, the one that I would've died in if I have taken that flight, felt to the ground. Either way, I got the message and feel extremely fortunate that I was given a second chance in life. Now every 9/11 not only we remember those we lost, but celebrate my son's birthday as well as my second chance...

In a weird way it has taken me 10 years to write this. There’s always a sense of guilt, kind of a could I had made a difference had I been there? Memories are becoming kind of a blur, still gives me a sense of purpose, to always do my best for my country. Though that this been so close to the 10th anniversary of this event was the proper time to share it. If that wasn't enough, a person with my same name, died that day in the towers as he worked there. In so many ways this event has changed or influenced our lives and if there’s a lesson to take is to value every moment and try to make the max out of it, and most important, never forget…

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Photos, memories... rare, medium or well done. How do you like your storage?

It's very interesting how in around a decade we have moved from film photography to almost fully digital. I personally started with digital at the end of the 90's and still I'm surprised by how quickly digital took over. The first cameras were kind of a novelty and wicked expensive. The Nikon D1 was the first true DSLR that started to turn things around. It was a beautiful brick to carry around, but its adoption by the press media signaled things to come. Then back in 2004 with the Nikon D70 that truly did it for me. From that point on, my 35mms went to rest, with the occasional let's take it for a spin kind of as you drive an old classic around the neighborhood. I still use my Nikon F100 every now and then, but digital is here to stay.

The part of digital that I still can't shake up is how people don't properly backup their photos. Maybe me working at Enterprise I'm used to backup absolutely everything and always be as redundant as possible, but my impression is that for most, they're just sitting in their Mac or PC's drive, no backups or optical media, no printed copies, waiting for something bad to happen. I see pictures as one important thing: Memories, hence they're priceless and irreplaceable.

Regardless of your system brand and what you have been told, your Mac basically has the same hardware components than those in an HP or Dell and vice versa. What changes is the software you're using to run it; the Operating System (OS). All of these hardware components have a limited lifetime (measured a MTBF or mean time between failures) and bottom line is that when they die, your memories will die with them (if you haven't properly backed them up).

Answer a simple question: Do you have an exact copy of all your memories in a different place and using different media, other than your main computer? If you answer No, then you're in trouble. If you answered Yes, you're on the right track. Now the question is how to do it better. Well I'm going to split it in several areas and tell you exactly how and why.

Simple, easy to set product recommendations if you don't want to read the whole thing:

I personally have tested and used several brands (Linksys, D-Link, WD, etc) but have found that the one with the best combination of quality, price, features, GUI are the ones made by Buffalo Tech. Pretty much can't go wrong with any of them. I have several different units and here's some recommendations:

  1. Single drive unit: Linkstation Pro LS-VL NAS (around $200, This is the best single drive unit you can get.
  2. RAID capable: Linkstation Duo Pro LS-WVL/R1 (around $275, This is a dual drive version of the previous.
  3. High performance RAID: Around $700 the Thecus it's literally a full blown server in a small box with 6 storage units and great performance, currently rules the performance and value charts and can easily handle a small business. (

Figure 1: The Buffalo Tech Pro or "V" series offer high performance and a full rich set of features at a very reasonable price. Starting at around $200 there's no reason why you can't get one of these and make your data safe. The single drive version looks like any regular external HDD. The dual drive version offer expandability and RAID.

There are others at different price points. All depends on what you want to do and the level of complexity and expandability. Single drive units tend to be not user upgradable, at least easy to. RAID units tend to have open bays which allow for easy exchange of the drive units which it's really important specially if one of the units die and you need to replace it. All of the previous are sub $1K and easy to set with basically no maintenance required, and reliable enough to trust your data to them. For most professionals, the previous will serve them well for awhile.

Now let's talk details and cooking. How do you prefer it done?

Some people like food rare, others well done. I'm going to split this in rare, medium and well done, going from easiest to most complex.

1. Rare - Cheaper, simple but slow and limited:

1.A. Optical media: I know, nobody uses DVD's anymore. Well, bad news, you're very wrong. Optical media has a huge advantage over magnetic media: It's the closest thing to permanent you get!

You see the hard drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SDD) in your computer is made out semi-conductors and other magnetic media. The problem with magnetic media is that it does have a limited and unpredictable life span. Key word here is "unpredictable" and that's because we really don't know how long our HDD/SDD's are truly going to last. I still have some SCSI HDD from the 90's as a self experiment and they seem to be holding fine, but there's no way to know when they'll hit the bucket.

Optical media, at least has the theoretical potential of passing the 100 year mark and regardless if they last that long or not, the point is that you have plenty of time to look for an alternative to keep your photos or data safe, at least while you're alive. There's a second benefit and that's their lack of sensitivity to Electro Magnetic Pulses (EMP's). You see, optical media, ironically, works on the same principle as photo film: You have a media that's sensitive to a particular type of light and when it's exposed to it, that data is permanently etched in that film hence are resistant to magnetic pulses.

1.B. Magnetic media: After bad mouthing it, still a simple external or secondary HDD or SDD plugged into your computer, remains the easiest and cheapest backup storage option. The important thing you must remember is that such storage system should be a separate physical unit from your main unit. The reasoning is really simple; you want to avoid putting all the eggs in the same basket.

My ideal configuration is a second physical HDD in your computer so you're always running your applications and OS in a main HDD and then you put the data on the second HDD, then you use an external solution as the backup solution. Yeap, that was 3 physical units, that way when you're done backing up, simply pull it out and put it in a safe place. There's a side benefit from having a second HDD inside your computer for data storage only: You can always replace the main drive with a different OS or if you have a fatal crash requiring a full restore, your data remains safe in the data drive!

2. Medium - Independent, self contained, good performance and reasonable features:

2.A. BlueRay media: BD media is another type of optical, more expensive but with much larger capacities. Same benefits as all the ones for optical with the advantage of larger storage capacity and potentially longer life span as the media itself should be of higher quality in order for it to sustain a higher capacity. Again same side benefit of their resistance to EMP's. Pretty much magnetic media is sensitive to magnetic pulses and electricity; hence data held by such devices can be easily wiped by any of such. In theory, properly protected optical media like BD's or DVD's should survive the EMP of a atomic blast (of course assuming they're far away enough from that blast radius)!

2.B. RAID: Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives is basically the use of multiple storage units to replicate the data you're storing in them. There are multiple classifications of RAID, but the simplest and most common is RAID 0 or a "mirror" in were at least two storage units have an exact copy of the same data. Most computers you can pop in two drives of the same size and set them up as a RAID 0. Better is if you have an external RAID storage unit plugged into your computer. That way the storage is redundant, and can be unplugged and stored safely at another location.

2.C. NAS: A Network attached storage is basically some sort of independent computer/storage unit which is accessed via a network connection and it's dedicated for storage purposes. These come on various flavors some of which are listed here:

2.C.1. USB to LAN adapters: Units such as the Pogo Plug or the Lynksys SLUG pretty much allow you to plug a USB device to it and give it access via a network connection. These are the simplest and cheapest but very often, painfully slow. I normally recommend staying away from these as you get what you pay for.

2.C.2. Router with USB adapter: Some routers allow you to plug in a USB device to their backs the same way as the previous, making it available to the network. With this kind of units you kind of kill two birds with one stone, but again, you pay the price is the capabilities and performance as often they're very simple but slow performers. One that I found to work really well is the Buffalo Tech Air Station WZR-HP-G300NH ( which actually is pretty usable and simple to set offering a whole package solution in one unit.

Figure 2: Notice to the left the router, as any typical router unit you might already have. The advantage with this kind is that it allows you to plug an external USB HDD to it and turns it into a NAS.

2.C.3. NAS drive: Dedicated NAS units have the advantage of basically been a small server with a storage unit connected to it, normally in small packages. Depending on brand and features, some are really good performers that offer a good feature sets and capabilities other than storage. Best of all they don't cost much more than a typical external, direct connect unit and their power consumption is very low, for example the single drive Buffalo Pro unit listed in Figure 1 barely uses 17w and provides up to 2Tb of storage.

3. Well done - We're talking redundancy, top performance and even Enterprise level.

3.A. Small server: Do you have a old PC doing nothing sitting around? Good news, it's actually fairly easy to turn it into a dedicated storage unit or as a multi role server. There are plenty of free server OS that will allow you to do that. This is a higher level of complexity, but also a higher level of performance and features. Here are some good simple offerings for such a project:

3.A.1. Amahi Home Server ( This OS and software tools combination will turn any old or new PC into a central computer allowing you to handle all your entertainment, storage, and computing needs. Most important it's FREE and expandable, allowing you to grow it as your needs change.

3.A.2. FreeNAS ( Enough said, it's a NAS, it's FREE and most important simple and does what it has to do in an effective yet simple way. Actually it's a little bit more complex than that, the cool thing about it is that basically they prepared a whole Linux OS based on FreeBSD Linux ( and added NAS specific web based tools that are simple and easy to use and configure. You can literally run FreeNAS from a CD or USB thumb drive, allowing to almost intently turn any machine into a NAS, without actually having to change the core configuration. Pretty much a NAS on the fly...

3.A.3. Microsoft Home Server ( Actually this is a really simple to set and well featured system based on the powerful, Enterprise class Windows 2008 Server product. You have to either buy the software ($45 here or buy a product already with it, but it does offer a powerful solution for your storage needs.

3.A.4. Apple Mac mini with Lion OS Server ( This is a pretty cute little server that has a fully featured set. The only problem I have with it is that first it will set you $1000 back just to start and then it only has two 500Gb drives which is kind of limited specially in this day and age with huge media files. You can expand with an external unit, but that means more $ to shell out.

3.B. NAS/SAN/DLP/Optical/HDD dedicated backup units: These units are really expensive and mostly Enterprise class. Most are dedicated for a large number of users. For example, a well configured HP backup tape library storage unit ($5,660.00), well configured will easily set you thousands hence most of these are an overkill for home or a small office as we're talking hundreds of Terabytes of automated backups.

3.C. Dedicated Server running either Linux or a Windows Server OS: These can range from a single system running a dedicated server OS to a blade cluster. Either way, we're talking highest level of complexity and capabilities.

3.C.1. Ubuntu ( The Ubuntu organization is probably the biggest hero of the freeware movement. It offers anywhere from a netbook OS to an Enterprise level server solution all based on Linux. This will be a bump in complexity, but also a huge level of expandability and feature sets that literally goes all the way up to Enterprise class. Did I mention FREE! The question becomes then what kind of hardware you will get to run this solution. Again a huge range of features and capabilities, but professional level of complexity and knowledge required.

3.C.2. Windows 2008 R2 ( This is probably your more powerful and fairly expensive solution as it is Enterprise level. The software by itself will set you back almost $1000, and that's without the hardware but then we're talking Enterprise level and 99.99% uptime. There's a reason why this is the most used solution at Enterprise level. Same as for the previous, the question becomes then what kind of hardware you will get to run this solution. Again a huge range and high professional level of complexity and knowledge required.

3.C.3. Custom made solution, beyond belief technology: If you truly have money to burn, and I'm talking a lot of $ there are plenty of companies that can custom build a super infrastructure for you. For the particular case of arts and entertainment, the state of the art system is the infrastructure HP prepared for Paul McCartney. This dream system pretty much holds absolutely all media created by Paul and some of The Beatles. You can check this amazing system here (if you're not impressed by it there's something wrong with you):


If you don't have any of the previous, not only your photos, but any relevant documents you might have are at risk. From all the previous, the ones listed in the first two sections can be done by any hobbyist or with some tech skills. Feel free to ping me if you have any questions about the previous. Most important the cost of such systems is irrelevant compared with your memories... unless you have made none worth keeping...