General

Posts filed under General

Digital photos are good?

Filed in General, Technology

For the past 6 months, I've tussled with trying to set up a reliable backup system for my digital photographs and film scans. I have been scanning my photographic film with a film scanner at 4000 dpi. The raw images are around 130MB each and it takes a long time to scan a whole roll of film. My 200GB external drive had numerous scanned images on it and the last thing I wanted was a hard disk failure. A backup was of the utmost importance.

People using computers today are working more and more with digital photos, movies and music and all of these require massive amounts of disk space. Archiving these for protection is not easy. Tape drives are expensive. RAID 5 towers are probably the best option but are also too expensive. That leaves DVD because CDs are too small to consider.

So in August of 2004, I purchased a 8x DVD writer and upgraded my backup software to take advantage of it. Little did I know that the road to successful and reliable DVD backups was going to be so difficult.

Frequently and randomly during backup, the backup program would report DVD drive errors. More than a hundred hours of problem shooting and more than 50 coasters later, I discovered that the DVD drive was the problem. It wasn't good enough for the strict requirements of my backup program. I have now swapped the drive for a wonderful Sony DRU-720A Double Layer 16x drive and everything is right again in the world. My backups work and my hours of scanning are secure.

However, this episode has made me examine the idea of digital photos much more closely. What so many people with digital cameras don't seem to realise is that it's very easy to lose those photos. Hard drives die. CDs and DVDs change and become unreadable. There is simply no way to guarantee that your photos will always be there for years to come. My research has shown that the best option is probably to backup to DVD+R, maintaining at least two separate sets of backups, preferably on two different brands of discs just in case one brand is not as durable as the other. It would also be prudent to duplicate the backups to new disc media every 3 to 5 years. That's a lot of work but remember; once those photos become unreadable or inaccessible, they're gone, forever. Nothing you can do will bring them back. It will be as if they had never existed.

I have a nice Canon EOS 5 camera. It shoots film. I've decided to go back to shooting film instead of digital. If I shoot slide film, scanning with calibration is simple and I'll always have the original film to go back to if the scanned images evaporate from the world of the living.

Digital photography is extremely convenient, but until there's a more permanent way of preserving those photos, film may still be the better option (as long as you can afford the film scanner of course).

USD. I feel the pain.

Filed in Current Affairs, General, Hong Kong

I have a 200GB external hard disk which has developed serious media problems. A surface scan of the disk produced more than 900 bad blocks with 2 million blocks remaining to be scanned. After three days of scanning, I cancelled the scan. The Maxtor Diamond Plus is less than 2 years old but because it's an OEM, the warranty is only 1 year. Consider carefully before you purchase an expensive OEM external drive. It might be cheaper to buy a lower capacity drive and swap the bare drive for a full-warranty high capacity drive yourself.

Anyway, I had a quandary. The 200GB drive contains full resolution film scans of many of my photographs. The thing which many people tend to forget these days is that digital media can evaporate before your eyes and there's no way to get the material back, whether it be Word files, your favourite music (Apple iTunes music store) or your memories. A lot of people are backing up to CD or DVD believing the hype that the media will last for 10 to 20 years not realising that there are different grades of media, that CDs don't last as long as DVDs, that DVD+RWs don't last as long as DVD+Rs and that with temperature changes and exposure to light, NONE of these are certain to last over time.

The solution for me was to purchase a hard drive unit with RAID 5 capabilities. For those of you not in the computer business, such a unit is made up of 4 or more individual hard drives with the data shared among all four of them. If one of the drives dies, the unit keeps working and supplying your data. You can often switch the dead drive out without even turning off the unit and the unit will automatically rebuild the new drive with the data that would have been on the old drive. These units used to be very expensive but prices have come down a long way.

After some research, I decided on the "Lacie 800 Bigger Drive with RAID". A 1TB (ie, 1000 GB) unit would cost me around USD1,500 which is not too bad for that much storage and for the peace of mind it would give me. In addition, it sports FireWire 400, 800 and USB 2 connections so it would serve me well for many years to come.

I asked my friendly local Hong Kong reseller for a quote. The unit is not due for release until the middle of February so the price could not be finalised but he estimated about HKD16,000; ie, USD2,000! Why the price discrepancy? The Hong Kong government has decreed that all imported electronics must be grounded. The power plugs must have three prongs. Unfortunately, the USA is not as stringent so many appliances there are supplied without the grounding prong. The same apparently is true for the Lacie 800 Bigger Drive. Consequently, my reseller who happens to be the Hong Kong Lacie distributor has to get the drive from the Lacie head office in France.

The Euro is EXPENSIVE! Remember that the Hong Kong dollar is currently pegged to the US dollar. If the US dollar depreciates, so does the Hong Kong dollar. So if European product is expensive for US citizens, you can be sure that it's expensive for us in Hong Kong too.

So what to do. At USD2,000, I feel the unit's a little too expensive for this at-home user. I'll probably just swap out the faulty Maxtor drive for a better and larger Seagate Barracuda (with 5 years warranty ;-) and make regular backups to DVD+RW. Did I mention that DVD+RW is not absolutely reliable?

I wonder which lawyers will be getting filthy rich in a few years time when multiple class-action suits are brought against the CD-R manufactures for false promises of 10 to 20 years shelf life?

A 7-day diet

Filed in Food & Drink, General

I have just completed a 7-day diet, apparently designed to take 7 to 10 pounds off, although not permanently. No real diet is easy but this one wasn't bad. While it didn't take 7 pounds off, it did take a few off and I felt better overall. Unfortunately, today was the 7th day and being Sunday, I was unable to adhere to the diet while my wife and I had a day in the shopping centre.

The mainstay of the diet is a soup made up principally of tomatoes, cabbage, onion and celery. Whenever you're hungry, you eat and drink this soup. It's supposed to burn off the fat. I'm not sure whether it actually burns fat but I can assure you that you'll make frequent trips to the bathroom to release the extra urine.

The big thing about the diet is that there are no 'filler' foods. There is no bread, rice, spaghetti or anything similar. It's all fruit, vegetables and meat; nothing else. It really makes a difference. You feel better, and in my case, you actually lose weight.

My goal should then be to eat as little 'filler' as possible. It won't be easy though. Every restaurant serves food built around filler, and much is it is very tasty, especially the breads I just discovered in a bakery near home.

Apparently, the designers of the diet recommend against eating the diet for more than one week at a time. Once a month is ok, so at least until next month, I'll try to avoid the filler foods and see how it goes.

A wet day in HK

Filed in General, Hong Kong

It feels like we're living in a cloud. The floor takes a long time to dry after being mopped, and envelopes of just-delivered mail are dampish and soft. In Hong Kong, this weather phenomenon doesn't usually occur until the beginning of Spring. In fact, it is normally the accepted indication that Spring has begun. But we're still in Winter and this 'cloud' weather is already here. It's not normal.

For the past few weeks, the weather has wavered between being cool and extremely dry, to being damp as it is today. It's the perfect weather for colds and flu, and many of my acquaintances have already come down with something. I myself caught a slight case of the flu from our Indonesian maid. She was coughing pretty badly for a few days, although the doctor-prescribed medicine did help to relieve the coughing a little. My flu begin with a slight burning pain in my throat. Thankfully, it never developed into a full-blown sort throat. I had a runny nose for a few days, waking up with flam in my chest. I almost never coughed, and my throat never lost its layer of protective mucus. I'm almost completely recovered now, just in time for a quick performance I have to give during the Chinese New Year a week or so away.

Others are not so lucky, and many people fear the flu, especially after the SARS outbreak a couple of years ago. Flu vaccinations are being advertised and people are preparing themselves. As has been the case for the last couple of years, the doctors and scientists are hoping that the forecast Asia Flu epidemic doesn't happen soon.