I went with CrashPlan and it’s Finally Done!

 

A while back I did a guest post on Scott Kelby's blog about my photography workflow. In that post I also talked about backup and offsite backup. At the time my offsite backup method was simply rotating two external hard drives to/from my safe deposit box at the bank. While this method certainly works, it does require me to actually make the trip to the bank. As much as I would have liked to do this on a weekly basis it was turning more into a monthly or bi-monthly trip. Although an old backup is better than no backup I wanted something a little more automated. It was suggested in the comment section of that post that I look at cloud backup, so I did. The first company I looked into at the time was Carbonite. However, Carbonite was a non-starter for me because of their stupid policy (at the time) of not allowing you to backup an external drive from a Mac. Really? Seriously? What difference does it make if the data is on the internal drive or an external drive? Charge for the amount of data being backed up and be done with it! I confirmed this stupid policy with their customer service and ended up going with CrashPlan instead.

 

CrashPlan gets it right

My initial experience with CrashPlan was excellent. I had no problem getting setup with their CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited Plan. This allows me to backup every computer I own and there are no silly limits on which drives the data has to be on. I knew going in that backing up TERABYTES of data over the internet would take a long long long time and well it did! It took MONTHS to backup my two servers. These two Macs (with Drobos attached) contain all my photos, music, movies, documents, etc. In other words, my digital life. 

 

How long did it really take?

I signed up for CrashPlan on January 13, 2011. I set it to backup both computers, but I did limit the bandwidth that it uses AND I set it to only run at night while I was sleeping. This way it would have no impact on my day to day internet use. By having it run only half the day and at a limited bandwidth, it took about 6.5 months to complete the backup of 1.7TB. Now I have it backing up another computer now that the main backup is done.

 

There are other options for the initial backup and restores

I was in no hurry for this backup to complete because I already had an offsite backup solution in place. However, if you want your initial backup to not take weeks or months then you could pay for them to send you an external hard drive. This way you could backup your data in a matter of hours instead of days,weeks or months. Once you return the drive to them they will add your data to their servers and give you instructions on how to connect your account to that data for continued backup. 

 

What's the advantage of cloud backup?

Now that my initial backup is done, my new/changed files are backed up every night automatically and OFFSITE. If a disaster strikes my home (flood, fire, theft, etc.) I would be able to get my important data back once I'm up and running again on a new computer/hard drive Yes they offer the ability to send you a drive with your data on it so that you can be backup and running sooner). Another advantage is having web access to ALL of my files no matter where I am in the world. If I need an import file off my server at home I could of course access my server via the internet because I have remote access setup. However, even if I didn't have remote access available I could always log into my CrashPlan account via the web and download any file that I want. 

 

The Bottom Line

There is no such thing as being too backed up when it comes to irreplaceable files such as digital photos. I backup my computers internally with things like Time Machine and SuperDuper!, but I also like having a backup that is offsite too. CrashPlan offered the most bang for the buck with unlimited data plans and no restrictions on where my data had to be stored in order to back it up. You can find out more about CrashPlan here.

Review: Withings Smart, Connected Scale and Blood Pressure Monitor

If you're watching your weight chances are you have a scale somewhere in your home. If you are health conscious then chances are you get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. The folks over at Withings are aiming to bring these rather mundane tasks to the 21st century with Smart and Connected devices. GEEK ALERT: The objects you're about to read about are cool gadgets. However, make no mistake that there is a very high geek factor at work here. After all, the last time I checked you could pick up a decent bathroom scale for around $25. You stand on it, look down and see your weight. That's pretty much it! When a company figures out a way to bring MORE technology into this and you're interested, then chances are you're a geek :) Now on to our story…

 

The Withings WiFi Scale

I remember way back when this product first came out and saying to myself: "Cool, but I can't bring myself to pay that much for a scale." Then I saw it on sale and I snapped one up. I already knew that the product would be cool and useful, but just a tad too pricy for most. Before we get to the sticker shock let's talk about what it does. The Withings WiFi Scale looks and acts like any other modern day digital scale on the surface. However, inside it has a WiFi chip and USB port. When you first set it up you plug it into your computer via the USB cable just long enough to associate it with your free Withings account and to configure it to connect to your WiFi network. From that point on you can put the USB cable away and place the scale where you want in your home as long as it's within range of your WiFi hotspot. Now when you or a family member steps on it it will not only display the weight (in pounds or KGs – your choice), but it will also transmit the data wirelessly over the internet to your account. You can then view your information/progress at any time via a web browser or via their FREE iOS App.

iTunes

I've been working on my weight now more seriously for the past three years and I have had both successes and set backs. Any tool that can make the tracking easier is a plus for me. Prior to the WiFi scale I was using a regular scale and logging the progress into the Lose It! App. I can remember many times I'd go weigh myself, get busy doing something else and forget to log the number and of course, not remember what it was. Now I don't have to think about logging it. I don't even have to have my mobile devices turned on at the time. All I have to do is step on the WiFi scale and the numbers are automatically logged to my private account online. I look at them when I need to or feel the courage to :)

I was impressed by how the scale auto detects different family members and records their weight too. Yes that does mean that you can setup multiple users and whenever any one gets on it will log the weight of that person to the master account and by name.

It's more than just weight. The scale also keeps track of your Body Analysis providing info on Fat mass, Lean mass and BMI (Body Mass Index). 

Convenience doesn't come cheap. The only downside to this wonderful gadget is the price. At $159 you'll have to really really really want one to get one. I can't say "need one" because honestly no one "needs" one of these. Granted it does what no other scale I've seen does, but it does so at a steep price.

You can get the Withings WiFi Scale here for $159.

 

Still much more work to be done… Let's see how far I get by the time I see you at Photoshop World Vegas! (note: I didn't say what year 😉 )

 

Blood Pressure Monitor

The Withings Blood Pressure Monitor is battery operated device that has a cable attached with a 30 pin iOS dock connector on the end. The idea is that when you're ready to take your blood pressure you plug it in to your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and with their native App your iOS device becomes not only the display, but also the record keeper. Again this is pretty cool and geeky stuff. Just like with your weight you can keep track of your readings day to day and even email them to your doctor.  The App works with both devices and can display both your weight progress and blood pressure stats at the same time.

You can get the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor here for $129

 

The Bottom Line

They're useful albeit expensive toys. I haven't had any issues to date with either device and they work as advertised. If your budget can handle it and you like gadgets then you'll love em.

 

 

See them in Action

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When is a photo no longer a photo?

 

One of the groups I belong to recently held a photowalk and a photo contest for the members that participated. Sadly I was out of town on business the day of the walk, but I was able to attend the meeting that showcased the photos, allowing members to vote and the awarding of the prizes. It all went well but there was a debate that happened afterwards. The debate was mostly centered around "compositing". In other words either taking two or more images from the walk and assembling them or pieces of them together or adding things to the photo that weren't there (on site) to begin with. This got me to to thinking about "when is a photo no longer a photo?"

 

What do you feel the rules should be if you were entering a contest?

This won't be the last of our photowalks/contests and therefore we'd like to lay down some ground rules for the next one. Yes of course I've Googled "Photo Contest Rules" and got some good advice from the results, but I was curious as to what my readers think about this topic? What's OK and What's Not OK? For example, everyone seems to think that Cropping, Exposure, & Color adjustments are OK and even HDR is acceptable. But what about removing things from the photo such as power lines, trash on the ground, people, lamp posts, etc.? If removing is OK, is duplicating OK? There was only one bird and the person cloned the bird that was actually there and made three more. Is that OK? What about a pano? If you have a wide angle lens perhaps you could get the shot, but if you didn't can you stitch two or more photos together? How much "creative" Photoshop use is acceptable?

 

Multiple categories

Sure we could simply say that there is a Compositing category and if you want to enter that category composite away! Problem solved. Pro vs. Amateur categories. How do you define them? Is a Pro someone who makes their living as a photographer or would a Pro also be someone who does paid work on the side? Is it the kind of camera/lens they are shooting with?

 

What do you think?

I'd be happy to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share your views, comments, experiences, etc. in the comment section below. Have you seen a set of rules that you thought nailed it? Or did you feel that the rules were in some way restricting your creativity? What would be YOUR perfect set of rules for a "digital photo contest"?

Review: IPEVO Tubular Wireless Speakers

 

I've been watching the Bluetooth Wireless Speaker revolution from the sidelines now for several months. I've reviewed a few different sets of travel speakers in the past but they were all wired. While I have wanted to try out some of the new bluetooth wireless options such as the Jawbone Jambox, I couldn't get past the asking price of $199 retail ($179 street) for a speaker that would spend the bulk of its time in my suitcase. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the Jambox is fantastic, sounds great and is worth the money if you plan to use it regularly. I also certainly don't have a problem spending money on something of good quality. It's just that my need for a travel speaker is for those occasions when I'm traveling and want to hear my music, videos, etc. on something better than the speakers in my laptop or iPad. 

 

IPEVO Tubular Doesn't Break The Bank

This is actually my second IPEVO product. You might remember my review of the IPEVO P2V webcam for doing mobile device demos. Again, it's a product that solves a specific need that I have at a reasonable price. The IPEVO Tubular Speakers are exactly what I was looking for. They are small enough to stick in a suitcase or laptop bag, yet the sound good enough to compete with most "small shelf" speakers. They are designed for travel. The two speakers connect together in a "tube" fashion when not in use. When you're ready to use them you untwist the tube to separate them out. They connect to each other via a single built-in cable. That's the only "wire" you have to deal with during normal operation. You can play your music to them via Bluetooth. iOS 4.x supports stereo bluetooth music playback. So your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad can stream music to these speakers wirelessly. I also had no problem pairing them to my MacBook Pro. They showed up immediately after pairing as a an Sound Output Device. 

There is a power button and volume control right on the speaker itself. Not to mention a small LED status indicator to let you know that they are on or in pairing mode.

 

How are they powered?

This is both a plus and a minus. The speakers have their own built-in rechargeable battery. There's a USB connector on the bottom of the main speaker that you can plug into any USB power source. It takes 2 hours to charge for 6 to 8 hours of playback. While it's great having a built-in battery, it also means that if you forget to charge them you can't simply pop in a set of AA's. 

 

Room for improvement

The speakers work and sound great. I've had zero problems with connectivity or playback. My only issue is that the cable under the speaker for connecting to the second speaker simply wraps around a circular section in the base of the speaker. I would have preferred this to be a retractable cable as it sometimes takes 2-3 tries to get it wrapped around just right so that the end of the cable fits in the holder for storage. Otherwise I have no complaints.

 

The Bottom Line

These speakers are a great alternative to the more expensive options out there. While they perform well, the best part is the price. The IPEVO Tubular Wireless Speakers go for a mere $59.95 (list price $79.99). That's less than half the price of other speakers in the category and they sound as good if not better than any other travel speakers I've tried.

Turn your Mac into an HD DVR with EyeTV HD

As many of you already know I’m a fan of DVRs in particular TiVo HD and Premiere boxes. However, I recognize that many of you don’t want the costs associated with TiVo, but you do want to be able to record your shows in HD and transfer them to your iOS and other mobile devices. For this Elgato has got you covered with their EyeTV HD. I’ve used Elgato products in the past to simply bring in cable TV to an iMac and have “TV” playing in a window as I worked. However, since those days a lot has changed in the world of TV. For example, Comcast in my area no longer broadcasts “basic” cable without a box. This was one of the things they cut in the move to “Digital” TV. Although there was probably no technical reason to cut it, they cut it and now in order to get cable in my area you need a set-top box to decode the digital signals they send. This also means that in order to record those shows (especially in HD) that you either need to rent their DVR (not a fan of their boxes) or buy a TiVo. With the EyeTV HD you can use your Mac as the HD DVR. You still need a cable or satellite box to decode the signals from your provider. However, with a one time purchase of an EyeTV you can connect this small box to your cable/satellite receiver and then connect it to your Mac via USB (it’s bus powered, so no power brick). Once you load their software you’ll have access to your guide and even the ability to have your Mac remote control your set-top box via the IR emitter. It even comes with it’s own wireless remote control and all the cables you’ll need. Yes it pauses live TV too.

Recording a live show in HD

Record and Watch Anywhere

Besides being able to record to your Mac’s hard drive (internal or external) you can choose to record in two different modes simultaneously. For example, you can record the HD version to watch on your TV (or Mac) when you return home AND you can have it record an iPad/iPhone version at the same time. Of course this uses more disk space, but it definitely saves time for people that want to record and then take their shows with them. That’s one of my frustations with TiVo is that while it can transfer a show to my Mac, it takes a while to transfer it and then even longer to transcode it to a mobile compatible format. With EyeTV, the mobile versions would be sitting there waiting for you as soon as the show ends.

Playing back the recorded show on my MacBook Pro

There’s an App too

While it’s great to have the ability to do dual format recordings, it’s even cooler just to be able to stream your shows from your Mac to your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch via their App. It streams over WiFi or 3G and eliminates the need for a Slingbox.

You can get the EyeTV App for $4.99 (also a bargain when compared to the $30 Slingplayer App) here from the iTunes

What’s the downside?

While this solution solves a few problems, there are some things you have to take into consideration. First of all you’ll need a Mac that is relatively close to your cable/satellite box. Also that box will need to have a free Component Out port if you want HD recording. The EyeTV uses Component video instead of HDMI to avoid Copy Protection issues. You’ll also need ample amounts of hard drive space to be able to record shows in HD. If you plan to stream your Mac will need to be awake. While the solution works, it could be expensive to “dedicate” a Mac to it. However, if you’ve got a Mac server or other Mac that just sits there it might as well get some use doubling as a DVR too. The EyeTV requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later as well as an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better. Lastly you’ll need to connect you Mac to your TV if you want to watch the show you just recorded on the big screen as there is no direct connection from EyeTV HD back to the TV. If you have Apple TV you could stream the recordings that way.

You can buy it here for $169.89 (a bargain compared to long term DVR renting or TiVo/Slingbox buying).

Digital Heavens Smooth Skins Actions for Photoshop

Photo Retouching is a large part of the digital photography portrait workflow. People have varying opinions on photo retouching and some will argue that you shouldn't retouch a photo at all. For those that feel that way you can probably stop here, move on to something else and have a nice day. The fact of the matter is that photo retouching happens everyday and I would dare you to pick up a cover of any magazine with a person on it and tell me that it came right out of the camera and went to press. As both a photographer and a Photoshop user I can tell you that portrait retouching is necessary. The reason that I feel that it's necessary is that when we see a photo of a person we see a image frozen in time and therefore our eyes have a chance to see and study every imperfection. However, when you see that same person in real life you would never sit there and stare at them for several minutes while they remained perfectly still. In a photo we see things that we would never pay attention to in real life. The goal of portrait retouching is to make the person look as good in the photo as they do in real life.

While I am a fan of portrait retouching, just like anything you can take things too far. I've learned over the years that less is more. I don't want to spend any more time retouching a portrait than I absolutely have to. I also don't want to do things to a portrait just for the sake of doing things.

My rule for removing things is that I remove things that either wouldn't be there in two weeks such as a pimple, or temporary bruise, etc. One of the last things I look at near the end of a portrait retouch is "Skin Smoothing." This is one of those topics that can easily get people up in arms and all of a sudden the pitch forks come out. This is also one of those areas in digital photography that can easily be and is often taken too far! 

 

Skin is already smooth

The first thing to remember is that skin is naturally smooth. What makes it look not smooth in a photo is typically the way the subject is lit. Depending on the lighting you will see areas of the skin show more detail in the shadows which causes the skin to look less smooth. A professional retoucher will tell you that the only way to correct for this properly is to go in pixel by pixel removing the areas that are causing the skin to not look smooth. If you think about it, let's say there was an area of skin with 20 pimples on it. If you removed all 20 pimples the skin would be smooth. Your job would be done. This is the "professional" way to do it and the way I would recommend when you have a paying client or you're working on the cover of a magazine. In other words if your work is going to be judged, then take the time and go in pixel by pixel. Unfortunately for most jobs this kind of time doesn't exist. Nor is it justified for every single photo. This is where the arguing usually starts :) I'm not telling you to do it one way or the other, I'm just pointing out the facts. In these cases there are other methods of "skin smoothing." These methods typically involve running filters on the skin and then reducing the effect to allow the original pores to show through. Professional retouchers (the ones that make their money doing this) will crucify you for this technique. At the same time, I would argue that it can be OK if done right. There are several methods for this and people will even argue which Photoshop filter does a better job. I have my own methods that I'm happy with, but I'm always looking at ways to make it better or faster.

 

Digital Heavens Automates Skin Smoothing For You

The guys over at Digital Heavens have come up with a set of Actions for Photoshop to automate the entire process of Skin Smoothing for you. This is great because they employ several different techniques within the set and let you try them before committing to one or the other. This presents kind of a non-destructive workflow because everything is done with layers and your original photo/background is never touched. If you don't like the look you can simply delete the layers it creates. You start off by doing exactly what I described above. Get all the flaws fixed/removed first. If you still feel the need for Skin Smoothing after you done you can then just run an Action. As always you can control the amount smoothing via Opacity. One of the advantages of Smooth Skins by Digital Heavens is that it's a series of Actions, not plug-ins. That means that it's using the native features of Photoshop and not dependent on having to keep a setup of plug-ins updated. You get 10 Actions in the set. This gives you a wide variety of different techniques to try out and to pick the one you like best for your image. They've also done a great job with providing samples and tutorials to show you how the Actions work.

Here's a sample tutorial video of just one of the Actions that ships with Smooth Skins:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ej06FtGuIU

 

 

A bit of final advice

No matter what technique you employ keep in mind the age of your subject. I find that you people (kids/teenagers) rarely need any skin smoothing at all! It makes my day when I DON'T have to do it. For example, the very first photo at the top of this post of Amanda has absolutely ZERO Skin Smoothing applied. I removed 3 pimples. That's it. She's young and already has beautiful skin. With older people you need to show some restraint too. Don't make the person look unbelievably too young. These actions are a great way to save time, try different techniques and have a way out if you don't like it all without having to create them yourself or do it manually each time. We've all seen "bad retouching" I'm guilty of a few bad retouches in my past as well. Another piece of advice is after you're done, close the image and reopen it hours later. Look at it and see if you still agree that it's "done" and not too much?

Before Smooth Skins from Digital Heavens I only had 2-3 different techniques. Now I have 10 New ones!

You can find out more about Digital Heavens Smooth Skins Actions here as well as additional video tutorials and examples.

Wacom Outs A New iPad Stylus and Sketching App

 

The great folks over a Wacom have shpped their NEW Bamboo Stylus for iPad (or any other touch screen mobile device). Ever since I started using the iPhone and then the iPad for doing model releases I realized that having a stylus was a must have accessory. While I've enjoyed my Pogo Sketch (the Targus one is OK too), I couldn't pass on the opportunity to try the one from the same company that makes my graphics tablet (Intuos 4). After all Wacom has had MANY YEARS of experience in designing tablets and pens to go with them. I figured that if anyone could design a good stylus for touch screen devices like the iPad it would be Wacom. Unfortunately the iPad doesn't offer pressure sensitivity like the Wacom tablets do. However, I have found the tip of this new stylus to be very comfortable to work with and smooth for on screen writing, signing and drawing. 

 

The Little Things

You might ask yourself "what is there to innovate in a stylus for an iPad?" That's a good question. After all, once you make a tip that works with touch screens what else is there? Surprisingly a lot. One thing I couldn't figure out with other styli is why there were designed to be so small? The first thing I noticed with the Bamboo Stylus was that it had a nice thickness to it as well as some weight to it that made it feel more natural in my big hands. Speaking of weight the other nice thing is that the slight weight differential of it is pushed to the tip end. This means that when I pick it up I can tell which end is the writing end without even looking at it. While I do wish that it was about a half inch longer, I found the length to be reasonable. Now on to the tip. This is probably the most important feature as it will either make it or break it for me when it comes to using a stylus. I prefer a tip that glides more easily on the touch screen. Some of the cheaper ones have more of a "rubber" feel, which is fine for "tapping" onscreen buttons, but horrible for writing/sketching. I'm happy to report that the Bamboo Stylus has a nice blend of easy gliding, but just enough grip for precise tapping. This is also due to the design of the tip and how it comes to a nicely rounded point. Again, there was some thought put into this and I would expect nothing less from Wacom. 

 

If you're in need of a stylus for your mobile touch screen device, it doesn't get much better than this. You can get the Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad here for $29.95 or less.

 

One more thing…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgByFtjYotQ

There's an App too. Wacom introduced a NEW iPad App called Bamboo Paper (see my review here). This App is a virtual notebook for your iPad. If you hurry you can grab a copy of the App for FREE until the end of June here from the iTunes

Gracias Mexico City!

   

What a way to end the 3rd leg of our Adobe CS5 Evolution Tour! Mexico City was the last stop of this leg and definitely one of the most fun in terms of a very cool venue and great audience. We have typically held these events in convention centers or large movie theaters. However, in Mexico City we walked into a two story night club.

I had this strong urge to whip out two turntables. I'm not sure why.

The music was thumping and it was "Club Adobe" all the way. Granted there was no dancing (dang it!), but there was a lively party atmosphere as we showcased design, web, mobile authoring and video/audio workflows to the 500 attendees on hand.

It was great to see so many fans too.

 

 

 

Gilberto runs the Adobe Mexico Users Group.

 

Time for a much needed Sumer Vacation! Stay tuned for more tour dates and events.

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