Sunday, April 7, 2013

So Consumer Beware!

 Early mid-week last week, I get a call about doing a survey out of Fort Collins, Colorado on energy efficiency.  Nice survey and took only 5 minutes like they said and had some good questions.  Well, if you give them your address, you are entered to win a gas card of anywhere from $25 to $100.  Guess what we won a $40 gas card.

Now hold on.  They deliver the gas card but ask that you give them an opinion on a piece of energy efficient equipment, and only an opinion nothing is being sold, and you then get your gas card after the person spends an hour getting your opinion.

Well, I say okay.  The guy shows up and first thing he says is out of these prizes which one would you take in addition to the gas card.  I say, "None."  They all looked cool but were all cheap, probably everything only about $50.

Next thing is he is trying to sell a air cleaner, a super special air filter and ultimately even a super cool vacuum cleaner.  Nothing about just asking our opinion, everything was for sell.  And supposedly the company only did surveys.    I did find out that if we did buy the special air filter we would have had to call a number to day we were getting it and they would send one of the prizes the guy mentioned at first.

Well we wasted one hour of time our time to get a $40 gas card and fortunately were smart enough not to buy anything.  We never asked the price of anything but we figured it would be expensive.  We did get the $40 gas card.

The gas card is ridiculous. You have to get your gas and receipt, send the receipt in with the card filled out and get back four $10 coupons that you can only use one a month over four months.  It takes at least 10 weeks to get the coupons back. I will see if we really get the coupons but I don't expect much for the effort.

From what I can tell the entire deal was a scam.  We were pretty careful not to buy anything and not to show the person around the house or leave anything expensive out.  Based on all this I think everyone they called won a gas card of some value.

So beware if you get a call for a survey and then an offer of a prize at the end of it and they tell you they will deliver it to you. Oh! And they just want an hour of your time for your opinion on a piece of equipment.  Run away, say NO! This is a total scam.    ----   Remember the old adage, if it is too good to be true it is probably a scam.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Camera Insurance, Do you have it?

If you don't have insurance for your camera gear, why not?  Yes, it costs money but your gear cost a lot more money and would cost even more to replace out of your own pocket.  If you are a professional photographer you probably have insurance and if you don't you need to consider it.  If you are an amateur, you should have insurance for your gear.

So after buying a Nikon D800 and several lenses along with a Nikon D90, I have several thousand dollars invested in this gear, to lose it, have it stolen or even broken would cost me even more.  I thought my home owners insurance would cover the gear and it did to a point, stolen or lost in a fire or tornado.  My home owners insurance did not cover the gear if it was in my car or if I dropped the gear in a lake.  Also, with my home owners insurance I have a $1,000 deductible and for some items the money would come out of my own pocket.

So I called my insurance company +USAA and talked to a person about insuring my gear. It was pretty simple, I provided an inventory of gear and what it cost me with tax included.  I had receipts and serial numbers already in a file so that made life very easy (Take a look at +Evernote, as I had note with everything in it.)  So for about $100 a year, I can insure about $10,000 of gear or for about $50 a year I can insure about $5,000 of gear.  Depending on the gear and coverage the amount will vary. Each quarter I evaluate what gear I have and pretty much anything over $100 gets insured.  If the gear is stolen, dropped, lost in a lake or the ocean, etc, I am covered.  Yes, I'll have the loss to deal with and the hassle of buying new gear and dealing with the insurance company but I'll get gear at least.

So are you insured?  If not consider it.  You may loss the gear you have and the pictures on that gear but the cost won't be as bad as it would have been without insurance.

Note: I have a love/hate relationship with insurance companies.  My house was hit with a tornado in 2008 and the insurance company was there and made life easy.  Last year my truck was t-boned by a semi and having to deal with auto insurance (two of them at that) was a pain I don't want to go through again.  So choose the company you deal with wisely.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weight Watchers, It Works!

My wife and I started Weight Watchers on January 11, 2013. Obviously, the primary goal is to lose weight and it is working.  As of today, we each have lost about 20 pounds each, so about 2 pounds  a week, which is a healthy amount to lose each week.

Weight Watchers is not about watching calories but uses a points system to help with weight loss.  A male weighing about 255 pounds has a daily point target of 48 points, a set of weekly 49 points and finally when you exercise you get so many points to use later that week based on the amount of exercise you do. For instance, if you do 40 minutes of elliptical training you earned 4 points.  Your primary goal is to use your daily points and if need be dip into your weekly points.

With Weight Watchers, you track your points each day and your weight once-a-week.  In addition, you can track some body measurements since you may not just lose weight but you are probably losing inches as well.  In some cases, in a particular week you may not lose weight but you may gain weight and the only indicator that things are changing with your body are the different measurements.

For tracking, you use the Weight Watchers web site and if you have a smart phone you can use the Weight Watchers application.  There is even an application for doing bar code scans of products at the store to determine their point value.  Newer products are probably not in the scanner tool but you can enter the fat, carbohydrate, fiber and protein values to get a point value per serving.

The cool thing about the points plan, is that you look at serving size and later when on maintenance after losing the weight you want, it will help you remember what a is a reasonable serving size.

There are times when using all your points can be tough, since you want to lose weight and try to eat less then you should eat.  One thing that helps is if you have a partner and you are working together on the points.   My wife and I each have our own accounts and we do breakfast and lunch separately, but dinner we do together.  We usually end up with between 18 and 20 points for dinner and it can be tough to fill those at times.  We bounce ideas off each other and come up with a plan for dinner.

The one thing we have a tough time figuring out is pasta and other items that are based on dry uncooked servings and what you have to measure out is cooked.  Still working on this one but we work around it the best we can.

I started to workout on the elliptical trainer about three times a week and built up to 40 minutes until March when I had to have surgery.  Since the surgery I have not worked out but I am still losing weight and I find that I am not hungry and usually pretty full 95% of the time.  If I need something extra like chocolate or peeps on graham crackers, I can do it since there are weekly points.  You just have to watch that you don't over do it and stay within the points.

I was a little reluctant to try Weight Watchers but wanted to lose weight and support my wife in her weight loss goals.  It is working and easy to use.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Backups, Who Needs Them!

Do you do backups of your data, of your photographs?  Do you do on-site or off-site backups or both?

Consider this: You have 10 years worth of +Quicken data for your home or business.  In addition, you have 25 years worth of family photos that you paid hundreds of dollars to digitize.  Your house gets hit by a tornado, lightning or even a fire destroying everything and you have no backups.  How do you get your data back?  You don't if you are not doing backups.  This loss is going to potentially cost money and the emotional lose is there as well.

Tomorrow March 31, 2013, is World Backup Day,  It is a reminder to look at what you are doing or not doing for backups.  Backups should be a multi-tiered approach a combination of on-site backups and off-site backups.  The backup plan should include a plan for daily, to weekly and even monthly backups along with regular testing of a recovery.  Backups without the ability to recover your data is only half the solution.

On-site backups include using a Network Access Storage (NAS) something like +Drobo 5N 5-Bay NAS Storage Array filled with disk or even a Drobo 5D 5-Bay Storage Array, Thunderbolt/USB 3.0.  You may consider in the long-term to get two of these devices and use one for off-site storage and swap the devices out every couple of weeks.

Currently, my plan includes getting one of the Drobo NAS devices filled to the brim along with the 3 TB USB backup device and the 1 TB USB backup device I am currently using.  The plan includes backing up to each and then ultimately to the Drobo.

One solution for off-site backups include the cloud.  To me the cloud was a very scary place but the technology and bandwidth considerations have improved a great deal.  Using, you would originally have a 205 GB limit per month, but last year Comcast took that limitation away.  The part was the technology issue.  How to get a full initial backup done in a reasonable amount of time.  The backups needed in my office took up 650 GB and grows about 2 GB to 20 GB after each photo shoot along with all the other data within the office.

Two solutions possible solutions, +Carbonite and +CrashPlan.  Carbonite minimizes the use of bandwidth, is secure and has several reasonable options for one, two or more computers. Carbonite does not offer a SEEDing service at the time I tested it.  My testing lasted about 9 months and in that time I could not get a full initial backup completed especially with the weekly growth I was experiencing.

CrashPlan has multiple options for the home or business, is secure, options for one, two or more computers plus the ability to backup a friends computer or backup to a friends computer. CrashPlan even offers a SEEDing solution for a cost. CrashPlan backs up the most current files first then goes through to the older files.  CrashPlan did not seem to care about bandwidth usage other then what the ISP might limit.

I ended up on February 15, 2013, moving from Carbonite to CrashPlan.  The solution I select was the CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited Plan.  I did get a significant discount for moving from Carbonite to CrashPlan for the first year but the yearly rate was even better than Carbonite's.  I was concerned about how long my initial full backup would take since I was not planning on using the SEEDing solution.  Based on information from the CrashPlan site and my available bandwidth via Comcast, I was pretty sure the backup would take about a month.  I am please to say it took a month to the day.

Each month, I select a directory and do a test recovery to validate I can get the data back to my machine.  CrashPlan has some great FAQs about switching machines if you get a new or if the worse case happens and you lose your entire machine how do you get all your data back.  I recommend before doing any kind of recovery you read the FAQs and if you are uncertain about how to proceed reach out to CrashPlan support.

Now, backups occur daily or right after a photo shoot to my local devices and an on-going backup everyday to CrashPlan.  I still need a new NAS solution to buy as my old NAS device has given up the ghost.

Your backup plan should consider both multiple on-site backup solutions and an off-site solution.  For off-site it is as simple as taking a backup device to the office or putting one in a safety deposit box or backing up to the cloud.  If you have no plan in place, create a plan, start small and grow your plan to fit your needs.

One concern I have with the cloud is what happens if the service I use goes out of business?  This is a concern for any cloud service.  Ensure you have built into your plan a solution in event this scenario happens.

If you do not have a backup plan or you are not doing backups, consider getting started today and worse case start tomorrow.  Realize everyday you put of doing any kind of backups off, you risk of losing data goes up.

If you have any comments or ideas, please comment.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Getting Fit and Losing Weight

On January 11th, 2013, my wife and I started on +Weight Watchers and have had some good success.  No we did not lose 100 pounds in 3 months but we have lost about 10% of our original body weight and that is great.  A 10% loss in 3 months is good from a health standpoint.  In addition, we are learning what a real portion size is and when we reach our goal weight, we should be able to maintain that weight.  I would recommend Weight Watchers for guys.

One thing I was missing was how I was doing fitness wise.  Last time I lost a lot of weight, I tracked steps each day and other exercise.  So I started looking for a pedometer that would track steps but more.  My ideal pedometer would track steps, heart rate, calories and help motivate me.

I looked at Jawbone Up band by +Jawbone and it looked cool, but I did not like the interface to download the data, it seemed a little clunky.  The one feature I liked was the silent alarm that buzzed you every hour you were sitting still and got you moving.  The ability to keep it on wrist was good but if I went swimming I would probably have to take it off.  The price was okay at about $129 but just a bit more then what I wanted to spend.

I looked at the  Nike+ Fuelband but between price and that it did not do as much as the Jawbone Up, I dismissed it. Also, Nike has a habit of interfaces that a clunky and just a pain to work with.  The Fuelband and its interface could be great but $149 is a bit overkill.

After some thought, I remember a friend who had a Fitbit One  by +Fitbit and was having success with it.  It was not a band but Fitbit was coming out with a band.  The Fitbit One tracks steps, stairs climbed, sleep, calories and gives you an activity score.  Priced at $99 from, though if you search on Amazon you can find one for around $95.  My thought was get the Fitbit One start tracking steps and I pre-ordered the Fitbit Flex and then compare the two. Based on the initial information provided by Fitbit, the Flex would provide all the same information as the Fitbit One but on my wrist so I would not have to worry about taking it off and losing it.  The one problem I have had with the Fitbit One was I forgot to put it on after a shower so I lost 4 hours worth of data.  Also, it would sync with the iPhone via Bluetooth and have the data on their website.

Still the feature missing is a heart monitor.  I did get a Polar H7 heart rate monitor that will sync with my iPhone and then I can transfer data to the Fitbit site manually.  It would be nice to have a heart rate monitor that works with the Fitbit and have all the data in one place without manual intervention.

Right now I think the best fitness tracking device is the Fitbit One and until I can try the Fitbit Flex, I'll stick with the Fitbit One.

One thing I would like to see happen would be if Fitbit and Weight Watchers partnered together and you could get all the food and exercise data in one place.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

First Infrared Pictures with the D800

On March 02, I went up Pingree Park Road past the Jack's Gulch camp ground to take pictures with +Justin King.  I thought I would try some infrared photography with the D800 looking over the High Park Fire burn area.

The Gear

Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikon 28-300mm F3.5-5.6
Filter: Hoya 77mm RM-72 Infrared Filter
Remote shutter release

The Picture Details

Aperture: f8
Shutter Speed: 30 seconds
Lens: 28mm

The Shoot

I setup just off the road in a small valley with a creek running through it.  One of the things I wanted to happen with the picture was to get the wispy clouds that a long exposure would give as well as seeing what the burn area would look like in infrared as compared to trees not burned.  First goal was to get the focus right, so first I used the auto focus without the Hoya filter and then set the focus to manual and put the filter on.  In addition,  making sure the vibration reduction was turned off.

The picture below is the result and partially what I expected but also there is a oval of over exposure which was very disappointing. All of the pictures I took with the filter looked similar to this one.

After some research, a hypothesis was formed.  The D800 view finder has a switch to put a cover in place which I did not use.  It was an extremely bright day and the sun was off my right shoulder.  So I'll be doing some testing of this hypothesis over the next couple of weeks.  Closing the view finder will probably have an impact on my night time photography as well, so this will need to be tested out at night as well.

I was able to salvage the picture somewhat and experiment with Lightroom 4.3 and Photoshop CS6 setting to get the look of an actual infrared picture.

The cool part is I was able to validate that I got the clouds looking like I wanted and to try out the infrared filter under actual conditions in a setting where I was not rushed.

As I test out infrared in the future, I'll post more information about the post processing with Lightroom and Photoshop.

See update at Second Infrared Pictures with the D800.