MY BLOG & SOAPBOX

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

MEIN BLOG & SEIFENKISTE

Die Dinge niederschreiben hilft mir, sie zu ordnen und einzuordnen. Hier ist der richtige Platz dafür. Nicht immer geht es um die Fotografie und nicht immer schreibe ich auf Deutsch. Manchmal auf Englisch.
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein neues Blog:
Ich habe kürzlich die Blog-Plattform gewechselt. Hier ist mein altes Blog:

When Disks Die - a story about backup and a misbehaving RAID system

Update: I'm now off the Drobo.

Update 2: Interesting how Scott Kelby also left Drobo behind and how their CEO reacted. Huge PR stunt…

I've had my share of disk failures over the years. And I've learned my lessons from them.

Those lessons are:

a) back up

b) back up

c) back up again and take it offsite

Or in short: if the data (substitute the RAW file, the business spreadsheet, the bitcoin wallet, ..), if that data doesn't exist three times and one of those three is somewhere far enough away, so it doesn't get fried in a fire, then said data is not safe. Trust me, I've been there.

Here's a look at my backup environment (sorry, this gets a bit techie for a moment):

In order to prevent the worst, I do a Time Machine backup to a 4-slot Drobo (2nd gen, connected via FW800), which by default runs once an hour. I then run a nightly mirror of the system drive to an external USB drive, just to be able to quickly recover from a crash on that drive. Then I have two 2TB USB drives that I use to back up my most critical data (pictures, business stuff), and I'm using CrashPlan for that. Both CrashPlan drives contain the same backup. One of those drives is always in my car, e.g. CrashPlan complains a bit about a missing drive, but backs up to the other without complaint. I'm willing to live with the complaining for the convenience and safety. Every couple of weeks I take the drive from the car, hook it up to the computer and take the other drive to the car. Over night the drive at the computer is updated to the latest status.

This way I'm protected from pretty much everything, including a fire at the studio.

So far so good. (knock on wood)

The only weak link is that the Drobo doesn't just hold backups, it also holds projects from the last 10 years. Multitrack hard disk recordings, mixes, masters, etc. - too much data to put on the external 2TB backup drives.

So these projects are the data that I would lose in case of a disaster at the studio.

Up to last week, my definition of disaster was something along the lines of fire, flood, airplane crashing into the building.. what was not within that definition was that Drobo wouldn't be able to notice bad blocks on one of the four drives.

Which is what I believe happened to me. At one point Drobo turned very very slow. It usually does that when the disks get close to being full. It's far from full, but it still is very very slow. And the 2nd gen Drobo isn't really fast to begin with.

So when it started to misbehave, I ran Disk Utility. Disk Utility found an error, tried to fix it and gave up after a while.

At that point I tried Disk Warrior, the last resort secret weapon for disk issues on the Mac. It has saved my butt several times, especially with HFS+ which seems to corrode after a while. Disk Warrior also gave up, telling me the disk had bad blocks. As Drobo presents the disk packages as one logical volume, Disk Warrior was unable to tell me which of the four disks was the bad one.

Imagine my panic, I didn't want to lose my project data, so the first thing I did was file a support request with Drobo. They asked me to send them a diagnostic file from Drobo Dashboard, which I sent to them. They examined it and then said it didn't show any hardware issues with any of the drives. No bad blocks.

Hmmmmm.. who's to believe? Drobo saying the drives are fine? Or Disk Warrior who says there are bad blocks on a drive? The symptoms of slowness are real.

Long story short, Disk Warrior support went the extra mile, even logged into my system to do some support magic, managed to run the software on Drobo without it giving up and gave me the opportunity to copy the files off the Drobo to yet another external drive which at that point I had gone out and acquired.

So here I am, at the end of a week of copying the most important files off my Drobo (4 x 2TB) onto an external USB drive (3TB).

Next step: take the drives out of the Drobo, and identify the drive that has the bad blocks, which should be easy to find, as it's noted in the S.M.A.R.T. info.

And *if* the bad blocks are in the S.M.A.R.T. data, then that's the point where Drobo will instantly turn useless to me, because it should've been able to identify the bad blocks and it failed. But we're not quite there yet, I still have to run the tests.

Let's find out if I'll have to find a better hardware solution. I'll keep you updated.

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Falling in love with a pop filter

CharterOak PF-1

If you record audio, a pop filter is going to be one of your most important secret weapons.

The little pressure waves that you emit when speaking words like party, pop, pepper or platypus hit the membrane of the microphone like little explosions. That's why they are called plosives and you really want to avoid them.

One way to keep them from hitting the membrane is to use a pop filter, which is a contraption covered in two layers of thin mesh that you can put between your mouth and your microphone. When I started out recording, I used a wire coat hanger and pantyhose to build my own.

Unfortunately most commercial pop filters are either bulky, or heavy, or both. You typically attach them to the microphone stand on one side, and then move the other side that's connected via a gooseneck in front of the microphone.

If you're on the road a lot, that will add a lot of bulk.

I am on the road a lot and I don't want to carry more than I need to.

Which is why I spent some time researching pop filters.

And that's when I found about the CharterOak PF-1, a hand-made pop filter that is lightweight, small and very effective. It attaches directly to the microphone with a strap of velcro, so you won't have to worry about carrying a heavy clamp or a gooseneck, and they use the Acoustex fiber mesh by SaatiTech, which I find is very effective in killing the plosives and which seems to leave the sound pretty much uncolored.

I'm not affiliated with CharterOak, but I've fallen in love with their PF-1 pop filter. If you're planning to make your peppers and platypusses sound better, I highly recomment you take a very close look at the CharterOak PF-1.


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Switching Lightroom 4 process version could turn into a lot of work for you

Update: Apparently this is by design and can't be avoided due to the changes between the processing versions. Wow, Lightroom 4 is really off to a less than stellar start if you ask me.

Article:

Doesn't anybody at Adobe work with custom tone curves? That's hard to believe. I have just found a second issue with them.

Issue #1:

Adobe released Lightroom 4 and they pretty much messed up the migration of tone curves when converting the catalog from Lightroom 3 to Lightroom 4. You can read all about it here, the story is still ongoing as of writing this.

I use custom tone curves a lot, so I filed the original bug report right after finding out about this issue.

This is why I'm now part of a group of people alpha testing a fix that should recover the lost tone curves after an upgrade and that will hopefully make it into the full version of Lightroom and into an update for those who already upgraded.

As far as I can tell, Adobe hasn't issued a warning about this to their existing user base and we can only hope that power users with tens of thousands of pictures (and potentially with as many tone curve adjustments) won't get too many nasty surprises due to the bug.

Here comes issue #2:

During testing of the alpha script, I noticed something else, that I find quite disconcerting: I know changing to the new process will change the appearance of pictures, which is why Adobe suggests an A/B preview, but when I had the tone curve open when switching a picture from process version 2010 to 2012, I noticed this:

custom tone curve change

The curve does keep its overall shape, but the quite elegant few points of the curve get replaced by a ton of individual points.

WHAT .. ON .. EARTH .. IS .. THIS?!

Doing a quick change to the mid tones, or to how the shadows are rendered is a simple fix with the original curve. The replacement curve is 100% useless for that.

The only way to make the curve usable again is to start over and re-create it from scratch.

If this is by design, then it means that those of us who use custom tone curves extensively (I'm one of them) won't be able to benefit from the 2012 process for any of their existing images unless they are ready to start from scratch on them. In that case I'd really like a word with the person who made that decision.

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No, I didn't order this concrete

Today I tried to pay for a train ticket online using my credit card. It was rejected. Of course I went online immediately to check my balance and the transactions, but nothing looked weird. So I called my bank to check what was wrong.

Creditcardcement 2
Twitter does have a sense of humor!

Long story short, I ended up on the phone with the credit card company's fraud department. Turns out their system found that me ordering several tons of concrete from a US company was implausible enough to not even let the transaction go through.

Instead they blocked the card and sent a new one my way.

On asking how my card number got into the wrong hands, they said it's pretty much futile to try to find out, likely cause would be a merchant being hacked and even then it's impossible to connect as these things can lie years in the past.

Oh well, let's hope those plausiblity detection systems do their job. And let's also hope that I'll never have to order concrete from a US company.


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Should you get Lightroom 4? For now I'd say: hands off.

tl;dr: the LR3 to LR4 update ate my tone curve adjustments for breakfast.

Update 05/02/2012: It's been almost two months and Adobe still hasn't officially updated Lightroom 4.0. Here are some of my thoughts on it.

Update 03/06/2012: Here is the bug report that I filed with Adobe. Please consider to +1 it on their site to help raise awareness of the issue.

Update 03/07/2012: Tom Hogarty, Lightroom Product Manager has posted the following update as a response to the bug report: "Thanks Chris. We've been investigating this issue throughout the day and hope to have an update soon. Thanks for your patience and all of the detail you've provided."

Update 03/11/2012: It's 4 days later and the bug report now has 55 +1's. Some of the commenters are starting to get really impatient.

Update 03/12/2012: I received a mail with a script and test instructions from Tom Hogarty. The script recovers lost tone curves and it mostly worked. It's just an alpha test version, so it still has a few side effects though. Adobe is on the right track with this, but they're not there yet. This still has to be tested more and then needs to make it into an update. I posted my findings in the bug report. 62 +1s now by the way.

Update 03/14/2012: Since Adobe provided the test script to some of those who had the issue (this includes me), there have been mixed messages on the bug report thread. It works for some, some have found other issues. It generally worked for me, even though I ran into another potential problem during testing the fix. This bug is also on the top of the list of Adobe's Lightroom 4 Hot Issues, so even though it's been eight days, there's still hope they will eventually fix it. Until then I'm staying on LR3 and I'm just a little annoyed that I paid for an update that so far is unusable to me.

Article:

I just updated from Lightroom 3.6 to Lightroom 4. The new features and the 50% price drop made it look like a no-brainer. I loved the product from the first beta of version 1. I even recorded two video workshops for Lightroom (in German).

If you've listened to Tips from the Top Floor or Happy Shooting, you know that Lightroom is the hub for my photography and you'd have to dangle quite a juicy carrot in front of me to make me give it up. Very juicy.

Unfortunately I have to report that after the update, Lightroom 4 seems to have eaten up all my tone curve adjustments and replaced them with some defaults.

Here's a picture in Lightroom 3, note its histogram:

Shot318

Now here's the same picture in Lightroom 4. The picture looks the same, the histogram doesn't:

Shot319

At first I was confused: the LR4 histogram implies a much brighter black point and a much lower overall contrast. Then I realized that the picture shown in LR4 and the histogram must be disconnected in some way.

Next I went back to LR3 and went into the develop module. Opening up the tone curve adjustment tool, it shows the tone curve that I gave the picture.

Shot320

I use tone curves a lot. I use them more than the other contrast management tools. I probably use tone curves on over 60% of my images.

Next I went to LR4 and opened the same picture in develop mode. This is not the tone curve that I originally gave my picture.Shot321

After a few seconds, the preview was updated to reflect the "new" tone curve. At least now the picture matches the histogram again…

NOTE: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 took the liberty to swap out the tone curve that I spent time creating to some sort of default tone curve.

NOTE 2: I did not enable the new 2012 processing, the picture is still on the 2010 process version.

For now I'll revert to LR3 and wait until they ironed out the issues. I'm filing a bug with Adobe as we speak.

Wait. Should you use LR4? "I never used tone curves, I shouldn't have a problem then" I hear you say. Well, if Adobe borked something as essential as the tone curves, that has an effect on my personal trust in the overall product.

I love the new features in Lightroom 4, I think the new processing is awesome and the map feature is the first one in a product that looks like I might actually use it. Books is a great addition too.

But I just don't think Lightroom 4 is quite ready with an issue this big under the hood.


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How's THAT for a constraint?

It's constraint time again.

Brücke

I've lately been in an experimental mood. Experimentation is where I usually cast my caution in the wind and do the things I wouldn't usually do.

Over the weekend, Monika and I held an analog photography workshop here in Tübingen, we were sold out and our group was wonderful! We did a lot of shooting and developments and all was good and fine.


One of the things these workshops do with me is they help me get into that experimental mood and this one was no exception. After the workshop was over on Sunday afternoon, I stayed in the studio to catch up on some office work and tidy up the chemicals and other workshop stuff.

I then decided to take my good old Mamiya 645 with me on my way home. Every sane person would've loaded a roll of TMax 3200 or some similarly sensitive material, but as I said, I was in an experimental mood. So I decided to drop in a roll of Fomapan 100.

Baustelle

As its name suggests, Fomapan 100 is an ISO 100 film. Kinda. I've read somewhere that it is even a bit lower in sensitivity. But that doesn't mean I can't try something weird with it, does it? So I took it to the test, exposing it more in the range of ISO 800 and due to the lack of a light meter I had to wing the exposure, trust my gut.

To add insult to injury, I also didn't have a tripod with me, and it was raining.

With an estimated exposure time of 1 second at f/2.8, the lack of a tripod meant that I had to find places to rest the camera on or against while shooting. Speak of a constraint when it comes to choice of perspective.

Bushaltestelle

But the pictures themselves were just one part of the equation. In the end I also remember quite a few voices that claimed that you can't do a 100 to 800 push with Fomapan 100. What they didn't know is that "you can't do that" is a trigger for me. And it usually evokes the exact opposite reaction from me.

Long story short, I'm extremely pleased with the results. The constraints of using the wrong film, leaving the light meter at home, not having a tripod and having to shoot in the rain allowed (or better: forced) me to take pictures that I wouldn't have taken any other way.

You can see all the pictures here.

What is most remarkable: out of a single roll of 15 shots I liked six (!) pictures enough to post them online. That's a keeper ratio of almost 40 percent. With digital I would've NEVER had a ratio that high.

How about you? Does your choice of medium and the constraints that you shoot under change the percentage of pictures that you like?
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Dropping the big camera and the viewfinder

2012 02 19 150534 IMG 1039
Frog Umbrella by Chris Marquardt

It's not the camera, it's the photographer. We all know that. Do we live it? Not always. Which is why I did a deliberate "lesser photographer" thing.

Where I would usually have the iPhone in my pocket as an emergency or backup camera, this time I made a deliberate decision to go out and shoot with nothing but the iPhone. No big medium format camera. No DSLR. Just the iPhone 4s.

Our creativity strives under constraints. Some of the greatest photography has been made with cameras that some of today's photographers wouldn't even touch with a ten-foot-pole. So I went an extra step and instead of using the iPhone's built-in camera app, I used one that most people would call crippled. Its name is NoFinder and it is pretty much what the title of the app says: a camera without a viewfinder.

Now adding that kind of a restriction might initially sound silly, but it has turned out to be surprisingly good for the creative side of things. Not being able to look through a viewfinder helped me concentrate on the actual scene a lot more than if I had looked through a viewfinder. Pointing the camera without a display also left a certain margin of error, but in the end for many shots that lead to interesting and unusual framing choices that I wouldn't have made with a viewfinder.

Most of those accidental choices of frame weren't that exciting, but then there were a few that I found really interesting. And again: I wouldn't have arrived at them any other way.

The last two constraints that I placed myself under turned out to be pretty much the most beneficial ones: my decision to set the app to only take square pictures and to work in black-and-white only.

The lack of a viewfinder initially made it harder for me to judge the angle of view, but after a few shots it became pretty clear how much would be in the picture. As an added benefit I now have a pretty good idea of the field of view that I can get from the iPhone. I didn't really have that angle visualized before.

And in the end that's how Frog Umbrella came into existence. Being able to see the entire scene with my two eyes, I could watch the umbrella kid walking away from the building and while it was doing so, I fired three shots while trying to anticipate the framing.

And the third shot was the charm. That's my kind of picture - everything fits nicely, the frog's eyes are doubled in the building, every element in the photo feels like it belongs exactly where I put it. I'll be happy when I bring home one single picture like this every time I go out shooting. I'm still working on that.

» Frog Umbrella on Flickr (leave a comment)

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The DTS 5.1 conversion is getting closer

I did the sys admin thing where I'd call myself and ask what to do, and I found a partial solution to my DTS issue. I'm far from having this process completed, but I'm a few steps closer of getting my collection of 6-channel DTS 5.1 CDs ripped onto my Mac and into a somewhat useable format.

It's still a fairly manual process, but here's what I've done so far:

Step 1: rip the DTS 5.1 CD to iTunes using the WAV encoder as the input format (no MP3, AAC or similar). This process seems to get the track names right. Not sure if it takes them from Gracenote or if it reads the CD text, but the titles end up in iTunes.

At this point, the ripped files are recognized as 2-channel WAV files, and their content is DTS-encoded 5.1-channel audio. iTunes doesn't give me that information though, and it doesn't seem to be aware of this, so playing these over a normal system will result in noise. In order to play them properly, they have to be played over a DTS decoder, or they have to be decoded on the system.

Step 2: convert the ripped WAV files to 6-channel WAV files using VLC. This partially works, VLC can even be kind of coerced into converting them in a batch, using the Streaming/Transcoding Wizard, but for whatever reason VLC refuses to convert the last track.

My process: open the imported WAV files in VLC, File - Streaming/Transcoding Wizard, Transcode/Save to file, select items from playlist, only check "Transcode audio", set codec to Uncompressed, integer, 192 kb/s, select WAV, select output directory, go. Again, this process will not convert the last file in the list for whatever reason. My workaround is to add the last file twice.

The file names get messed up a bit in the process, spaces end up being replaced by 20, probably due to URL encoding.

At this point I have 6-channel WAV files that work. That's a pretty good start, because from here I should be able to convert the files to anything else I need in the future, using Compressor.

It's easy to visualize with Final Cut Pro X at this point, all 6 channels work and they seem to be even in the right order (something that surround audio fans know isn't always a given..)


Hattler Surround Cuts (also available as a DVD)

Step 3: fix the broken file names using an Automator action. Replacing 20 with a space in the filenames is easy this way, I do all other URL encoded characters manually for now. If this were a process that I'd need to do several hundred times, I would try to fully automate that. As it's now, I am okay with doing a bit of manual work here.

What's next?

Next steps: find a way to make this process simpler and more automated. It's not that I have hundreds of DTS 5.1 CDs, but I'd still like to find an easier and less error-prone way to do this. I'm also going to need to find a good way to play or re-encode those files into something that I can easily play. But the 6-channel WAV gives me at least a great uncompressed starting point to continue using them down the chain.

And then: find a way to play all this back over my existing infrastructure. Fun times!


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When things get touchingly nice and massively frustrating at the same time. *SIGH*

MG 3355I've got a challenge: I have several DTS 5.1 audio CDs. It's a format that isn't too common, but I have them and they have surround audio on them. Note: they are CDs, not DVDs. That's an important detail.

I want to make digital copies of the CDs onto my hard drive. On my Mac and that turns out to be by far not as easy as it seems.

My first idea was to create disk images. Disk Utility doesn't create images of audio CDs. Next try.

VLC was the next thing I went for. Partial success here, it can transcode the CD to 6-channel WAV, but VLC won't let me do individual tracks, or at least I haven't found out how to do it. My tries ended in VLC doing all the tacks and pipe them into a single file, overwriting it with the next track, then with the next track, to end up with one WAV file that contains the last track of the CD.

Also VLC apparently doesn't read the track names (which I assume are on the CD). Instead I get Track 1, Track 2, …

All it seems is that I need to find a a way to rip those CDs to 6-channel WAVs using VLC and being able to batch this somehow. I haven't found that way just yet. I'm using VLC 1.1.12 on Lion.

*SIGH* … I had that a lot in my former life as a sys admin. After having tried 100 things, it sucks to be told you should contact your sys admin.

So I asked on Twitter.

Which is probably the wrong place to go to for things like this in the first place. Everyone is very sweet and wants to help, so they google this for me despite me telling them that I've already done so. Problem is, they google based on my 140 character question or come back with assumptions based on that limited knowledge, while I've already done the googling with the knowledge what I'm looking for. And I know my Google abilities. I believe they are quite good.

So while I'm thankful for people trying to help me, I get incredibly frustrated because Twitter is the wrong medium. The only reason I'm still using it for this is because it is very fast and I don't want to wait for a few days until someone in a newsgroup or on a forum answers my question.

I guess I'll have to keep on searching...

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PocketChris #3 - behind the scenes

I'm always fascinated about how much work can go into something as seemingly simple as an iPhone app. Which is why I was really happy when Allan Attridge suggested to tag along with his camera during one of the photo sessions that we did for the app.



The pictures on this session were taken to add illustrations to several chapters, such as the Stability chapter in PocketChris 02 and the Foreground/Background slideshow for PocketChris 03. Paulo Sacramento was very kind to be the model, and the pictures have now made it into PocketChris apps 02 and 03.

» PocketChris website
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