Freedom!

This post is not about how to recover from a crashed disk. It’s about how not to let a disk crash affect you in the first place…

A few weeks ago, the hard disk of my home computer crashed. Just like that. It wouldn’t turn back on. I ran some diagnostics using a recovery drive to check if there was any chance of salvaging it (the hardware, not the data), but there wasn’t. So I unplugged it, ordered another one, and went about my business on another device.

When the new drive arrived a few days later, it took me less than 30 minutes to have it up and running with every thing I needed. No data files to transfer. No settings to copy down or migrate. No nothing.

This was the goal when I began moving to a device-independent setup a few years ago. Piece by piece, I had successfully moved every thing I ever do on a computer to the cloud, so that if the day came when my hard disk crashed, I would not be affected.

And, it was satisfying to see that it worked! Today, all the mobile and computing devices I use (at home or at work) are irrelevant when it comes to the data they work with. It’s all online. Synced in real time. No fuss. No muss.

Here’s what works for me…

Laptops/PCs:

  • Google Calendar – To manage multiple calendars online; Synced across devices
  • Google Apps / GMail – For my work/personal emails; Synced across devices
  • Google Drive – For all my work documents; Synced across devices
  • iDrive – Backup & Sync for all my personal documents- I use a complex profile for each computing device (excluding phones)
  • Evernote – For long notes; Synced across devices
  • SimpleNote – For short notes; Synced across devices
  • Google Photos – To backup any photos I shoot to my Google account
  • Pocket (Chrome Extension) – To save any bookmarks I want to read/retrieve later
  • ToDoist (Chrome Extension) – To save any To Do items (with/without reminders)

Mobile Devices:

  • An Android device serves as my primary mobile phone
  • All my Contacts are saved on a Google account – nothing on the phone
  • SMS Backup & Restore – To periodically save any SMS messages (say, when migrating from one phone to another)
  • Google Photos – To auto backup any photos shot on my mobile device
  • Apps for SimpleNote, Evernote, ToDoist, Pocket and Drive, as above

(I also use an Android tablet sometimes, which follows all of the above)

Second Level Backups:

  • All documents & pictures from any computers I use are also backed up – once a year – to two external (portable) hard disks… This goes in a folder with the name YYYY
  • I keep one of the two external disks in a remote location as an offsite backup, just in case

That’s it, really! This simple setup now enables me to work from anywhere, with instant access to all my data, as long as I have an Internet connection. Plus, if one device fails, I can literally switch over to another in minutes, without any loss of data.

 

Bigger vs Better

Most of us would’ve encountered the situation where, in a group of trigger-happy camera-toting enthusiasts, someone whips out a larg-ish lens mounted on a larg-ish DSLR body, and the typical reaction was: “He/she must surely be a serious photographer”!

The truth is that having a more expensive (or larger) camera or lens makes you no better a photographer than buying a bigger piano makes you a better pianist. In fact, most intelligent folks do not make this extrapolation in any other vocation or profession, except in photography.

All that gear comes at a price, of course. And I don’t mean just the monetary kind. Once you have the stuff, you need a place to store it, the means to carry it, the time to maintain it, etc. etc. etc. As this writeup will explain in great detail, for many wannabe photographers, the path is quite well laid out. They keep adding to their gear until, one day (and only if they’re lucky), they realize that those with more basic equipment are making better pictures than them!

Now, some of you may not know this, but DSLRs evolved from SLRs (yes, the film kind!). And the folks at Canon and Nikon who were responsible for decades of investments in the technologies involved, were less inclined to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel. As a result, some of the most revolutionary advancements in this space were born out of research & design by players like Panasonic and Olympus. If you’ve been following the action, you would have encountered terms like “mirrorless”, “EVIL” and “Micro Four Thirds” and the likes.

I’d been watching this space for a while now, and recently concluded that the third-generation of camera technology has finally evolved to a level that poses a serious threat to the world of DSLRs (at least for amateurs and hobbyists like myself). But, like most people who have been practising the art, I already had a Nikon D90, a Nikon F75 and 3-4 Nikon-mount lenses that would not work with these new formats (with some exceptions).

So I sold every thing!

Yes, that’s right. I ditched my DSLR and started from scratch. Then came the tens of manhours of research to find out the best solution for my specific needs. I was looking for something that would be much smaller and lighter than a mid-level DSLR, but would offer comparable image quality. Having reaped the benefits of a “platform”, I was also keen on making a beginning with a platform that would keep up with my evolving needs. HD quality video would just be an added bonus. Finally, I wanted to keep the overall spends to under $900 (or INR 50,000).

I loved the retro styling of Fuji’s X100 and the range & affordability of Fuji’s X10, but they came with fixed lenses. I liked the small body of Sony’s NEX series, but its choice of APS-C sized sensor made its lenses extra large. To be fair, I also evaluated Nikon’s recent attempts with the V1 and J1, but it’s still early days for them. After extensive research, I settled on the Micro Four Third platform as the answer to my needs. Finally, I took the plunge and went for the Olympus E-P3, built on the legendary PEN platform.

The newest PEN series range of cameras from Olympus offers significant advancements over older models, notably in the area of autofocus response and image processing. I specifically chose the E-P3 since it was the biggest of the three models (I have large hands) with more advanced features (like OLED touchscreen, manual zoom ring, etc.) than the others. The image sensor was about 40% smaller than APS-C, but 5-7 times larger than compact cameras, making the body+lens combination much smaller and lighter than traditional DSLRs. Finally, the Micro Four Third platform (jointly developed by Panasonic & Olympus) would also offer me an array of more than 40 interchangeable lenses for all my needs. Yes, the Olympus menu system is nowhere near Nikon’s, in terms of ease-of-use, but the design is so customizable that you don’t need to dig into menu levels to get to your often-used functions, once you’ve set it up.

With the E-P3, I got every thing I was looking for in a camera that is less than half the bulk and weight of its DSLR counterparts, and I couldn’t be happier. You have a choice too – Do you wanna be the guy who “looks” like a photographer, or do you want to shoot more photographs?

The fact of the matter is, sometimes, bigger does not equal better.

Update: Oct 2015

After 3 years of working exclusively with the mirrorless Olympus E-P3 platform, I switched back to a Nikon D3300

The mirrorless platform was a great experience, but given my large hands, I missed the grip of holding a larger camera in my hand. Also, while the size of my E-P3 was considerably smaller than DSLRs, the weight was not much less. Finally, over the past few years, DSLRs have also evolved quite a bit, offering ISOs of upto 12,800 in even entry-level models – That’s a big miss in a smaller-sized E-P3 sensor from three years ago, if you shoot in low light.

While in India, you should also keep in mind that there is hardly a market for mirrorless or micro four-thirds, making it difficult to get older, used (read, inexpensive) lenses, while the market for Canons and Nikons continues to thrive. I now look forward to using the trusty old DSLR format in exciting ways, leveraging its capabilities to the extent possible!

Face Book

Facebook has more than 800 million users worldwide, and is likely to hit the 1 Billion target in a few months time. How many Facebook “types” do you know of? And, which type are you?!

I can think of the following…

TV addicts – Those who never post, only come to watch the show
Lurkers – Again, hardly posting, but eager to comment on (or like) others’ posts
Faceless – Haven’t even got their profile pic up yet!
Super active – A tweet or an FB post every few minutes
Battle pickers – No matter what the topic, they have to pick a battle online
Forward addicts – Treasurehouse of interesting videos and funny pics
Shutter happy – Come back from any outing with 233 pics of the event!
Friend gatherers – Ahem, more than 500 pals on your FB list?!
WTF – They post alright, but you just can’t relate to them no more… 

Did I miss anything?

World’s Biggest Challenge

Hypothes.is – a brilliant, new startup – is attempting to solve what it calls “the world’s biggest challenge”!

Frustrated by the media?  Disillusioned by our seeming inability to come to grips with difficult issues?  Us too.  We think improving the credibility of the information we encounter is key to solving this problem.  In fact, we think it’s humanity’s biggest challenge.

Hypothes.is will be a distributed, open-source platform for the collaborative evaluation of information. It will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review. It will work wherever you are – as an overlay on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more – without requiring participation of the underlying site

Hypothes.is is a non-profit effort built on strong principles, and a clear vision of what it wants to achieve.  When I first discovered it via Twitter, I was stunned by its clarity on the subject, from the concept video by its founder – Dan Whaley – to the FAQs that ask hard-hitting questions and answer them.

The project has been self-funded till now, but to deliver a working prototype, Hypothes.is has joined hands with Kickstart to help raise $100,000 via crowdsourcing.  Your pledged amount will not be charged unless they hit the goal.

Every dollar counts, and all of us will benefit from it. I’ve pledged my support, and hope you do too.

Update:
As on 13 Nov, 2011, Hypothes.is has raised over $230k from donors across the world!

Thank You, Steve

On 5 Oct 2011, the world lost a creative genius and visionary – Steve Jobs.

Steve was not a spiritual guru or a political leader, but a force to reckon with… someone with both the determination and the talent to change the world.  And, change the world he did. 

Tomes have been written already on the man and his legacy, and a lot more will be said in the years to come.  Sure, he gave the world the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.  But he did much more than that.  Steve’s work touched millions of lives in more ways that even he could have imagined.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to pen down what he meant for me, and to thank him for the contribution he made to my life…

Thank you, Steve, for teaching us that “Design is how you Think!”

Thank you, Steve, for demonstrating that you can follow your dreams and change the world, without compromising on one or the other.

Thank you, Steve, for proving beyond a doubt that Less is More.

Thank you, Steve, for the learning that we don’t have to choose between Form and Function.

Thank you, Steve, for showing the world that it’s possible to raise the bar so high that you touch the sky.

Thank you, Steve, for having the courage and the conviction to go with your instincts and not ask us – the consumers – what we really wanted.

Thank you, Steve, for making a dent in the Universe…

You will be missed.