Out and About

Scenic Vista From the Top of Mt. Evans, Colorado

Back to winter mode here in Colorado. This week I’m modernizing the office computer system. Being a long standing computer geek and considering that I’m never satisfied with just slapping something together, I’ve decided to review my computer file storage situation as the next installment of my computer hardware upgrades.

Today, with the grace of Amazon, I’ll be installing a new hard disk in my computer system. For some time now I’ve been using 2, 3 or 4 terabyte hard drives in my tower. This has worked fairly well for the past 5 years or so, but one thing that keeps slapping me in the face is the occasional hard drive malfunction. I have about a half million digital image files that I keep on my main system and on external drives as backups. One hard drive failure can wipe out a butt-load of image files and force me to go dig out a backup drive to restore those images once the problem is fixed.

I’ve calculated that with 6 hard disks in the system, my annual failure rate is about 1 drive a year. The new hard drive is a change of strategy for me. I’ve decided to begin replacing the internal drives with NAS SATA drives, which connect and function the same as a regular SATA disk, but are designed to run all the time with a MTBF of something like 1 million hours. That equates to 114 years without a failure. I’m not deluding myself into believing that it will last me 114 years but it should cut down on the failure rate. The new drive, the first of this type I’ll be installing is a Seagate 8 terabyte Iron Wolf/NAS drive. These drives are designed to be installed on RAID systems for network servers that run 24/7. High reliability is the design function. I’ve read that it takes them a little longer to spin up, but once up and running, they consume less energy and can run 1 million hours without a failure.

We’ll see how all that goes today, assuming the new disk drive is delivered on time as promised by Amazon (that’s hit and miss from my experience.)  It should allow me to reduce the drive count in the computer by half on this pass. If all goes well, I’ll order a second drive and will have updated my internal disk storage to about 17 terabytes. That should give me room for another half million image files in the computer. All the old drives will then be relegated to the role of backups.

It’s always good to have something to do in the winter when one isn’t out and about taking photographs. Right now, I’m not out and about.


I Don’t Need No Instructions

Hanging out in the office doing computer upgrades today.

I build my own PC’s, always have. The current system is getting a little dated by modern standards, still running a generation 4, Intel i7 cpu motherboard, which has been doing quite well. I built this back in late 2014, and I’m certain the techno-geek scrutinizers would be shaking their head at me for my lack of maintaining a modern computer architecture.  So with that fear in the back of my head, coupled with the fact that Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop won’t recognize my old graphics card’s 3D setting, I felt it was time to update things a bit.

We do have a good computer store here in town called Micro Center. I don’t order computer parts off the internet unless it’s a last resort, as I don’t want to wait for days and then get a bad part, only to have to ship it back and wait more days. Micro Center stocks just about everything and the price with sales tax isn’t much more than online parts with shipping costs. Immediate satisfaction is better. I want some and I want it now!

I just installed a Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card and a new dual-band wireless LAN card. Went pretty smooth, but that graphics card is big and it clears my PC case by about 1/4 of an inch. That’s better than being too large by 1/4 of an inch. I’ll take it.

The network card was needed because I’ve had an old wireless card in the thing since day one and my wireless LAN does 5 ghz, which I’ve never utilized on anything but my iPhone and iPad. Doubled the wireless speed for 30 bucks. I’ll take it.

The big difference is the graphics/video speed now. I’ve upped my video performance by about 50% over the old Intel on-board chip set. Both monitors are now running via HDMI, which does a good enough job. I could actually consider this a cheap gaming system now, but I don’t play computer games.

Hopefully this will keep me going for another couple of years, at which time I’ll probably spring for a new motherboard and all the nice stuff current technology offers.

In the meantime, I’m humming along with zippier graphics, zippier networking and zippier hard disk (now using a SSD on the boot drive)

Not bad for an old fart. I can still tear a computer apart and build what-ever I need and I don’t need no instructions.

Replacing A Monitor

Dual Monitor Setup

I’ve finally retired my Apple Cinema monitor after 12 years of faithful service.

When I first set up my studio in 2006, I purchased a Mac Pro, Intel version PC with two Apple Cinema displays.

The Mac Pro has been retired for several years now. I sold off the 30″ Cinema Display some years ago but kept the 24″ Cinema Display for use on my new Windows desktop. They were both good monitors for the day, but time moves on and their specifications were a little behind the curve. The 24″ monitor remained as my second display with a newer HP 2511x as my main studio monitor.

There are a lot of choices for computer monitors in the market. The days of the standard VGA analog connection are coming to an end. Most monitors these days have a HDMI interface or the even newer Display Port (USB-C) connection, but it’s still possible to find monitors with DVI and VGA connections.

It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks but I finally decided that new technology was going to have to be my choice.

The biggest concern I’ve had with desktop PC monitors was the ability of a new monitor to reproduce a full sRGB color gamut. Most displays on the market fall short when it comes to reproducing a full RGB color space. Kinda interesting when you think about it, as raw files from cameras can normally be set for Adobe RGB which is has a larger gamut range than standard RGB, and editing software can handle extreme color gamuts, such as Adobe Lightroom which will work in ProPhoto gamut. The problem with using high color gamut profiles in your workflow is that everything has to pass through the funnel and the output device is your desktop monitor. There aren’t many monitors that will come close to handling the range of color that a high end digital camera can reproduce. Nor can they come close to handling the higher photographic dynamic range that today’s camera sensors can reproduce. Everything has to be stuffed into the same color space that your monitor uses, so all that “extra” stuff is more or less useless for final output.

My goal was to replace the old Apple monitor with something current that could handle a full sRGB range. Secondarily, I wasn’t going to spend over $400 on a replacement monitor.  My HP 2511x cost me $250 brand new about 5 years ago and when calibrated, the color gamut measured about 102% of the sRGB gamut. It’s a backlit monitor, thus it has a very good brightness and contrast ratio. If I could find something akin to that type of performance on a budget, I’d be a happy camper. Additionally, I wanted a 27 inch or larger monitor with at least 5ms response time and 75 hertz refresh rate, to keep HD video performance tolerable, though I don’t really do a lot of video editing on my system.

I cruised the selections on Amazon and B&H photo and found a few considerations, all of which were running in the $300 – $400 price range. I was holding off though, thinking that somewhere out there was a monitor that wasn’t going to cost me that much. I’m on a budget like anyone else, so every penny saved is a penny earned.

The other day, my wife was out doing her weekly shopping at Sam’s Club. While she was there she took it upon herself to go over to the computer area and see what they had on the shelf. She texted me some photos and model numbers of what they were selling and among them was this LG Model # 29WK50S-P ultra-wide display. Price, $219 (at the store.)  I quickly looked up the specs and bingo. It had everything I needed and was quite affordable. The video interface was HDMI, which is good for me, as my video card supports everything except the new Display Port interface. The beauty of HDMI is that it’s a fairly common digital interface for televisions, so I can hook it up to just about anything.

I asked her to buy it, not knowing what to expect when she got home. Hey, if I didn’t like it, I could take it back.

Well, it turns out, I like it. A lot!

Nothing fancy, no frills, a super wide 21:9 aspect ratio which turns out to be excellent for using it with Adobe Lightroom. I can now do my editing without having to compress the side panels. I did a color calibration on it with my Spyder calibrator and the gamut was measuring noticeably above the sRGB envelope. The matte finish on the screen keeps the glare down too.

So, I’m not promoting any brand of product here, but if you are looking at a new replacement monitor for your photo editing and general office use and don’t want to spend a fortune, give these new ultra-wide monitors a look. I recommend this particular LG monitor, but there are other comparable brands and models out there. The ultra-wide format is quite nice. The monitor’s footprint is not huge but the viewable area is more than enough to make me happy.

Best of all, it cost a third less than many of the other monitors with these specifications. It’s light weight and the image quality is excellent.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get what you want. Just have my wife pick it out for you.



Reality Bytes

Recently back from a week long jaunt in Northern Colorado, I was anxious to begin editing new photos and updating stock agencies. Little did I know that my photography world would take a 90 degree turn.

First, let me say, if you are using a computer and don’t have a backup strategy for your image files, you are going to pay the price sooner or later. I have a backup strategy. A series of 1-3 terabyte external USB drives. I’m religious about backing up my business files at least weekly. I thought I was being religious about backing up my image files too.

For the majority of today’s photographers relying on computers is a must. I’ve gone through 4 different computers in my studio over the past 15 years or so. My current configuration in the studio is a PC that I built from scratch. I have roughly 19 Terabytes of hard drive storage attached to an i7 based motherboard with 64 gigs of ram and a dual monitor setup.

With all of those hard drives, a failure is inevitable and those failures will occur when you are not paying attention more often than not. The real question is how well you’ve backed up your images.

My images are kept in directories by subject matter and sub-directories by year. Most of my cataloging is done via Adobe Lightroom so along with my image files are xmp sidecar files that define all the editing I’ve done to each file. All told, I have about 50 different active Lightroom catalogs scattered among multiple hard drives in my computer.

The day after I returned home from Northern Colorado I was anxious to begin editing my latest batch of moose photos. I downloaded the new images to a directory on one of my 3 terabyte hard drives and imported them into Lightroom and started mining the best shots for editing and uploading to my services. On the sixth image, things went south. I could no longer access the hard drive I was working from and that hard drive contained a lot of my wildlife photos. Close to 70,000 images in total.

A quick scan indicated that the computer still recognized the presence of the drive but the drive was corrupted somehow. The utilities built into Windows 10 are not very robust. I couldn’t solve the problem without some type of advanced intervention. The first thing I did was go to Best Buy and purchase a new 4 terabyte hard drive. It installed easily and after a few minutes partitioning and formatting the drive, I was ready to restore my backups.

When I accessed my backup drives what I discovered was deflating. Yes, I had backups but many of them were not very current with most ending in early 2018. Any images stored on the failed drive that were newer than February were not backed up, except to two catalogs that I had recently backed up. Catalogs that I had been working on. Out of sight, out of mind. I had failed to keep all the backups current and in one instance I could not find an entire catalog of Bighorn Sheep in the backups. My heart sank. Over 10,000 photographs gone forever, or so I thought. I restored what I could and began coming to grips with my oversight.

Once I had restored my backup files to the new drive, I began the process of trying to recover the defective hard drive. I was lucky. I found a utility called TestDisk.

TestDisk is a freeware utility written by Christophe Grenier at www.cgsecurity.org. It runs in a DOS window and is a very basic non GUI interface. TestDisk found my hard drive and I was able to scan the contents of the inaccessible disk. I was also able to get a clue as to what happened. It appeared that a recent update to Windows 10 may have spurred this problem on. I found numerous Windows swap files on the hard drive and I had specifically told Windows not to use that hard drive for a paging file. Somehow, Windows began barfing swap files on to the drive and it corrupted the boot sector. The drive light was staying on all the time and disk activity was reporting at 100% on the idle drive.

Using TestDisk, I was able to locate all of my photographs stored on the defective drive and able to copy them to the new drive. Time consuming to say the least, I was able to recover everything I needed from the bad drive, along with the xmp files that contained my Lightroom edits.

What I learned is what I already knew. Keep your backups current. If you aren’t backing up your photos you will eventually lose them. Digital storage is temporary. My slack attitude about staying current with my backup routine almost wiped out years of work. All because I lulled myself into forgetting to do the necessary computer work to insure there were second copies of everything I had.

So, guess what I’m doing today? I’m backing up all of my files, one catalog at a time. It will take several days to accomplish, or should I say nights. I’ll begin a backup in the evening when I’m done working for the day and let the computer groan away copying everything to external hard drives while I sleep.

My advice to you. Back your images up now. You could wake up in the morning with a good backup or you could wake up to a crashed hard drive and lots of missing photos. Windows won’t alert you until it’s too late.