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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mac Mini: Snow Leopard & New Hard Drive

Yesterday I was reading through the number of success stories and performance upgrades that lots of users are experiencing with the Snow Leopard OS X 10.6 upgrade from Leopard 10.5. I quickly started lamenting the fact that I did not have it -- I inexplicably forgot to pre-order it and will be waiting a few more days for it to arrive in the mail. I was too lazy to call around to the various Apple stores and try to find one with Snow Leopard in stock. So, I'll just wait for the hopeful performance upgrades -- although in some reports, graphics don't perform quite as well.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Box Shot for $29

In addition to the performance enhancement expected by Snow Leopard in 10.6, I have one huge hope that I am holding onto. That the 4GB of memory in my Mac Mini would still be addressable. As I covered during my Mac Mini memory upgrade, even though I installed 4GB of RAM and the OS recognized, only 3GB were addressable in the Mac Mini. (more on the memory here) Still, I have heard no reports either way, so I can still hold out hope awhile longer.

In some ways, having to wait is a good thing because as I was trying to process some videos from our recent trip to Spain and all 80GB of the hard disk are filled up. Which, if you haven't filled up a drive on your Mac before -- I don't really recommend it. It's not as dreadful an experience once you cross the threshold in Windows, but still it is pretty bad.

Which means, I need to kill two birds with one stone. One, I decided to upgrade to a new internal hard drive -- this time with a 7200 RPM 2.5-inch SATA drive from (you can get one here: 320GB 7200-RPM SATA Drive). Unfortunately, the biggest size I could find at a reasonable (< $100) price in the 2.5-inch Mac Mini size was a 320GB drive by Western Digital.

Western Digital's Scorpio 7200-rpm 2.5-inch 320GB drive for upgrade hard drive for mac mini

The Western Digital Scorpio Drive.

I figured that would buy me a good amount of time and performance as well as buy me some time until I need an external drive for the Mac specifically.

With luck, both of my upgrades will be here before the end of the week. Which brings me to my next question, any recommendations on the best way to upgrade and copy the drive?

The way I look at it, there are two options:

1. Clone the current hard drive over to the new drive.
2. Do a fresh installation and then restore Time Machine back over the new installation.

Any thoughts on which might be the quickest and easiest path? In either case, I am planning on upgrading my Mac Mini to Snow Leopard before transfering between drives.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Sony GPS-CS3KA Image Tracker Review for Geotagging

As I posted a few weeks ago, my Eye-Fi Explore card was not really cutting it for me in terms of the geotagging capability based on WiFi networks. That initiated a search for me that ended up with me selecting the Sony GPS-CS3KA as a standalone device that could fill the void and provide the appropriate level of geotags I was looking for.

It was a careful evaluation concluding after about 4 hours of Internet research.

Other devices I considered included:
Sony GPS-CS1KASP GPS Unit for Sony Digital Cameras
GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr™ for Digital Cameras
Amod AGL3080 GPS Data Logger
ATP Photo Finder

In the end, what sold me on the Sony device were some of the reviews on the Internet, including Amazon; the relative size; the use of “AA” batteries; and the SD-Card slot which would allow me to quickly tag the photos without the need for a desktop piece of software to do all the associations. I placed the order on (you can find the Sony device here on Amazon: Sony GPS-CS3KA GPS Digital Imaging Accessory (White)) and expedited the shipping to 2 day to make sure I received it before we left for Spain.

The Sony GPS-CS3KA geotagging recorder for image tracking and geotag review

(The device also accepts a standard Sony Memory Stick as well as the SD-Card format. While this provides very little value to me since I shoot with Canon cameras, it may be appealing for those using Sony Cybershot or similar Sony camera.)

Having ordered it less than a week before our trip to Spain; I did not have much time to test out the device before heading out on our trip. I through some AA batteries, the device, and the manual in my camera bag and figure I would set it up once I arrived in Madrid, Spain.

Once I arrived in Spain and we were ready to start exploring – I found the setup of the device fairly easy. The reality is that there is not too much too it. Set the time (equal to that of your camera) and the GMT offset for the time zone you are in and you are off and running.

The first time I stepped out of our hotel in Madrid, I turned on the Sony GPS-CS3KA GPS tracker and waited for it to start up. In less than 2 minutes the device acquired the first GPS location at strength of 1 bar out of 3 – in another minute we were up to two bars out of three. I flipped the GPS tracker to hold position which locks in the current operating mode (on or off) so that it would not get accidentally shut off and dropped it into my pocket to capture our exploration of Madrid to later associate with any photos we were taking.

After returning to the hotel after about 6 hours, I checked out Sony GPS-CS3KA GPS and saw it was still capturing as expected. I dropped in the memory card from my Canon Powershot SD790 IS and it associated the initial 10 pictures that I took with the appropriate GPS locations, effectively geotagging the picture. Initially, the Sony GPS-CS3KA performed just as I expected – I was pretty happy.

On my second day of using the Sony GPS tracker, I was still feeling great about the GPS-CS3KA . After a full day of touring around Madrid, Spain and shooting another 50 pictures, the device still showed a strong battery (3 out of 3) on the single “AA” battery I started with – and here I was going on almost 20 hours of usage which was better than advertised.

I got back to the hotel on the second day and went through the same process taking the 4GB SD-Card out of my Canon Rebel XSi, inserted into the Sony GPS-CS3KA and started associating the GPS coordinates with the photos. Then about 8 pictures in, something went dreadfully wrong...the device just locked up and appeared to be shut off. I let it sit for approximately 10 minutes to see if it would recover – as the manually specifically states “Do not shut off during association or images may be permanently damaged” – after 10 minutes and no changes, I felt I had no other options.

First I tried to reset the device by using the on/off button and holding it down first for 10 seconds, and then for 60 seconds. No luck. My last resort was to open up the back case and then from there to pull the battery. After pulling the battery, I let the device sit for a couple of minutes and then reinserted the battery. The device powered on easily.

I then proceeded to attempt to associate the pictures with the appropriate GPS location coordinates again. This time, the entire picture set was processed by the device properly and it completed all 50 pictures in approximately 3 minutes – not too bad for a device powered by a single “AA” battery.

I then dropped the SD-Card into my laptop and was appalled at what I found. Approximately 20% of the pictures were corrupted beyond repair. Generally large, discolored lines ran throughout the photos of which an example of how the photos (although not actual, since I deleted them unexplainably) looked is below:

Corrupted image by Sony GPS-CS3KA during a image tracker geotag session

Major disappointment on the Sony GPS-CS3KA , at least I learned a lesson that I should backup or copy any photos before I tried to associate them with the GPS locations. Unfortunately a major drawback to the device, basically tying me to my laptop or desktop device is I needed to make a major backup of the images before I tagged them. At that point, I was really better off just using the Sony Picture Utility called the GPS Image Tracked to load the GPS logs and associate them to the pictures.

I figured that would be ok, and I would just perform them in batch. The only limitation in the GPS Image Tracker software is that it is heavily tied to Google Maps and their APIs without a significant cache. This renders it basically useless unless you have Internet connectivity which can be problematic in a number of situations – especially in Europe where hotels still want $30 a day for Internet access.

My next step was to just carry the Sony GPS-CS3KA GPS Tracker with me the next three days and capture the logs to associate the pictures later. The plan sounded good in theory and capturing the GPS logs worked pretty well. In fact, the battery life delivered better than expected results – lasting 25-30 hours per Duracell “AA” battery.

After the three days, it was time for the final test for the Sony GPS. I loaded up all of the GPS logs and attempted to associate all 300+ pictures with their GPS coordinates that I had meticulously collected. The process was about to start and upon clicking on the “Add Position Information to Files” button, a scary error message appears:

“If you add GPS log information to the media file “IMG_4042.JPG”, the file may not be displayed properly by some devices or programs. Do you want to continue?”

My first thought was, are you kidding me? I thought the whole purpose of the software was to add this kind of information to the pictures so they would show up in certain programs. Now you’re warning me it may not, or possibly corrupt them? Great.

Since I had already made a backup of the photos, I rolled the dice and let all the pictures process. Unfortunately, that led to extremely mixed results. For example, the pictures I took in Seville, Spain on 08/03/09 geotagged perfectly, but then the pictures on the other day were all over the map. Somehow the pictures taken in Madrid showed up as being in Segovia and those taken in Segovia in Avila. Perhaps it was an offset issue, but given the pictures from Seville looked accurate in both time and GPS location, I was at a loss.

Process of geotagging images with the Sony GPS-CS3KA

I figured I will mess with it when I returned home to see if I could generate better results. Still, a huge disappointment overall on the Sony GPS-CS3KA device in terms of it’s functionality, toolset, and reliability.

At this point, I am planning on returning the device to; even if it ends up geotagging the pictures properly. If I cannot rely on the built in memory card reader to tag the GPS coordinates without needing to use a bunch of software, most of the appeal of the devices and its “ease” really disappears.

It does not seem that much easier than my “poor man’s solution” that I have continued posting on (here) that combines a Blackberry, iPhone, or similar device with GPS functionality and Open Source applications to log and geotag pictures.

I may try out another device – any suggestions out there or possibly a manufacturer looking for a tester? If so, please leave a comment or send me an email. :-)

Oh, how I long for Canon DSLR add-on (perhaps as a “flash attachment”) or a GPS device embedded in a Canon camera that will make this easy. Canon, if you’re listening – I will buy the first DSLR that adds this functionality natively, if you added wireless connectivity and uploading – bonus points, but not critical since Eye-Fi solves that problem really well, maybe you could license their technology for that.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Blogging, Twitter, Privacy, and Security

One thing that many readers of my blog will notice is that I am posting all of our adventures in Spain to my blog after the trip has completed and we have returned home. This is a recent change in mindset for me and will continue to be a permanent personal policy around public announcement of our vacations and travels. That policy is that I will not either pre-announce travel plans or document travels while I am away from home on my blog or through Twitter.

From my point of view, it’s not the smartest thing to do from a personal privacy and security standpoint.

I made the decision some months ago around this policy as well as some other things that I will not choose to post here. And as time goes on and articles (like this one) come out around what posting certain things open you up to, it is just not worth the risk to me.

If you have either a public blog or post publicly on Twitter, I would ask you to consider a similar policy.

Think about least.

Take for example the vacation aspect...because; in effect you are announcing to the entire world that you are not home and will not be home. And regardless, whether or not you have an alarm on your apartment or house; or even a house sitter – is that something you really want to announce publicly?

While I am sure all of your readers and followers are good natured and have great intentions – how hard is it to Google a few blogs, or troll Twitter to find some folks that are out of town or on vacation? How much harder do you think it is for them to find out your address, phone number, or other information about you – even if you have an unlisted number, address?

And, if you feel compelled to share your adventures as they are happening in real-time, there are some great forums for that. A couple of options that immediately come to mind include:

- Facebook, assuming you tightly control your list of friends, which I do. (This is the method I use)
- Twitter, if you have a smaller, private list where you’re not blasting out your tweets to the entire world.

Again, I just encourage you to think about around having a personal policy on posting when you are out of town whether it is the right thing for you and your family. I know for now that it is just not for me.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Bank of America and Foreign ATMs – Spain Works Free!

Last year, I wrote a prolonged article about my experiences in Italy with ATMs as a Bank of America customer. A quick summary of that article was that I became surprised when I made withdrawals from Bank of America partners (Barclays, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, etc.) in Florence, Rome, and Venice – I was charged a number of different fees by Bank of America. These fees included a $5 non-network ATM fee plus an additional international conversation rate fee that amounted to XYZ per 300 euros.

After an email contact with Bank of America asking them to explain the reason since I withdrew the euros from their partner banks – I received a simple explanation. The reason Bank of America charged me was because the funds were not withdrawn in the country of the partnership. For example, Barclays had to be withdrawn in the UK (England) and for Deutsche Bank it had to be withdrawn in Germany.

Based on that message and the experience in Italy, I was under the assumption that the case would be the same on our recent vacation to Spain. One opportunity I saw was our transfer in Frankfurt to catch the flight to Madrid might afford the opportunity to find a Deutsche Bank and pull out as many euros as we possibly could to save ourselves about $20 per 300 euros ($5 international charge + 3% fee). This actually worked out really well, there were several Deutsche Bank ATMs in the Frankfurt Airport – and we were able to get 600 euros between the two of us and save ourselves $40! So, if you’re headed to Italy – try grabbing your Euros in an ATM in an airport in London (Heathrow), Paris, or Frankfurt to save some transaction and conversion fees.

But, in Spain – the good luck continued. As we started to run out of euros, I noticed that there were both Barclays and Deutsche Bank ATMs in Madrid. In fact the Deutsche Bank ATM was just a block from the Westin Palace Hotel where we staying – which I expected to be the identical situation as Italy – lots of fees.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised when I checked my bank account the next couple of days online. No additional fees for non network ATMs or the additional international conversion fees.

And it was not only in Madrid, the same thing occurred in Barcelona – an additional euro withdrawal there did not generate any additional fees. This leads me to conclude that it is likely that all Deutsche Bank locations in Spain do not generate fees for Bank of America ATMs cardholders. That’s great news as compared with Italy, especially since the Deutsche Bank ATMs are pretty much everywhere in Spain..

I did not confirm whether Barclays (which there are seemingly equal numbers of as Deutsche Bank) – if a reader can confirm Barclays with a comment, I would be happy to update the post.

After checking Bank of America’s website once again, there do not appear to be any significant changes (if any) to their international partnership and withdrawal policy. This leads me to conclude that their policy is not as straight forward and varies from country to country. For example, on my previous post a reader mentioned that they were able to withdrawal fee free in South Africa.

If enough folks are interested, I would be happy to continue updating this post with fee-free listings by country for Bank of America ATM withdrawals as they are confirmed by readers. Just let me know with a post below or an email:

For now, the list looks like this:

Able to withdrawal cash fee free with a Bank of America ATM card:
Australia (Westpac)
Canada (Scotiabank)
China (China Construction Bank)
France (BNP Paribas)
Germany (Deutsche Bank)
Mexico (Santander Serfin)
New Zealand (Westpac)
Spain (Barclays, Deutsche Bank)
UK (Barclays)
Barclays - United Kingdom

Fees charged for international network withdrawals:
Italy (All)

Good luck out there and happy fee free ATM withdrawal!

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