Tools for People with Multiple Machines – Dropbox

Most people today are now starting to use multiple systems. It is not uncommon for most folks to have a desktop PC and a laptop at the same time. But is there an easy way of ensuring that data that you need is available on all of your machines? You can easily do this with a USB key, but you really don’t have to.

As a user of a couple of MacBook Pro laptops, a windows Asus net book and a primary windows desktop PC, I have found a couple of tools that I use on a regular basis that help keep my information up to date on all machines. Most of these programs work on both Macs and PCs as well. This is the first post regarding a couple of these tools.

The first tool I want to write about is a little service called Dropbox available at

Dropbox is a free (they also offer a paid Pro accounts) service and software combination that gives you 2 GB of space, on a free account, to store and sync data between machines and to the web. Once you sign up for an account at the site, you then install the client software on your PC or Mac. There is even an application for the iPhone or iPod Touch. The software creates a folder in your My Documents folder called My Dropbox. Any files that are saved or moved into these folders are then synchronized to your Dropbox account on the web.

Once you install the software on multiple machines, when each computer connects to the Internet, the files in the My Dropbox folder get synchronized to and from the website.

Right now this is one of the most important pieces of software that I am using. I store documents that I may need in my dropbox folders (I have created a hierarchy of folders under that one folder) and I have access to these files from every one of my laptops and or desktop. In addition by going to the Dropbox site I can also access my files from any Internet connected machine.  You can also store photos, software programs virtually any type of files in your Dropbox account.

Another feature of Dropbox is that you can share files with family, friends and business associates. All you have to do is set up sharing via the web site (for a particular folder) and send the URL to whoever you want to share the file with. If they update the file or add files these can also be synced with your machines.

If you need more space a Dropbox Pro account costs 9.99 USD per month and you get 50GB of storage. If that is not enough, you can sign up for 100GB plan for 19.99 USD.

Right now running my own business in addition to being a soccer coach and member of our club’s board of directors, Dropbox allows me to move around and always have the information that I need wherever I go. For my uses the 2GB is just fine right now.

If you want to sign up for a free account please use the following link to do so. By using my link you will get an additional 250 MB of monthly storage as well as giving me an additional 250 MB of storage.

Watch for more posts in the coming weeks for more of the tools that I use to ensure that all of my data is synced up between multiple machines.

Download the Pictures from your Camera!

I recently saw a tweet on Twitter that reminded me of a very important thing. Just because you have a large memory card in your camera, make sure you get into the habit of taking your pictures off your digital camera every time you use it!

I’ll get back to the tweet later as it reminded me of a situation I found myself in a few years ago.

One thing I tell people when they are buying a new camera is don’t just buy the largest digital memory card you can find (or your camera supports)! My feelings are that you would be better off with 2 smaller cards than one large one! There are a couple schools of thought on this out there with some people saying that you risk dropping a card when you are trying to change them, while others say don’t put all of your eggs in one basket (or your pictures on one card). If you do use multiple cards make sure you flip the used card over in its case or the wallet. This way you won’t accidentally erase the cards.

I myself use 4, 4 GB  SanDisk Extreme III cards for my Canon 40D body and 2 Lexar Professional 8 GB cards for my Canon 5DMKII. There is usually one card in each camera and the rest are in their plastic cases in a Memory Card Wallet. I also keep my older 1 GB and 2 GB cards for additional storage.

Regardless of what size card you use, make sure you are taking the photos off on a regular basis. If I am using my cameras over a weekend, either Sunday night or Monday all of the cards are ejected, backed up and removed from the card.

One thing to note is that while if you are buying decent brand name cards, while it doesn’t happen often, these cards can go bad too. When and if they do you might not be able to access some of the data so if your pictures for the last two years are on there they will be gone too. What about if you accidentally format the card by pushing a wrong button on your camera?

How many times have you run into this scenario (I see it all of the time); you are out at an event taking pictures and suddenly there is no more room in your card. Now you have to make a decision of what pictures of Aunt Sally or other relatives that you can delete without feeling the wrath of your spouse in order to make room to take pictures at the event you are at. Sure you can go to the local convenience store and buy another card (although you will pay a little more) or it may not be that convenient! In the meantime how many shots are you missing because you are editing your pictures on the LCD screen on your camera!

Another tip is to edit your pictures as you go and if you have some bad shots, delete them right away.

Like I said I was encouraged to write this post after seeing a tweet from someone I am following on Twitter. Apparently after a day of a family event at the Dinosaur Museum the digital camera was lost (or stolen) and not only were the pictures from that day gone but a friends Mexican Family vacation photos were also gone. You never think it could happen to you but this is the story that it reminded me of!

My wife and I were on our first cruise in September 2006 for our 15th anniversary. When we got on board the ship and got our cabin, I pulled my camera out before leaving port and as we were exploring I started taking pictures. Then I noticed that my batteries were running low. Because I was using a battery grip with I went to charge one of the batteries right away. It was at that point that I noticed that although I had pulled out my battery charger, I guess I didn’t pack it! So I decided that I would use my wife’s point and shoot until we hit our first port (Key West, FL) and I could buy a battery charger. I also thought I would be able to borrow a charger from someone on the ship but most of the passengers were Nikon shooters and the Canon camera owners I found had different models and batteries.

So I used my wife’s Canon A540 point and shoot camera for the first two days of the cruise and got pictures of people we met on board, dolphins that were beside the ship as we were pulling out of port and a few Water Spouts we saw in the Gulf of Mexico!

When we got to Key West, I found a Radio Shack and got a universal battery charger and went on my way. I downloaded the pictures from my DSLR to my laptop every night  while we were on the cruise. I didn’t think of doing it with the Mrs’ point and shoot camera during the week because there was plenty of space on the card.,

One the Friday night of the cruise my wife went back to our cabin because of a migraine and I took her camera with me to meet some friends. I attended the on board show and grabbed a coffee then went back to check on my wife. At that point I realized that the camera was no longer in my pocket! I immediate went back to the lost and found at the purser’s desk and the theatre were I was sitting. No one had turned in the camera and it was not in the theatre. I checked continuously at the lost and found for the next two days and the camera was never turned in!

We weren’t upset by the loss of the camera but I was more upset that I lost a number of really good pictures that were on there. Those can’t be replaced but the camera can!

Ok you may say that you are careful with your camera and you won’t lose it, but what if you fall into water (or drop the camera). What if your bag get’s stolen? If all of your pictures are on the card inside the camera those could all be gone.

So what can you do. First of all get into the habit of downloading and saving your pictures to your card after most uses of it. That way when you go away your card is empty. Alternatively buy a couple of smaller cards and switch them daily or every two days. If you own a laptop you could always take your laptop with you on your vacation and download the cards there (don’t forget a card reader or USB cable).

Some people may want to take a laptop with them on vacation and there still are a few solutions out there. You can get a Netbook Laptop. These are typically sub 400.00 10” or smaller laptops running Windows XP or Linux (and soon Windows 7). Be careful to ensure that there is ample storage space on these machines as some of them come with 8 or 16 GB Solid State drives and may not be large enough to hold a couple of your cards. I used an Asus 1000H on my cruise last year and it comes with a 160GB drive so I was able to store photos on there (I also copied all photos to an external Seagate 160GB USB hard drive, but that is my paranoia). In addition you can use these little machines to do email, web surf, Skype and virtually everything you can do on a full sized machine.

Understandably some people would not want to take a laptop with them on holidays (I need one for my own business purposes) so what can they do?

Well there are several things.. Some MP3 Players will allow you to download from a digital camera to the spare storage space on the device (I had a 60 GB Creative Zen Vision that could) and there are a few other devices that could.

The lowest price device I have is a small 40.00 box that allows you to hook a card reader (or digital camera) up to one side and a USB key to the other and hit the transfer button. This will move all photos from one device to the other. It operates on 4 AAA batteries and while it is a little slow does it jobs.

There are also several other devices that Pro and Amateur Photographers use for infield backup. Epson makes a couple of devices that while are expensive (480.00 CAN +) have LCD screens and built in slots for downloading and viewing images. There is a product called the SmartDisk Photobank that is the same idea but does not have an LCD screen for viewing images on. This device is limited to 40GB of space and sells for about 160.00 CAN. There is also the Digital Foci that is almost the same except with a larger internal drive (250GB) as well as a larger price 230.00 CAN. B and H Photo sells some devices starting at around 100.00 USD.

I recently picked up a new Hyperdrive  Colorspace UDMA  enclosure from a company called Sensuz Media in Toronto. This company had one unit left in stock and I also found that they were the lowest priced in Canada. I purchased the empty enclosure as I had 3 160 GB Notebook hard drives kicking around the house here and this is one of the few products that allow for Hard Drive upgrades (in fact you can get it with up to a 500GB Hard Drive). The price was 289.00  + Shipping and Taxes, and I had it in a week. I took an old 160 GB Sata Drive off the shelf, opened the enclosure, slid the drive in, closed the enclosure and turned the device on. It formatted the drive and was ready to go!

I haven’t had much of a chance to test the device as my wife took it with her for her annual trip to Winnipeg, but in my first test I downloaded a 4GB Sandisk card (about 3.5 GB used) in 2.5 minutes. In addition the device has a colour LCD screen that photos can be viewed  on. There are slots for SD (6 in 1) and CF cards on the device, a replaceable rechargeable battery (claimed to be good for 250GB of data transfer), an AC adaptor, USB cable and soft case in the box. I had it working in 5 minutes after opening the box (drive installation included). All you do is pop a card in, hit backup and wait for it to be done. The data is even checked after copying!

When I get the device back next week I hope to do some further testing on it with different cards etc, but I can see this as a device that almost everyone in my family will be asking to borrow when they go away! Watch here for a more detailed review soon.

I hope that I have explained just how easy it is to lose your pictures just by not removing them from your digital camera’s memory card. While removing them helps you should also be sure to make sure you have a backup plan in place for these photos while they are on your computer at home! I have already written several posts here on backing up your home PC and even how I, a computer guy, recently lost a folder of pictures on a fairly new hard drive because I hadn’t started backing up that folder yet! Just do a search here on the Blog for backups.

Didn’t Follow My Own Rules!

Well yesterday I didn’t follow my own backup rules and got burned! On my main desktop I had a 500 GB Seagate drive connected via an eSata dock to the system. I was trying to copy files to this drive (an XP CD and SP3) to make a bootable XPSP3 CD for a client when I started to get drive errors!

Eventually I couldn’t access the drive at all. I tried several things to get access to the drive including several data recovery software packages and had no luck. While most of the data on this drive was backed up folders or data that I had backed up in another location, there was one folder containing pictures that I had shot of both my son’s and daughters soccer teams in various games and tournaments this season. In total there was about 3500 photos there. Unfortunately I didn’t back up this folder anywhere (against my own rules)!

Regular readers will know that I am an Adobe Lightroom user and luckily I didn’t store the catalogue for these photos in the same folder (they are on my main drive and yes these are backed up regularly to my various NAS devices).

I opened the Lightroom and could see that I had the previews for the images in the database, and so I searched the web to see if these could be extracted to jpg files. I ran across this post which in turn led me to this software I downloaded the software, installed it and was able to save all of the preview images as jpg files. Earlier today I found that my favorite Lightroom plugin author also has a similar plug in on his site that is available here

While these are lower resolution files than what I originally had at least for posting to the web and allowing the parents to print 4 x 6 images they will be fine. Another thing I noticed is that not all of the preview files were full sized. Most of the images that I had marked for export were in a larger size however there are a few images that were a little smaller.

Thanks to these two tools, I was able to get back some of the images that I wanted to share with others.

All in all I learned my lesson yet again. I will remember this problem and have already set up MS Sync Toy to run as a scheduled task on my system and backup all photo related folders to my Drobo on the DroboShare or my HP WHS.

Once again I hope that this is a lesson learned for anyone about how easily it is to lose data if you don’t back up properly!