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Tag: Dropbox

How to Share Your Birthday Video with Flip4Mac

I captured the moment that defined my son’s third birthday.  But there were 43 more seconds of video action I was hoping someone in the crowd would get.  The next gauntlet would be to convert the video from QuickTime to Windows Media.  More cake, anyone?

I captured the moment that defined my son’s third birthday. But there were 43 more seconds of video action I was hoping someone in the crowd would get. The next gauntlet would be to convert the video from QuickTime to Windows Media. More cake, anyone?

My boy just had his third birthday party.

And the best part was… he understood what it was all about!

  • He shouted with glee, “I’m three!”
  • He understood he received presents from all his friends
  • He loved blowing out the candles
  • He couldn’t wait to eat the cake
    (that part was never difficult)

Home run.

And as if experiencing all these wonderful moments at yesterday’s party wasn’t enough, I also wanted to capture some of them for posterity.

You know. A few pictures. A couple videos.
What could go wrong?

The Birthday Song
I don’t know why the ‘Happy Birthday’ song is such an iconic moment at birthday parties.

The sixteen words almost command the same attention as-
“I do.”

If you miss it, it’s like the whole shebang didn’t even happen.

So I was eager to ensure I got my preschooler’s birthday-song moment on video.
I had all three of my cameras on hand and fully charged:

  • Two Canon pocket cameras (S100 and Elph 300) and my Canon DSLR (old T1i)

My wife and I had a couple ringers (other parents) in the crowd to help us capture the moment. I would be right next to my boy and technically part of the action.
(hard to pull double duty in that situation)
So I held onto the DSLR to take a couple quick candle-blowing close ups and relied on the two pocket cameras to do the heavy lifting for the video assignment.

If You Don’t Have the Video, Did the Birthday Party Happen?
I didn’t need two separate camera angles, but I wanted a back up plan if one of the cameras or volunteer camera operators ran into trouble.
You know… Murphy’s Law.
And guess what happened…?

One of the two pocket cams switched hands at the last minute.
Probably due to a moment requiring the juggling of children,
or some such understandable redirection of parental resources.

Then, apparently my video directive became diluted, and the substitute videographer shot a couple of photos instead of video.
D’oh!!

And the fate of the other camera operator?

Fortunately, he came through with flying colors.
(not that I had any real doubts… I had hand-picked this parent.
He had previously demonstrated the innate flexibility of a documentary cinematographer at other Lester events.
I know talent when I see it!)

So as they say… “I got the shot!”

Let Your Smartphone Share Your Magic Moments
Again, I don’t understand why the birthday song is such a ‘must capture’ moment, or why I’ve become so focused on it.

Maybe, it so effectively summaries the entire event, like a newspaper headline.

Plus, the whole candle blowing ritual has turned into a kind of sport for children.
(Will all the candles get blown out at once?!)

So once you’ve gone through all the effort to capture your boy’s birthday video vérité, you probably want to share it…

No big deal, right?

Case in point:
Before we had even said goodbye to all our guests, the first video came in via a friend’s iPhone. That ease of sharing via smartphones almost defies linear time!

If you can practice your video sharing via smartphone voodoo, I highly recommend it, as long as your video snippets are short.

The Limits of Streaming Your Life
Another way to share your home videos is to simply upload them to a streaming-friendly website like YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook.

So what’s the problem?

Yes, you’ve shared your life’s precious moments via a streaming solution, but you haven’t truly ‘given’ them to anyone yet.

Remember, ‘streaming’ is not ‘downloading.’
(although you can sometimes download a file after you watch the stream)

  • An Internet connection may not always be available for streaming access
  • Your family and friends may eventually lose your link to access your file online
  • Your file may not exist forever online

If this sounds like the beginnings of an argument against the Cloud,
it’s not.
…or is it?

Let’s not go there…

Let’s just say today’s task is to simply get the birthday-song video to Grandma.

Four Steps to Get Your Home Movie from Your Apple Ecosystem to Grandma’s House
If you want Grandma to always have access to the video, she’ll have to download your file to her computer’s hard drive.

Step 1:
First, download your two-minute HD movie from your digital camera to your Apple computer.

Immediately, you’ve got two problems:

  • It’s a hulking 200 MB file.
    (so it’s too large to email out)
  • Grandma has a PC that can’t play QuickTime Movies
    These days, most cameras natively create their video files in the QuickTime format.
    (So you’ll need a way to convert it to a Windows Media file.
    More on this later…)

Step 2:
If you want to retain the full HD quality of your video, you’ll have to use a file sharing service like Dropbox or YouSendIt.

Once you upload your video, you’ll receive a downloadable web link to share.
If Grandma can handle the several steps to the download and save process, that’s clearly the way to go.

But if it’s too complicated, and she needs a one-click solution,
you’ve got to go old school:
Email the file to her.

Step 3:
Your next challenge is to compress your video before emailing it out.
(Translation: Sacrifice its quality and crush it small enough to fit into an email.)

I recommend using Apple’s ‘Compressor’ or QuickTime to reduce the video frame’s size and the frame rate.

Step 4:
Now, it’s time to convert your movie to a Windows Media file.

Can you cook up a Windows Media file with the QuickTime player?
Nope.
(remember, Apple doesn’t really like the Windows universe)

Has someone else figured out a fix?
Of course!

The solution I use is Flip4Mac.

It’s a product from Telestream that easily converts your MOVs into WMVs.
But it’s going to cost you:

The free Flip4Mac Player version simply lets you play WMVs on a Mac.

If you want to convert WMVs to MOVs, you’ll need the $29 Player Pro version.

But you want to go the other way.
That trick will set you back $49.
It’s called the ‘Studio’ version.

$49 to convert your movie to a WMV for Grandma?
That’s right.
(What? Now, you want to nickel-and-dime Grandma?!)

Believe me, this software will not have a one-time use.
It’s worth it.

This Is Not a Drill!
So I took my boy’s 140.8 MB Happy Birthday moment, which runs 44 seconds, and decided to email it to my mother-in-law who does, in fact, require a WMV version.

For those in the know, video compression is a fine art.
There are countless ways to get the WMV file to the finish line…
But for those of you who want a quick and simple solution, here’s how you do it:

Compress Your Movie

  • When your movie is open in QuickTime, under the File dropdown, choose ‘Export’
  • Under the Format dropdown: choose ‘480p’
  • Click on ‘Export’

This simple compression reduced the data rate and quickly dropped my frame size from 1280 x 720 pixels down to 640 x 360 pixels.
More importantly, it reduced my MOV file from 140.8 MB to a manageable 13.7MB.

Convert QuickTime to Windows Media with Flip4Mac

  • Then I converted the MOV into a 320 x 180 pixel WMV via the Flip4Mac integration with QuickTime.

And the final product?

Voilà!
I created an easy-to-digest 4.6 MB file to email Grandma.

Yes, the frame size is really tiny, but otherwise it looked and sounded reasonably good!

Easy as Pie
So there you have it.
Four easy steps, and now you too can sing with glee,
“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house your video file will go!”

All I Want is to Have my Peace of Mind and Cloud Storage

It’s time to fly your data to the Cloud. Now boarding at Gate B9… all your precious files selected for Cloud storage!

Okay, Cloud.
Show me your stuff.

I need a bulletproof digital storage solution.
Why?
I’ve got a wonderful two-year-old son.
And he’s proudly running about the house like a Tasmanian devil.

My home tech is afraid.
He took down my sturdy Epson printer in 3.7 seconds with a shiny penny.

And he loves to climb.
(Anyone know of a good indoor rock-climbing program for toddlers?)

Nothing is safe.
I worry about my iMac.

Yes, I back it up with Apple’s Time Machine and an external drive,
but really… So what?
Nothing is totally safe…especially in close proximity to a toddler.

These days, everyone is opining about the magic of the Cloud, and how you can safely and cheaply store all your digital files there.

So, problem solved?

This is what I have to say to the Cloud-
Put up or shut up.
Bring it on!

Archive the Family Photos and Videos
I began this project with the singular goal of simply backing up two massive sets of files on my iMac:

  • My always-growing home video archive
  • And my bulging photo collection, which lives in Apple’s Aperture (the beefier cousin to iPhoto)

I figured in the unlikely scenario of total calamity, I would at least have these precious memories safely backed up to the Cloud.
(Where nothing could ever go wrong.)

Who Gets to Go in the Life Boat?
But when you consider what digital content you absolutely can’t lose, the issue gets cloudier.

My life merged with my home computer sometime around Y2K.
Since then, most everything that’s happened to me has some digital footprint on my computer. Unless you’re a Luddite, you’re probably in the same boat.

Think about it.
Remnants of the past decade of your life live all over your computer’s hard drive.
Talk about baggage.

Pop quiz:
If you woke up one morning, and a voice said you had to leave home forever, and you had one hour to take only what you could carry, would you be ready?

Well, if you’d been dutifully doing your annual spring-cleaning, you might be up to the task.

Well, have you?

I think the same story goes for many personal computers out there
…and their flawed users.
How organized is all the data on your computer?
If you had to immediately select just 10% of your content to save, would you know where to start?

I certainly wouldn’t.

Now is every megabyte of my digital life absolutely critical to save for posterity?
I don’t think so.

Remember, my plan was just to back up my videos, photos and home movies.
All the unused footage I left on the cutting room floor could go, right?

The problem is, I’ve fallen a tad behind in my home editing.
My boy is almost two-and-a-half, and I’m still working on some of his precious video moments from last year.

Now that’s an entirely separate problem, but you can see where I’m going.

Forget the spring-cleaning analogy.
Life is messy.
Your computer follows your life.
Get used to it.

So where does that leave you?
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Mind-Numbing Number of Cloud Solutions
There are plenty of companies out there in the cloud storage business.
You even can even pick up some free storage from some of them, but you’ll hit a cap quickly.

Free Cloud Storage:

The best free deal out there I’ve found is 50 gigs from MediaFire.
The only catch is the per file limit is 200 megs, which severely limits video archiving.

But none of these free choices will handle the storage needs of a long-term media file archiving plan.

Fifty Bucks Can Save Your Digital World
At the $50/year price point though, things start to get interesting-

$50 – $100 Plans:

For the uber-organized individual, this could be enough storage to do the job.

Affordable Unlimited Storage Plans?!
There are also a few companies out there offering unlimited Cloud storage at similar price points.

What?! Unlimited? That sounds crazy!
Yes, it seems counter intuitive, but the all-you-can-eat plans are far more economical.

These loss leader deals are baked into full service back-up strategies as opposed to a simple Cloud rental. They work much like Time Machine.
Set it and forget it, and they’re automatically updating your files in the background to Cloud servers.

Here are some popular ones I uncovered for both Macs and PCs:

Unlimited Storage Plans:

I’m not sure how these companies pull a profit with this pricing, but they must know what they’re doing.

Unlimited Storage is Hard to Beat
So for me, it really came down to two choices:

  • Rent 50 GB or 100 GB for long term archiving for something under $100/year
  • Or buy an unlimited back up Cloud plan for the same amount or less

You do the math.

But as wonderful as these unlimited plans appeared, I didn’t really want the complication of downloading some third-party software and then have it running in the background, syncing files 24/7 on my computer for the next…
Well, forever.

Forced to Choose
But, I realized if I chose a limited Cloud storage plan,
I’d find myself with sort of a digital Sophie’s Choice.

With that scenario, I’d be forced to take the time to select which precious files get rescued.

And that process would require me to undertake the dreaded decade’s worth of digital spring-cleaning. And how much time does that take?

I don’t know.
Because I pressed the button that says,
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve got unlimited back up.”

Yep, it’s all going up to the Cloud.

CrashPlan+ Unlimited or Bust
So I made my move and pulled the trigger with a company called Code 42 Software.
I chose their CrashPlan+ Unlimited one-year plan with downloadable software and a convenient desktop interface.

In addition to receiving universally good reviews, CrashPlan’s value proposition was really compelling.

Plus, a recent CNET post pointed me to a particularly good CrashPlan promotion.
When you read it, you’ll notice you may not meet the one requirement to get the deal, but CNET recommends you still go for it.

So do I.

(The key word I’m not mentioning here rhymes with tree.
We’ll speak no more of this.)

The Cloud’s Achilles’ Heel
CrashPlan’s software download and set-up were super simple.
(My concerns were unfounded.)
I was ready to begin backing up in ten minutes.

But as I sat staring at CrashPlan’s control panel to confirm the selection of my files to encrypt and send to the Cloud, I remembered one problem inherent with using the Cloud:

It’s the limitation of your own network’s upload/download speeds.
You’re never going to come close to the speed of transferring your files to a physical drive via a FireWire or USB cable.

And then I viewed CrashPlan’s time prediction to complete the job.
It said, “Time to backup – 39 days.”
(I’m not kidding.)
I have close to a terabyte of data, because of all the video I’ve collected over the years.
And this assumes my computer is awake 24/7.

I opened my movies folder and realized I had 519 gigs of video waiting to blast off.
And that month-long estimate is at a 2.1Mbps upload speed.
(Individual mileage may vary.)

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
So my brilliant plan had one big hiccup.
My data isn’t getting to the Cloud until sometime next month.

I hope Mr. Disaster isn’t waiting around the corner.

For those who don’t have the patience, there’s a shortcut.
CrashPlan offers a service called “Seeding.”
For $125, they’ll send you a one-terabyte hard drive in the mail. You put your massive files on it and mail it back. Then, they’ll load it up to your Cloud account within five to ten days.

Snail mail beating the speed of the Internet?
How wonderfully analog.

I considered the seeding solution but decided I should probably attack the real problem and finally face some digital spring-cleaning.

So I committed a precious hour of my free time.
(Parenthood and work consume much of the rest.)
I organized a portion of my video and photo files and brought my digital mountain down to 572 GB and only 25 days of uploading.
Not a bad return on a one-hour investment.
(Maybe there is something to this quaint custom called ‘organization.’)

Unlimited Peace of Mind?
I wanted peace of mind, and I got a ‘set it and forget it’ solution.
That fits the bill, right?

But you can never just set it and forget it.
You can’t just pack up your digital mess and ship it to the Cloud every year.
No matter how much the cost of digital storage continues to drop, any attic is only so big.

I think I’ll try to extend my “Digi-Org” to keep my Cloud files in check.

So today, I got a really good deal. But that’s only for the next 365 days.
What’s my future cost to maintain a personal terabyte in the Cloud?
How about ten terabytes?
Sure the sky’s the limit, but it’s going to cost you!

I originally imagined I would simply rent some Cloud space for years to come and create my little digital archive, kind of like a safety deposit box.

It would seem that’s still an idea slightly ahead of its time.

Plus, you’ve got to wonder which companies are going to be around in the upcoming decades. (no disrespect intended)
But the expectation that you’ll never have to move your archive to a different provider is probably unrealistic.

28 Days Later
So how do I like CrashPlan?
I’ll let you know next month.
(As I write this, I’m only 29.6 GB into the upload. 542.3 GB to go…)
For now, I’ve got Time Machine and my external G-Tech backup drive watching my digital back.

As if my own fears surrounding the safety of my home media files aren’t enough, don’t forget the world apocalypse is just around the corner.
(The Mayan Calendar Ends on December 21st.)

Well, look on the bright side.
The planet may be gone, but all my critical data will be living safely in the Cloud.

Five Tips to Rescue your Best Summer Family Photos

Your family vacation is over. Now, you’ve got hundreds of photos to organize after you track in sand to your bedroom. Still feeling relaxed? Don’t burst your vacation bubble. It’s time to rescue your best photo memories!

Remember the Star Trek episode titled “The Trouble with Tribbles” where those cute furballs kept replicating like rabbits? Everyone loved them, but those darn tribbles quickly clogged up the Enterprise. At the end of the episode, the tribbles find their way into a poisoned storage bin of quadrotriticale (grain) destined for a hungry human colony. All the tribbles have a big feast and then get a huge stomach ache. (A lot of them actually starve surrounded by all that food, but I guess the AHA wasn’t on the set that day.)

What does this have to do with your digital photo collection from your summer fun?

Here’s today’s cautionary warning:
You too can starve with a computer full of amazing family photos.

The Quadrotriticale Paradox
We all want to share our best vacation moments with family and friends. But I’ve discovered an ironic phenomenon, which I’ll coin the
“Quadrotriticale Paradox.”

It suggests the more vacation pictures you bring home that clog up your computer, the smaller the chance you’ll actually share your best photos.
There is a clear inverse probability.

I just got back from a weeklong family beach vacation.
And I’ve been known to snap a photo or two. This time, it was more like 522.
We shared a beach house with another family. And they had their own ‘photoholic’ who took really great pictures. At the end of the trip, we swapped our respective photos through Dropbox.

Now, I was blessed with 692 photos!
That’s a whole lot of tribbles to manage, even for me.

Where do you start?
Well, many folks just upload their snapshots someplace where people can take a look.

I often watch with envy as some of my friends regularly share their photos on Facebook and other social platforms.
But, honestly, some of the photos seem a little half-baked. Not quite ready for prime time.

But who really cares?!
They’re not submitting their photos to an amateur photo competition.
My friends are successfully sharing their lives in the moment.
That’s the only point, and they’re getting the job done!

But if you’re a photoholic like me, you can’t do that.
Nobody wants to look at hundreds of your vacation photos (especially my dad).

And what about your best photos… your little magic gems?
You know, the ones where people say, “Wow, how did you get that?!”

The Curse of the DSLR
Capturing magic shots of your toddler requires the fine art of snapping away and waiting to get lucky. This is especially true using a DSLR. But you’re inevitably creating an excess of mediocre shots in search of the perfect photo.

So maybe you get fifty gems (not a bad catch).
But they’re all buried under hundreds of inferior versions.

Now what?

Tip #1 – You Must Sift through all your Photos to Find the Gems

There’s No Magic Bullet
You have to go through each photo to choose the best ones. Sorry.
I use a numbering system. 1 through 5.
Both iPhoto and Apple’s Aperture allow you to do this.

Here are my rating rules-

1- Total failure. Give it an immediate appointment with the trash bin.
2- Really bad photo. Trash it unless it’s the only shot of something special.
3- Just okay. Decide whether to trash it another time.
4- Good photo, but there’s a better version of it.
5- The better version or simply a great picture.

Once I’m done with this evaluation, I adjust the photo album to display in an ascending order based on the ratings I’ve just assigned the pictures.

Then, I review the 2’s again just to make sure I wasn’t too harsh before I delete them. Sometimes a few of them get a reprieve and get bumped up to a 3.

Then I move the 1’s and 2’s into the trash, and DELETE!
Your worst photos are now gone forever.
Now it’s time to focus on the pictures you want to show off.
And those are your 5’s.

Tip #2 – You Can’t Share Your Photos if You Lose Them

Preparing for the End of the Mayan Calendar
I occasionally take the 5’s and put them in a folder called “Best of 2012.” That folder is what I use for my end of year photo books as well as my “end of world” photo back-up strategy.

Sure, I’ve got Time Machine on an external Lacie hard drive for my iMac. But when you’re on vacation, does anyone else have nightmares about coming home to some disaster?

So to start my vacation with peace of mind on the photo archiving front, I do a second back up of all the 5’s to another portable hard drive, which I then pop into a small SentrySafe firebox.

I’m not sure if that will protect against an invasion of angry mutant tribbles.
But I always sleep a little sounder my first night away on vacation.
Don’t judge.

Tip #3 – Share Your Photos Quickly

Your Family Photos have an Expiration Date
I’ve learned a painful lesson capturing photos of my toddler over the past two years. Children grow up fast. No one is interested in last month’s photo. They want to see what he did yesterday!

Case in point…

On the Monday after I returned from vacation, I hadn’t yet had time to take the hour needed to do the prep I describe above.
All I could do was quickly choose three pictures that jumped out and print them to show off at the office. (Colleagues want to see!) I figured a few hard copies should cover it. I also downloaded the complete mass (mess) to my iPhone as part of my normal data syncing process.

So I almost got through the day…
But before I headed home, I went to get a haircut.
(I had gotten a little shaggy over vacation.)

As soon as I mentioned the beach trip to my hair stylist, she immediately demanded to see pictures. I warily pulled out my iPhone and flipped to the middle of the 692 where I knew there were a few good shots back to back. I thumbed through them and swiftly made my move to put my iPhone away, hoping I had satisfied her.

Not quite.

Instead, she took the phone out of my hand and kept flipping through what seemed like hundreds of number 3 photos. I was mortified.
These photos weren’t supposed to be seen! They were 3’s!!
Holy frak… that one was a 2!! Stop!!!
Time crawled to a halt.

Finally, she had her fill, and handed back my phone.
She was beaming. “You have such a beautiful family,” she said.
And my haircut continued. Perhaps I had overreacted.

But I decided I wasn’t going to get cornered unprepared again.

Tip #4 – Perfection of Process is Overrated

Throw Out the Handbook
Sometimes, when time is working against you, you’ve got to just get it done.
That means forget about Tip #1.

So that night, still without the requisite hour to whip my photos into shape, I quickly browsed again, found ten more photos, threw them into a folder, and synced them to my iPhone with the original three I had printed out.

The next day, I got pressed twice to give up the goods, but now I was ready. Having the hastily prepped photos ready to display on my iPhone was all it took to satisfy my paparazzi.

The lucky thirteen weren’t necessarily the best of my 692.
But in the moment, they did the job.

I suddenly feel the urge to offer a relevant quote from a movie-
“Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing.”
(Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen)

You’re welcome.

I know I’m not saving the universe here, but in my little world…
Mission accomplished!

Tip #5 – Finish the Job and Tame the Beast

Show off your Photo Bling
After the firestorm of immediacy subsides, you may return to your regularly scheduled programming.
(And don’t forget to quickly share the baker’s dozen online or via email.)

So you’ve got your all your 5’s.
Time to buff out the gems to perfection. (color balance, brightness, crop, etc.)
This will take some time. But it’s worth it, because these are the pictures you’ll print and distribute, and use to create your photo books.

Remember, don’t wait too long to share or suffer the consequences of an indifferent audience.

The other downside to delaying this part of your photo organization is you’ll eventually develop such a backlog of pictures you’ll never catch up.
You’re always taking new shots, and the wild of your disorganized photo jungle will continue its creep!

Over the course of time, you’re easily managing many thousands of pictures.
It’s a beast that needs to be kept under control.

Or else.

Now go tame your jungle and hunt down your best summer pictures!

And if you come across a wild tribble or discover a way to stretch the fabric of time, please let me know!

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