At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: The Trouble with Tribbles

If You Snap a Family Photo and Nobody Sees It, Does It Really Exist?

This nixplay WiFi Cloud Frame is a digital photo frame with lots of tricks to help display your photos. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time.

This nixplay WiFi Cloud Frame is a digital photo frame with lots of tricks to help display your photos. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time.

My life as the family photographer feels like a huge storage container of ‘quadro- triticale’ and a bunch of tribbles.

If you’re not familiar with the classic “Star Trek” episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles,” Captain Kirk uncovers a Klingon conspiracy to poison relief supplies designated for a distant planet‘s population. He realizes the evil plot when an expanding family of cute tribbles starve in a poisoned shipment of wheat.

The Trouble with Too Many Family Photos
I’m taking thousands of pictures a year, but you wouldn’t know it.
Neither would most of my family or friends.
Because the photos are buried away in my computer’s hard drive, burdened down by a self-inflicted organization and processing system I designed.

My original plan was solid (or so I thought):

  • Take lots of photos
  • Separate the digital wheat from the chaff every week
  • Upload the very best online to share with family and friends
  • Print photo albums by the year or event
  • Print one-off photos with your home printer

But I didn’t properly factor in the variable of time allocation per photo…

My system’s fatal flaw:
There are simply too many pictures to go through.
And now I’ve fallen behind…way behind.

I’ve talked before about the challenges of organizing vast numbers of digital family photos.

Yesterday’s Photo is Yesterday’s News
I’m a busy father.
Looking through all my photos every week isn’t exactly at the top of my to-do list.

My review process has slowed so dramatically, I’m getting to photos of my three and half year old son that don’t really look like him anymore!

And when they say a picture is worth a thousand words… that’s for yesterday’s picture. Six months from now, that cute photo of my boy ‘rowing his boat’ in a laundry basket still may be a keeper, but our extended family and friends want to know what he did six days ago!

So in a manner of speaking, family photos have an expiration date.

Life moves pretty quickly.
Your photos had better keep up!

Digital Photo Frames to the Rescue?
The same rule goes for sharing your photos at home with the inner circle…
So I decided it was time to update ‘the plan.’

One option was to simply take fewer pictures.
(Believe me… that would solve a lot of problems.
I almost pine for the days when you only had 24 or 36 shots to work with.)

The other ‘obvious’ solution is to power up a digital photo frame to help get those photos quickly in front of the family’s eyeballs.

I know this isn’t a revolutionary solution.
In fact, digital photos frames are already yesterday’s tech.

The idea of buying a digital screen and loading it up for the one purpose of rotating a group of photos isn’t as wonderful as it once was.
You can already display photos on all the other digital screens you own.

Who needs to spend money on another one?

Plus, I’ve generally found digital photo frames to be a pain to use.
(They’re just glitchy!)

Maybe since they never became such a hot tech commodity, all the kinks never got worked out.
(Not that I’ve tested all of them…)

That said, I’ve bought two digital photo frames so far,
including the positively-reviewed Pix- Star PXT510WR02 for my father a year ago.

I found the Pix-Star to be perfectly functional but also somewhat unresponsive whenever I tried adding more photos into the mix. The Pix-Star was supposed to make the upload process really simple, because it can pull existing photos from one of my Flickr family albums.
(It’s web connected.)

Third Time’s the Charm?
But I haven’t given up.
I’ve been paying attention to see when a new digital photo frame that could be a game changer hits the market …

Recently I noticed a new player:

nixplay Cloud Frame

The Nixplay WiFi Cloud Frame

It’s just come out and was displayed at CES 2014.

Nixplay’s Cloud Frame’s particular trick is it can access your pictures not only from your hard drive, but also from Facebook, Instagram and Picasa. Then you create your own albums and slideshows on nixplay.com and finally send them to your web-connected frame.

Plus, it’s got a motion sensor. So it can turn off when you’re not in the room.

Sweet!

Beta be Good!
For full disclosure, this Nixplay Cloud Frame is also a beta version.
But I figured it’s got to work since it was on sale at Amazon.

Click.

Buyer beware…
Beta versions always come with risks…

Setting up my nixplay and connecting it to my wireless network went smoothly enough, but as soon as I tried loading up some photos, I ran into a bit of trouble.

As in… I couldn’t load any photos onto the frame!

Yes, I was able to upload the photos onto my nixplay web albums, though a few pictures didn’t make it up to the nixplay cloud on the first try.
Instead, I got a scary ‘communications error’ message.
(A second attempt was ultimately successful.)

But when there’s smoke, there’s usually fire…

So Close and Yet So Far
For almost a day, I couldn’t get the frame to pull down any of the photos from the nixplay cloud.

NONE!

But it did recognize the existence of my online slideshows.
Just not any of the photos!

ARGH!!!!

Actually, all of the blank slideshows didn’t always show up in the menu.
Getting confused…?
Exactly.

NIXPLAY, WE HAVE A PROBLEM!

Nix the Nixplay?
When I first unpacked the nixplay, on the top of the its screen, there was a peel-able sticker that read,
“Congratulations on being one of our first nixplay customers. We are really excited to have you as part of the family!”

The feeling’s not mutual.

  • I’ve lost time trying to get this beast to work!
    (that precious commodity I was trying to save in the first place)
  • I’ve lost money!
    I just saw the nixplay’s price on Amazon has suddenly dropped 20% to $79.99!!!
    (I guess that $20 price drop is good for the next guy… though that’s predicated on the frame actually working!)
  • And I’ve lost a happy ending for this post!

But it gets worse.

The Taunt of the Intermittent Problem
To demonstrate further proof that technology has already reached a sentient stage… the next day, my frame inexplicably started working.
It started sucking in the photos.

Not all of them, mind you…. but a lot.
I think it was taunting me.

So what’s going on here?

  • More communication errors?
  • Or perhaps, it’s normal for nixplay photos to take their time downloading to the frame
    (so much for instantaneous gratification)

The questions keep pouring into my brain like water into a leaky Octonauts submarine toy during bath time.

Help At Home with Tech!
I’ll reach out to nixplay’s tech support for help…
But this kind of thing is really supposed to work from the start.

A device that works some of the time is the worst kind of tech to keep around.
It should either work right or not at all.
(I think I was happier when the frame remained stubbornly blank!)

Owning a solid digital photo frame shouldn’t be a pipe dream!
Like flying cars, it still seems like such a great idea!!

But it looks like Amazon could be getting a return very soon…

(If anyone out there has a recommendation for a good digital frame that’s not hobbled in some inscrutable way, please let me know!)

Stay tuned…
(Ugh)

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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