A review of Google’s Backup and Sync

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Google launched this new service in the second half of 2017. I remember being prompted by the Google Drive app to install an upgrade, and after it completed, I noticed a new app called “Backup and Sync” had been installed, and the Google Drive app had become an alias.

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The new app sat there unused for some time, until I discovered its new capability, namely to back up and sync other folders on my computer, not just the Google Drive folder. This was and is good, new functionality for Google, because it ties in very nicely with its Photos service, which has already been offering the ability to back up all of the photos and videos taken with mobile devices to the cloud through the Google Photos mobile app. I’ve been using Google Photos for several years, going back to when it was called Picasa Web.

I set it to back up all of my photos and videos, allowing Google to compress them so I could back up the whole lot. (It’s the “High quality (free unlimited storage)” option selected in the screenshot posted below.)

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I already back up all of my data with Backblaze, which I love and recommend, but it doesn’t hurt to have a second online backup of my media, even if it gets compressed. Having lost some 30,000 images and videos a few years back, I know full well the sting of losing precious memories and when it comes down to it, I’d rather have a compressed backup of my stuff than none at all.

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The thing is, there are shortcomings and errors with this new service from Google, which I will detail below. The backup itself was fast. Even though I have several terabytes of personal media, they were uploaded within a week. So that’s not the issue. After all, Google has a ton of experience with uploads, given how much video is uploaded to YouTube every single day.

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As you can see from the screenshot posted above, it was unable to upload quite a few files. The app offers the option of uploading RAW files in addition to the typical JPG, PNG and videos, but it couldn’t upload RAW files from Olympus (ORF), Adobe (DNG) and Canon (CR2). They were listed among the over 2700 files that couldn’t be backed up.

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I ended up having to add the extensions of RAW, PSD, TIFF and other files to an “ignore” list located within the app preferences. This is the full list I’ve added there so far: DNG, TIFF, RAF, CRW, MOV, PSD, DB, GRAPHDB, PLIST, and LIJ. It seems there’s a file size limit on images and on videos, because most of my large images (stitched panoramas) and videos of several GB or more didn’t get uploaded. That’s a problem for an app that promises to back up all your media.

There were also quite a bit of crashes. The app crashed daily during the upload process and even now, it crashes every once in a while. I set up my computer to send crash reports to Apple and to the app developers, so I assume that Google got them and will at some point issue an upgrade that fixes those bugs.

I also kept running out of space on my Google account. Given that I’d set the app to compress my images so I’d get “free unlimited storage”, and I’d also set it to back up only my images and videos, this didn’t and doesn’t make sense. Add to this the fact that it’s trying to back up unsuccessfully all sorts of other non-image files (see the paragraph above where I had to add all sorts of extensions to the ignore list) and once again, this app seems like it’s not fully baked. I ended up having to upgrade my storage plan with Google to 1 TB, so it’s costing me $9.99/month to back up most (not all) of my images and videos, compressed, to a service that offers “free, unlimited storage”. The app says I’ve now used up 408 GB of my 1 TB plan. Before I started backing up my media, I was using about 64 GB or so, adding together Gmail and Google Drive. So about 340 GB are getting mysteriously used by some invisible files that I can’t see in Google Photos or Google Drive, but they’re obviously stored somewhere by the Backup and Sync app.

Remember, this is Google. They have a ton of experience with apps, with images and with videos, so why did they push this out when it still has all these issues?

Body image, public perception and the media

Just wanted to publish here a post I wrote on Facebook this morning about body image and the recent controversy surrounding its representation in the media:

Something I don’t get: people are making such a big deal in recent times about being thin and how the fashion magazines are promoting it. They’re making it into a huge issue, as if the plump girls are being persecuted and they’re putting it as if this has been going on forever.

Truth is, this is only a recent thing. Until the 60s, it was a plump girl’s world. Yes, all the way from antiquity to the 1960s or so, people liked bigger women. The thin ones were the outcasts. Nobody wanted them because they were too skinny. They were told to put on weight. There were ads in magazines everywhere for fattening creams and lotions and vitamins and lard and all kinds of stuff to help girls put on weight fast and become “attractive”.

So here’s what I think: all this bulls**t be damned, if you want to be plump, be plump, if you want to be thin, be thin, but do yourself a favor and stop blaming others for your body type. If you’re plump and you’d rather be thin, stop complaining about fashion magazines and learn to love yourself. If you’re thin and would rather be fat, well then, you’re in luck because there are a ton of processed foods out there to help you achieve your goal.

And if you like yourself just the way you are, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky few who get what it’s like to enjoy life. Go on enjoying it, we typically only get 70-80 years of it and we shouldn’t waste it complaining! 🙂

Interviewed by Jen Consalvo

I was recently interviewed by Jen Consalvo about my photography. She’s conducting a series of interviews with selected photographers. The series, along with photos from each one, will be included in an upcoming book she’s writing, entitled “Love Your Photos“.

If you’ve been wondering why I write so much about Romania these days, you’ll find the answer in Jen’s interview.

Quoting from her intro:

“as i mentioned in my last post, i’m thrilled to kick off my interview series with photographer raoul pop. i think i first saw raoul’s work when he photographed a tech cocktail event in dc, and was quickly enamored with his style. raoul can turn a seemingly mundane scene into something completely eye-catching, romantic or exciting, which is why i’ve looked to his work for my own inspiration. his photos speak for themselves, but raoul was gracious enough to answer my questions with amazing energy and detail and provide some beautiful examples of his work. i hope you enjoy this interview and raoul’s gorgeous photos as much as i do.”

If you don’t know Jen, she works at AOL along with Frank Gruber, is involved with TECH cocktail, and runs her own projects from Shiny Heart Ventures — websites such as ThankfulFor, BodySoulConnect and Shiny Maine Lobster. She blogs at JenConsalvo.com.

Jen, thank you very much for the wonderful interview, and I’m very glad you find inspiration in my photographs! I wish you all the best in your endeavors!

Better media width compatibility in WordPress

One thing that works against you when you want to try out new WordPress themes (and this applies for either self-hosted WP installs or for WP.com blogs) is the width of your media, like the images you upload for your blog posts. Many themes are narrower than the width you may have chosen for your images over time, and this means images will either overflow beyond the margin of the main column, crowding out the sidebar and generally making your site ugly, or be cut off, which looks a little better but still ruins the user experience.

For example, most of my posts have images posted at 640 px, 600 px or 550 px wide, and that eliminates a lot of themes for me, even though they may be very nice, because their post column is too narrow to display the images.

I have a solution to this problem.

You know how you can set the size of your photos and videos on the Media Settings page?

And did you know there’s also a media width “guideline” within each theme’s CSS settings page (at WP.com)?

That width is the maximum allowed for videos and images. My current theme, “Journalist” by Lucian Marin, allows media embeds at widths up to 720 px, which is a LOT wider than most other themes, which are still stuck at 500 px or even less, at 420 px.

All of these differences would be okay, provided the WordPress platform were to read the maximum column width of a theme and adjust the maximum image width on the fly.

In other words, instead of hard-coding the image width when they’re uploaded to a blog post, it could simply say “thumbnail”, “medium” or “large”, much like it does for the image align attributes (“left”, “center”, “none”), then figure out what the “large” size really means by looking at the theme’s width limit value.

This way, no matter what theme we may choose, images and videos will still display properly and we’d be happier. After all, they’re already doing this for video auto-embeds. As you’ll see if you look at the screenshot I’ve posted above, they say “if the width value is left blank, embeds will default to the max width of your theme.” What’s to stop them from doing the same with images?

I would also encourage Automattic, should they consider building this into a future version of WordPress, to make sure it’s backward compatible, so that no user should have to go back through all of his or her old posts and make sure all the images are set to the right width if they decide to switch themes. Perhaps they can do this with a wizard that goes through all the images and sets them to the correct width, or the new image embed code can auto-magically fix the image width for old posts.

Ligia on Radio Ring 90.2 FM

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My wife was a guest on Radio Ring (90.2 FM, Medias, Romania) yesterday evening (12/2), on a show called “Lentila de Contact“, run by the station’s Program Director, Mircea Hodarnau. Ligia talked about her art, her education and her life. This was in preparation for tonight’s exhibition at Casa Schüller, which was attended by over 100 people. She’s showing 36 original large-format quilling creations, and 70 greeting card-format pieces. It all went better than we planned it, and we loved meeting all of the people that came to see her hard work. I’ll have video clips and photos from the gallery processed and posted at some point tomorrow, but I wanted to point you to the recording of the show tonight.

I’d like to thank Adrian Matei and Mircea Hodarnau for offering my wife this wonderful opportunity, for treating her so graciously during the radio program, and for providing us with a publicity photo and a full recording of the show, both of which you can see and hear here.

How to use a Drobo with the WD TV

The WD TV is my favorite media player (I think it’s better than the Apple TV), and since I also love the Drobo, I wanted to combine the two and have the ultimate media entertainment center: a Drobo packed full of videos, photos and music, connected to a WD TV, which is connected to a large-screen HDTV. I did just that for my parents in December. It was my Christmas gift to them.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you want to do the same thing. As you might guess, several complications arise when you attempt to get a device with huge storage capability connected to a media player. The complications have to do mainly with the file systems that the media player can read and use properly, and with the ability of the on-screen menus to navigate an abundance of content efficiently.

The WD TV can only work fully with NTFS, HFS and FAT32 file systems. By “fully”, I mean will build its own catalog of the media present on those devices, store it at the root level of those drives as a hidden directory, and will let you browse using its on-screen menus, by date or by file name. It will also read the HFS+ file system, which is native to the modern Macs, but it will not be able to write to it and build its own catalog; this means you’ll only be able to navigate the media on that device by folder.

The Drobo can be formatted as an NTFS or FAT32 volume when using a PC, or as an HFS+ or FAT32 volume when using a Mac, if you happen to use the Drobo Dashboard to do it. If you use the Disk Utility app on a Mac, and you also happen to have the 3G NTFS drivers installed, you can also format the Drobo as a 3G NTFS or as an HFS volume.

I ended up formatting my parents’ Drobo as an HFS+ volume. I’ll tell you why below. If you’re not interested in the minutiae, skip ahead to the next paragraph.

  • First, I tried formatting it as a 3G NTFS volume. For some reason, the formatting process either froze or took unusually long to complete, and the resulting volume wasn’t readable on the Mac or on the WD TV. I have a feeling that had to do with the fact that the volume was over 2TB in size, and 2TB is the upper limit for NTFS volumes, but I’m not sure.
  • I tried splitting the Drobo into two HFS+ volumes, one 2TB and the other 400GB (2.4 TB was the total available space on the Drobo), then formatting those volumes as 3G NTFS volumes, but that didn’t work either. The formatting process kept hanging up in Disk Utility.
  • I tried formatting the Drobo as a straight NTFS volume using a Parallels VM running Windows XP (I installed the Drobo Dashboard inside the VM), but that kept hanging up as well. Not sure why. Perhaps I should have used a physical Windows machine, but I didn’t have one available to me.
  • I then formatted the Drobo as a FAT32 volume. The upper limit on that was once again 2TB, and I had 2.4TB available. I thought I’d forget about the extra 400GB for a while and just focus on getting the 2TB volume working. Predictably enough, after copying some media over and testing it, it worked fine, but I noticed two things:
    • The WD TV took longer and longer to read the device and build its catalog once I connected the Drobo. The more movies I had on the Drobo, the longer it took the WD TV to catalog each of them. That meant waiting up to 20 minutes for the WD TV to get done with its work before I could use it. I didn’t like that.
    • I had several movies that were over 4GB in size, and since that’s the upper limit for a single file in the FAT32 system, I couldn’t get them copied over to the Drobo. I didn’t like that either.
  • I thought I’d try another route, so I formatted the Drobo as an HFS volume. While this was fully readable and writable on a Mac and also on the WD TV, unfortunately, the maximum file size on HFS is 2GB, and the maximum volume size is also 2TB, same as FAT32 and NTFS. Not much help there.
  • The only choice left to me was HFS+. In spite of the fact that the WD TV can only read it, not write to it, this was and still is, I think, the best choice for formatting a Drobo and for working with the WD TV, from the entire group (NTFS, FAT32, HFS and HFS+). The upper limit on an HFS+ volume is 16 EB (exbibytes), which is equal to 1024 pebibytes — basically, an incredible amount of space. One pebibyte is equal to 1024 terabytes, and the upper limit one can get with a Drobo at the moment is 5.5 terabytes, so it’s nowhere near the technical capability of the file system. Furthermore, the upper limit on a single file in HFS+ is 8 exbibytes, which, as shown above, is just plain huge. In plain English, this mean I could format the Drobo as a single HFS+ volume and not worry about any of my movie files exceeding 4GB or more in size.

Great! Now that I’ve put you to sleep, let’s move on. Next on the agenda came the transfer of all the data to the Drobo. You see, I’m also using my parents’ Drobo as an offsite storage device. You know what they say, give and ye shall receive, right? I made them happy by setting up their media center and also got to back up most of my data, media, and photographs. The transfer of the information took a while, as you might imagine. I didn’t time it, but I think it was somewhere between 24-36 hours to copy about 2TB of data from my Drobo to their Drobo. I’m happy to say that the copy operation did not crash, and completed successfully. That’s a testament to the stability of the Drobo as a storage device.

After the data transfer was complete, I was done. It was time to sit back on the sofa and enjoy my hard work. Even though the WD TV couldn’t aggregate the media on the Drobo and build its catalog, which would have let me browse the media by type (video, photo or music), date or title, I was able to browse the Drobo by folder. Since I’d already organized the media that way, I didn’t mind it at all. I had my videos broken down into separate folders for Cartoons (I love classic cartoons), Movies, Documentaries and TV Shows (I love Mister Ed), and I was able to watch most of my stuff.

As a side note, even though the WD TV manual says it’ll play WMV9 files, and my Mister Ed episodes were encoded (I believe) with WMV9 technology, I can’t play them on the WD TV. I’m sad about that, but at least I can watch them on my MacBook and iMac. Perhaps I’ll re-encode them into MP4 files at some point.

I mentioned something at the start of the article about the on-screen menus and their ability to navigate the content efficiently. The WD TV lists the media in thumbnail mode by default, which means you’ll have a little icon next to each media file. When you have a ton of files to look through, that’s not very efficient. Fortunately, you can go into the WD TV settings and change it to List mode. This will list each piece of content on a single line, and will let you see more titles per screen. To scroll up and down the file lists faster, simply hold down the up or down arrows on the WD TV remote, and it’ll accelerate, speeding through the titles.

I’ll concede that the on-screen menus for the WD TV aren’t as slick as those you see on the Apple TV — and by that I mean how easy and quick it is to navigate to a particular title, not the glitz and glamour of a fancier UI skin — so there’s some work to be done there, but the WD TV is much more practical than the Apple TV when it comes to playing your media. You simply plug in a USB drive loaded to the gills with movies and photos, and it’ll play them right away, which is something that the Apple TV just doesn’t do out of the box.

That’s it, folks! Let me summarize things to make it easy for you:

  1. Format your Drobo in HFS+ if you have a Mac, or NTFS if you have a PC. Keep in mind there’s a 2TB per volume limit under NTFS, and that WD TV will only recognize one volume at a time (at least currently). Stay away from FAT32 and HFS because of the file-size limitations (4GB for FAT32 and 2GB for HFS).
  2. Transfer your media to the Drobo.
  3. Enjoy!

Buy a WD TV or a Drobo.

Join MP4 files with Front End Digital Media Workshop

Want an easy way to join MP4 clips together? Front End Media Workshop, a nifty piece of Mac software published by the now defunct K-werkx, can definitely help you out. While the folks that put it together aren’t online any longer, the app is still available for download from CNET.

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips
FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

The app (it shows up as FE_DigitalMediaWorkshop in the Apps folder by the way) is meant to do a bunch of other things, but I found it most useful to join together several MP4 clips from my video collection.

For example, I’d purchased a DVD of “The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird“, a re-titled version of the 1952 original, La Bergère et Le Ramoneur. The film is little known, and features the dramatic escape of a pair of lovers from the claws of a despotic ruler. A curious bird helps them escape and orchestrates the toppling of the ruler’s oppressive regime, which mirrored, at the time, what was going on behind the iron curtain of Eastern Europe. Peter Ustinov voices the bird and also narrates the story.

At any rate, I’d copied the DVD to my computer only to later realize that I’d done it by chapters instead of copying the entire movie as a single file. Front End Digital Media Workshop allowed me to drag the five or six clips for each chapter onto its main window, drag and drop to arrange them in order, then, within minutes, join them together as a single file. The output was saved to the desktop in a folder (one for each join operation), where I could review, rename and archive it.

Sure, if you have Quicktime Pro, you can join video files there, or you can also import them into iMovie, but a small, single purpose app that does it faster and without a lot of fuss scores higher in my book. I may even use it later to snip clips from the beginning and end of some of my other video files, since I see that it has that feature built in as well.