The Marvellous Make Do And Mend

Technology can either be our empowering friend, or a huge pain in the posterior.

Sometimes both simultaneously.

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Recently, I’ve been considering how to resolve a few technological irritations.

Here are the issues –

1. My 10 year old MacBook Pro is getting slow and clunky.

The current equivalent is £2400. As a bit of a skinflint, this is well beyond my perception of “affordable”, even though I’m sure they’re beautiful machines.

I’m not ready to consider using just my iPad as I like the “proper” keyboard of the MacBook, the larger screen, and the plug in capabilities with cameras and external HDs. And buying a bunch of ancillary devices (like an external keyboard) for the iPad complete defeats the purpose of such a portable and tactile machine.

I’ve been considering a more affordable ChromeBook, at around £500, but I’m not sure how this work plugging in those other devices.

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2. My Sony Xperia is not compatible with my existing audio.

I switched phones mostly because my three year old 8GB iPhone was always maxing out the storage with music and photos.

I’m very happy with the Xperia overall, but, unlike the iPhone, its USB lead/port is not compatible for playing music with either my car or home hi-fi. I was thinking about having a new cable installed in my car (a professional job as it’s all buried behind the dashboard), and buying the required one for my hi-fi. Or exploring other wireless options.

3. My free Google storage is limited, and as I’m not ready to fully embrace the cloud, I still want a physical external HD back up.

Exploring Google Photos and Google Play Music has shown more streamlined ways of storing, well, photos and music, and helped me see I can back up my archived files – and new ones going forward – in an easier way.

But those limits of storage and need for an external HD mean I’ve been looking at wi-fi HDs, at around £120.

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4. For my two main cameras I need a computer to plug into and copy and paste the photos, then edit, share and back up from there.

Having my Xperia synced to Google Photos is great – when I get home from a photowalk, everything is automatically synced to Google Photos to view, edit and process on any device.

The wired option with the cameras and SD cards is no great hardship, but a lot of fiddling about compared with the phone/Google Photos set up.

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After a few days of musing and pondering (I tend to be quite a slow thinker, but given time can come up with some inventive ideas), rather than batter my credit card, I started to realise how I could use what I already have to better effect.

Here’s what I’ve done –

1. Restored my MacBook Pro.

The keyboard and screen of my MacBook are great. I replaced the original HD with a 250GB SSD a couple of years ago which made it significantly quicker and has more storage than I will ever use.

So I decided to simply ensure it was backed up (to the 2TB external HD I already have), then restore it to factory settings.

This took a total of about three minutes of my input and maybe 30 minutes of the computer rebuilding itself while I got on with something else.

After signing into my Apple account it went online and downloaded the most recent compatible OS X. Now it runs super quickly again, and is nearly empty.

Rather than restore everything from my TimeMachine backup, I’m keeping it fresh.

My main three master folders – Documents, Pictures and Music – I have back up on the 2TB HD. Plus I remembered my wife has a 1TB version she hasn’t used in four years, so I’ve done another back up on that.

Going forward, I now also have my MacBook synced with Google Photos, so any photos I upload and/or edit on that, the Xperia, or my iPad, will all instantly save in Google Photos too.

Then use TimeMachine to back up about every week to the external 2TB HD as I’m used to doing anyway.

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2. My old iPhone is my new iPod. 

Rather than buy new leads for the Xperia, I’ve decided to simply reset my old iPhone and use it purely as an iPod.

Using Google Play Music on the iPhone and my MacBook means when I want new music I can upload to Google Play Music via the MacBook, then access via the iPhone. Which is of course already fully compatible with all my other audio kit. This also means less music (virtually none) on the Xperia, keeping that leaner and faster.

A music track might be around 8MB. Which means, crudely speaking I can have 1000 on my iPhone, or perhaps 80 albums. But with Google Play Music it’s very easy to download and remove any track or album from the iPhone with a single tap. So if I do fill up the iPhone I can remove a few albums and add a few others in a minute or two.

Plus I find Google Play Music simpler and more direct than iTunes anyway. It just does what I need in an obvious way with no faffing.

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3. I’ve upgraded my Google storage and used a couple of HDs I already have.

For backups, as mentioned above, I’ve started using the two external HDs I already had to back up my core stuff.

Plus after exploring Google’s pricing and finding 100GB of storage is only £1.59 per month, I’ve signed up for that. It should take me years to get close to using that much up, if ever, especially with my aim to edit more ruthlessly. No need to look any further at new wi-fi HDs.

And again using Google for photos and music, it just makes it easier to access them from any device, rather than constantly moving files from MacBook to iPad to iPhone via a PhotoTransfer app or via email which I was doing before.

If I have a spare 10 minutes at home or a break at work I can edit a few photos on my iPad or phone and it saves back on Google Photos. Or freshen up my music collection. Very smooth and accessible.

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4. I’m sticking with plugging in cameras with SD cards to my rejuvenated MacBook.

For the SD card based cameras, a possibility is a wi-fi SD card, about £40ish, which would save plugging a camera in to my MacBook. It’s something I’m still open too, but really this seems a minor hardship!

As soon as the SD card photos are on the MacBook they’ll back up on Google Photos now anyway – I think you can even set up Google to add them to Google Photos as soon as you plug the camera in, without even copy and pasting them to the MacBook first.

So I can then edit and process on MacBook, iPad or even Xperia, as and when I want to, and just back up the best edited and processed photos each month from Google Photos back to an HD.

The fact that I’m moving beyond my obsessive labelling of photos means this whole process will be much simpler anyway – just one folder for each month of photos, whichever camera they were made with.

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As is often the way, when you start seeking solutions for some things, you discover others too.

As a bonus, in remembering my wife has an external HD too, I also realised it was for her HP laptop that’s been dormant under our bed for four years.

With much thanks to The Fatted Nyaff in a previous comment, I’ve explored reincarnating the HP as a ChromeBook, via Neverware.

It now works faster and more smoothly than it ever did as a bloated Windows machine! (Inside I can hear it softly crying tears of joy at having being released for the torment of Microsoft and the crippling Norton AntiVirus…) It doesn’t even feel like a PC to use anymore, which is fantastic.

It’s actually fun to play with (like a tablet, but with a proper keyboard and bigger screen) and our nine year old daughter has already taken to it and enthusiastically researched and written her Ancient Egypt homework already. Praise indeed.

I can’t see myself reaching for the HP “ChromeBook” over my own MacBook, but as a second laptop in the family it makes for a very pleasant and speedy machine to use, and very useful for the kids.

Plus as I’m signed in with my Google, if I want to use it I have easy access to my Gmail, photos and music too – the three main things I need any of these devices for.

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At the end of all that, thank you dearly if you’re still reading. Yes this is still a photography blog.

I always write about my adventures in finding beauty and balance, and the main point of this whole post (and indeed my complete tech overhaul and reboot described above) is that if we think a little harder and from a few different angles, we usually already have all we need.

This “stop buying more and use what you have” approach (“mend and make do” my parents and grandparents would call it) goes for photography as much as anything.

Yes I could lust after a few grands’ worth of modern (or indeed vintage) Leica or Sony or Pentax kit.

But I doubt I’d be able to make photographs any better, more beautiful or more memorable than I make with my humble seven year old digital compacts, or maybe even my smartphone.

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The second point is that any devices, machines or technology that create too many obstacles between ourselves and our desired outcome – in the case of cameras and computers, creating beautiful things and enjoying doing so – will render themselves redundant and become discarded. It’s simply too much hassle to use them.

This applies equally whether it’s a 1960s film camera that’s so unpredictable, awkward or unreliable that you never know how an image will turn out – if you get any image at all – or a modern digital camera that has so many functions, dials and buttons you don’t know where to begin using it.

It’s also just as relevant to an ageing laptop that through its incredibly complex and slow Operating System (yep, Windows again) makes it too painful to use for anyone but the most patient of saints. Again, it renders itself obsolete.

Which makes it especially refreshing and rewarding when such a device can be reincarnated with a new OS that works even better than its original, and again lets you just get on with doing what you want to do (an invisible computer, a cousin akin to the invisible camera concept I often mention).

What do you already have (cameras, lenses or otherwise) that you overlook, even neglect, because you think it’s not (good, big, fast, sharp) enough? How could you use or look at it a little differently, or put another way, explore the idea of the marvellous make do and mend approach?

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

26 thoughts on “The Marvellous Make Do And Mend”

  1. I have a 2005 Mac Pro G5 Tower 10GB mem with 500GB hd and 2TB external drive and a Asus Laptop 4GB 1TB HD running Linux Mint
    I have just bought a 2006 “Apple Mac Pro Tower 1,1 2.66 GHz Quad Core (intel Xeons) 500 GB HDD 6 GB RAM DVD A1186” on eBay for £120 as my G5 can only run OSX 10.5.8 and want to run stuff that won’t work on the G5, I take delivery of it tomorrow. The Mac Pro Intel are very up-gradable so will be adding more memory and faster graphics card to it I will probably use the G5 as network storage and as my music streaming device.
    There’s still plenty of live in old Macs.

    1. Christopher, brilliant that you’re using such old Macs and they’re still going strong. Makes my 2008 MacBook seem positively teenage! I know there’s more I can do to mine internally, like upgrade the RAM but after restoring it the other day it works fast enough for my needs.

  2. « At the end of all that, thank you dearly if you’re still reading. Yes this is still a photography blog « 

    I guess I’m as guilty as you to wander off a bit too far into gear territory, but I think there is a moment in our photography quest that we have to reconsider the tools.

    Your way of using the stuff you have is great! There’s still years of life in most gear and we only have to think around some corners to continus using it. Just like old film cameras, even digital stuff lasts much longer than they want us to believe.

    You have thrown your lot with Goggle, I rely on Apple’s iCloud, but in the end t’s still the same. It gives us the security of syncing and backup and keeps our gear working.

    It’s been a week that I’ve been using the iPad exclusively (and the iPhone) and honestly, I didn’t miss the computer.

    As for the iPad, when I’m out and about I use the onscreen keyboard and ath home it connects automaticalls to my Bluetooth keyboard. Perfect for me.

    1. Yeh you’re right Frank, it might be gear or tech talk, but it’s the fundamentals of the system that allows me to make and save and share my photographs. The more fluid and reliable that infrastructure is, the more likely I am to photograph.

      I remember a time with film photograph where I was scanning myself. I was so sick of scanning g and how long it was taking me, it was holding me back from photographing – because I was constantly dreading ahead at how much time all the negatives would take to scan.

      Completely agree that digital stuff lasts way longer than we’re told. I mean if a decent proportion of 80s film cameras that are reliant on their electronics are still working, something made only five years ago in theory should have plenty of years left in it yet. As long as the images it produces are still in a useable format like RAW or jpeg and can be uploaded to a computer or tablet of some kind to edit.

      I’ve thought about a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad but as I said I like that it’s a simple tactile device. Start adding other things like stands and keyboards and you may as well use a little notebook. Delighted that it’s working for you though of course!

  3. I get great satisfaction from renovating old (though that’s a relative term) technology and getting good use from it. I used a Nokia 520 (that my lad broke) for ages after a diligent hour with a soldering iron. This iPhone SE is the only new one I’ve ever had after a succession of cast-offs and repair jobs. I’ve formatted and reinstalled Windows on our aging HP laptop a few times but love the idea of setting it up as a Chromebook. iPhone and iTunes aside I am quite wedded to the Google suite of products. My daughter’s Chromebook is great.

    1. I’m so delighted with the ChromeBook reimagining of our old HP laptop I’ve even considered picking up another cheap old laptop to do the same with for our son. Expect you. Could get one for £50 or less that’s say five years old. The Chromebook installation cost me just the price of a USB stick to install it with, about £11. Definitely try it if you don’t plan to use your HP as a PC anymore.

  4. I have a mid 2012 MacBook which was terrible slow after 4 years. I was about to buy an iMac with fusion drive which i heard was faster than hdd but slower than pure ssd disk. It costs about 2200 usd in my country. It is a lot of money but I was pretty sure it was the proper upgrade. Then I started reading that fusion drive is not really a big improvement in speed that the way to go was full ssd but an iMac with it was out of my budget. So stsrted researching how to upgrade my MacBook to ssd and it looked pretty easy. So I bought a 512 gb ssd and last weekend made the swap. It worked beautiful , I am so happy and the increase in speed is amazing. The ssd costed me 250 usd and I saved almost 2000 usd which I am thinking how to better spend it now, trying to decide if new lenses or plustek scanner or new 35mm camera.

    1. Ines, thanks for your comments.

      I did a very similar thing with my MacBook, swapped the internal HD for a Samsung SSD. It gave it a new lease of life, and double the storage.

      Impressive how much you can do with machines that are usually sold on the basis of once they break/slow down you chuck them out and get another.

    1. Exactly, this is why I think it’s important to have a good set up that is as fluid to use and as “invisible” as possible. So we’re not constantly being slowed down and frustrated by incapable tech.

      I remember my wife’s HP laptop, and despite being decent hardware and quite pleasant to use in that sense, the OS (Windows 7 I think) was a major turn off and made it horribly sluggish to use, even relatively soon after she got it. The Chromebook installation has made it a different machine – one I actually enjoy using!

  5. “If we think a little harder and from a few different angles, we usually already have all we need.” That’s certainly true for someone as creative and resourceful as you, Dan! Congratulations on finding such great solutions and workarounds.

      1. I keep my favorites on my laptop and store the rest on a couple of external drives — one at home, the other at the office. I tried a cloud-based back-up service for a while but found the hard drives more time-efficient (and certainly more cost-effective) in the long run.

  6. I’m definitely with you on making it all work in some way for as long as possible, hence using old lenses fitting on to newer camera via an adaptor, and losing AF, instead of just buying newer AF versions. The invisible concept sounds good.

    1. Hi Bear, good to see you here. I’ve done the vintage lens thing for a few years, I must have had a couple of hundred different ones on my (now sold) Sony NEX with various adapters. Which of course defeats the whole purpose of using old lenses as they’re more affordable!

      I’ve lived and learned though, my overall kit now is massively reduced compared to what it was, and I’m always looking for ways to be more streamlined, and to make it more “invisible”…

  7. Pretty impressive Dan. I am also in this camp. My laptop is so old I can’t remember when I bought it, used. It works well enough for me. I would have kept my L.G. Android but it was failing and no one would work on it here. Also, I just bought a ten year old Canon D40 that someone I know was selling, and it seems pretty great. I found all this very interesting. The technology is essential for doing photography today. I am slowly catching up. Thanks for sharing this inspiring account.

    1. Your welcome Jon, thanks for your comments. I tend to be a bit behind with tech in some areas, and there’s something very satisfying about using a device that’s been discarded as not usable anymore, then giving it new life and purpose. A kind of recycling.

  8. Superb post, Dan, that really has got me thinking. Actually, one of your recent posts planted the seed, and I’m now trying to streamline everything involved in my photography; from cameras used to storage options, including a merciless use of the “delete” option. Simplicity is key. I’ll keep you posted!
    P.s I’m delighted that you’ve found Cloudready a workable solution.

    1. Well it’s thanks to you William I was even aware of the ChromeBook/Neverware/Cloudready option, so thanks again!

      I’d been considering a Chromebook for a few years, and came close before I got my iPad last year. Being able to test the OS out via an old HP laptop is great fun. I hated that machine before, but with Chrome it’s actually quite pleasant to use, and the keyboard and screen and pretty decent!

      When my MacBook does eventually give up in some way, I’ll probably get either an old (but not as old) MacBook, or a couple of year old PC laptop and do the Cloudready thing. Or just keep using the HP one if our daughter hasn’t commandeered it by then!

      The simpler and more invisible the technology, the more directly and easily we can get on with the important bit – getting out there and making photographs…

      Yes please keep me posted on your evolution, either here or via posts on your blog. ; )

  9. It’s surprising how a reinstall and an SSD can brIng some zip back into an old computer. A lot of people think their old gear actually gets slower as it gets older, but it’s usually just OS rot (years of installing, deinstalling, reinstalling, bloatware and other garbage) and that’s pretty true of any OS. Add in an SDD, which is the best upgrade any PC can get and you should be good to go. Most of us only ever do a bit of editing and net surfing anyway, unless you are into some serious video editing, gaming or some other kind of number crunching, most gear, even really old gear will cope. Glad you got it sorted.

    1. Thanks Tony, I think it’s a similar process as with cameras, if we stop and ask what we really need the technology/device to do, it’s a lot less than what the manufacturers are trying to sell us!

  10. I am all for using old stuff, even my car is old. It is now kind of cool due to its age. I will use it until it breaks beyond repair.

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