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