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by nealf0

Hiking the Inca Trail: Preparation

September 2, 2013 in Places by nealf0

Visiting Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail has been at the top of my list of things to do before I die ever since I saw pictures of Machu Picchu in National Geographic when I was a kid.  So, I figured I would finally stop putting it off and make it happen.  Discussing it with a friend of mine, we made plans to visit Peru in 2012 and hike the Inca Trail.  Accomplishing a lifetime dream of mine 24 years and 9 months later..

We made the decision to go, but that is just the tip of the iceberg for the planning and preparation required to execute a memorable, safe trip.  First, we needed to decide on when to go.  Reviewing the Inca Trail dates for 2012, it was really open except for February when the Inca Trail is commonly closed for maintenance.  No problem, we had too much in our professions going on that month anyway.  So when?  Since Peru is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to where we live in the United States.  Machu Picchu has a semi-tropical climate, with warm and humid days and cooler nights and negligible variation from Winter and Summer when compared to where I live in Colorado.  But the rain…I would much rather hike in snow than rain, but preferably neither.  To quote Wikitravel.org, the “rainy season in Machu Picchu is from November to March, so be prepared. The wet months are January to April, when roads are often closed by landslides or flooding.  The best months for visiting Machu Picchu are from April to October.  The High season is June to August (book well in advance).”  Well May it is then!  Now to book it…

Reserving the Inca Trail isn’t as easy as going to some website like ClickHere4IncaTrail2MachuPicchu.com.  The Inca Trail is highly regulated by the Peruvian government.  There are only 500 permits available each day which applies to everyone, including all of the porters, cooks, and guides.  So, that just leaves only about 200 passes that are allocated to tourists each day.  Not a whole lot.  But, we were ready to start booking dates in July, 2011.  So no problem right?  Wrong.  The tickets for 2012 weren’t put on sale by the Peruvian Government until December 2011/January 2012.  Being the planner that I am and worried about not being able to get our reservations for May (we already made our airline reservations), my fun meter was pegged and I was stressing.  It’s important to note that every tour operator will book your Inca Trail passes far in advance, without having the passes confirmed. You can check Inca Trail ticket availability here to confirm for yourselves the dates you are interested in.

My window seat, ready to leave Atlanta.  Next stop, Lima Peru.

My window seat, ready to leave Atlanta. Next stop, Lima Peru.

You have to hike the Inca Trail with a guide, so which tour operator should we go with?  A colleague and friend recommended SAS Travel Peru as they took them back in 2001 and felt that they were professional and had a great time.  Good enough for me, so that’s who we first contacted.  I did say first contacted because the initial impressions were not terribly positive.  Driven by the lack of responses from SAS, we decided to pursue another tour company.  So, we then reached out to Mayuc, Apus Peru, Enigma Peru, Q’enteAventours (aka Ecoinka), Andean Life, Explorandes, Inca ExplorersUnited Mice, Chaska Tours, and Andean Treks.  We received mixed feedback from these tour operators, mostly pretty positive, some mediocre and some not at all.  After going through the responses, we ended up selecting Aventours (aka Ecoinka) as our tour operator based on the cost, their timely, detailed responses from Walter and Rick and the extra night on their Inca Trail tour at their private camping site outside of km 82.  As it turned out, we finally had our Inca Trail permits booked from Aventours on January 31st, 2012 for our hike from May 6-9, 2012.  The cost for the permits to hike the Inca Trail was 254 sol ($95).  In addition to the 4 day/4 night Inca Trail tour with just my friend and I, we added an extra day tour through the Sacred Valley at the beginning of the trip making our tour 5 days and 4 nights.

Airfare booked (way in advance using 70,000 airline miles + $70.74), Aventours (aka Ecoinka) Inca Trail tour operator selected, Inca Trail permits purchased, almost there…  Now, need to book our airfare from Lima to Cusco, hotel in Cusco, hotel near Machu Picchu for the extra day we planned to stay there and the train back to Cusco from Machu Picchu.

Our flights into Lima were really late, so we ended up booking a mid-morning flight out of Lima to Cusco on LAN Airlines for $352.81.  Upon arrival in Cusco, we were promptly picked up by our hotel driver, who took us straight to our hotel.

The in flight meal and free Peruvian beer on LAN airlines (http://www.lan.com/) on our flight from Lima to Cusco.

The in flight meal and free Peruvian beer on LAN airlines (http://www.lan.com/) on our flight from Lima to Cusco.

Aventours was really good about assisting us with our lodging in Cusco.  They referred us to the Torre Dorada Hotel for $110/double room per night.  The hotel is located just a couple miles from the Cusco Plaza de Armas.  They had a driver who was always available, breakfast was cooked to order, rooms great, clean and safe.  Would definitely stay there again.  We ended up staying there both before and after our Inca Trail hike.  If you should expect to leave and return from the same hotel, I recommend finding a hotel to keep some of your personal belongings while you embark on the Inca Trail.  Else, your tour operator will probably do the same for you.  Torre Dorada did this for us and it worked out great being able to leave our dirty clothes and clean clothes for the return home.

Our room and some of our camera gear at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru.

Our room and some of our camera gear at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru.

Our driver from the Torre Dorada Hotel driving us to the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, Peru.

Our driver from the Torre Dorada Hotel driving us to the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, Peru.

The breakfast buffet at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru.  The continental breakfast had some lovely pastries, cereal, tea and coffee.  If you wanted eggs, there was a really nice lady who would cook to order as well in the kitchen to the left.

The breakfast buffet at the Torre Dorada Hotel (http://www.torredorada.com.pe/en/) in Cusco, Peru. The continental breakfast had some lovely pastries, cereal, tea and coffee. If you wanted eggs, there was a really nice lady who would cook to order as well in the kitchen to the left.

Depending upon which Inca Trail tour you take to Machu Picchu, you may or may not be able to spend most of the day at Machu Picchu.  Hikes that come through the famous Machu Picchu Sun Gate (Inti Punku) at sunrise will be able to spend most of the day in and around the magnificent Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.  Our tour lagged most other Inca Trail tours, so we weren’t going to get to Machu Picchu until that afternoon.  As a result, we had planned on staying an extra night near Machu Picchu so we could watch both a sunset and sunrise there.  Most people stay in Aquas Calientes off the Urubamba River down the mountain from Machu Picchu.  There are many lodging options in every price range, in addition to restaurants and shops.  Although you can hike up to Machu Picchu from there, most elect to take the busy bus route to/from Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.  We decided to splurge and split a room at the all inclusive Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge Hotel just outside the gates of Machu Picchu National Park instead though.  And I do mean splurge, at $907.50 (including tax) a night, this place was expensive.  The hotel was nice, but not $907.50 a night nice.  It was fantastic to have a long hot shower, gorge ourselves in the plethora of culinary delights and liquid refreshments though.  A well deserved reward for the end of a journey.  Since there aren’t any other food options at Machu Picchu besides the cafeteria just outside the main gate, it was really nice to be able to have a really nice lunch and cocktail in the Sanctuary Lodge restaurant. In addition, they also held our belongings and arranged our bus to the train station in Aguas Calientes, which was really helpful.  Finally, just being able to roll out of bed, grab a nice breakfast and step out in line (and there was a long line) to get into Machu Picchu was really a great way to start the day.

The front entrance of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (http://www.sanctuarylodgehotel.com/web/omac/machu_picchu.jsp), outside of Machu Picchu National Park.

The front entrance of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge (http://www.sanctuarylodgehotel.com/web/omac/machu_picchu.jsp), outside of Machu Picchu National Park.

A gorgeous piece of salmon to start our lunch off.

A gorgeous piece of salmon to start our lunch off.

An amazing ceviche to start the lunch off.  The selections of corn and vegetables is worth a trip to Peru in itself.

An amazing ceviche to start the lunch off. The selections of corn and vegetables is worth a trip to Peru in itself.

A lovely local fish with another amazing staple of Peru, potatoes and topped with bacon.  How can you go wrong with that?

A lovely local fish with another amazing staple of Peru, potatoes and topped with bacon. How can you go wrong with that?

I think the picture sums it up nicely....this, combined with a Machu Picchu specialty coffee, delightful.

I think the picture sums it up nicely….this, combined with a Machu Picchu specialty coffee, delightful.

Warm chocolate cake, homemade berry jam/drizzle and sorbet with some fresh oranges.  An amazing desert and lovely combination of flavors and textures.

Warm chocolate cake, homemade berry jam/drizzle and sorbet with some fresh oranges. An amazing desert and lovely combination of flavors and textures.

Baily's, Pisco (Peruvian Brandy), chocolate and coffee....um, yum!

Baily’s, Pisco (Peruvian Brandy), chocolate and coffee….um, yum!

Getting back from Machu Picchu to Cusco requires taking a train from Aquas Calientes to Cusco.  The primary provider for this service is Peru Rail which provides 3 return train services.  The ‘Exhibition’ backpacker service ($75) which only departs at 4:43pm, the ‘Vistadome’ panoramic view service ($86) which departs at 3:20pm, 4:22pm and 5:27pm and the ‘Hiram Bingham’ luxury service ($380) which only departs at 5:50pm.  We had tickets on the Vistadome 604 train, departing at 5:27pm to maximize our time at Machu Picchu.  The train ride is just over 3 hours and doesn’t arrive into Cusco, but nearby Poroy.  Thus, there remains a 20 minute bus ride to get to Cusco.  Instead of taking the bus to Cusco, our tour operator Aventours conveniently arranged for us to be picked up in Poroy and took us to our Torre Dorada Hotel in Cusco.

Getting on the Vistadome train in Aguas Calientes heading to Poroy on our way back to Cusco.   This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp.  All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

Getting on the Vistadome train in Aguas Calientes heading to Poroy on our way back to Cusco.
This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp. All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

On the train, enjoying the scenery heading back to Cusco. This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp.  All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

On the train, enjoying the scenery heading back to Cusco.
This photo was taken by Lawrence Delp. All copyrights reserved by Lawrence Delp.

In addition to all of the planning and preparation for when you arrive to Peru, before any international trip you should always check what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advisories are for that country.  The CDC advises for Peru several vaccinations, such as the routine ones (measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, polio-virus vaccine, etc.), Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B and malaria.  Of course what you actually need is dependent upon where you are going within Peru.  Since Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Inca Trail is high in the Andes, only Hepatitis A and Typhoid were required.

Finally, it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance as well since you never know what can happen.  There’s two types of insurance worth getting before your trip.  The first is emergency medical and evacuation from International SOS, which we purchased should something occur while on our hike.  The other is basic travel insurance for your reservations.  In the past I have used CSA Travel Protection.  For this trip, I did not take travel insurance since the airfare was purchased with miles and the hotels and tour could be canceled with minimal penalties.

This is the first of three posts on this unforgettable trip that I want to share with you.  I hope you find them informative, helpful, interesting and motivational because you really should make Machu Picchu a must-see destination.

 

by nealf0

Mobile Barbeque in the Miami Wynwood Art District

August 15, 2013 in Restaurants by nealf0

It isn’t everyday that you find good barbeque parked on a side street in an empty part of town.  But on this beautiful Sunday, we stumbled upon proprietor and grill master, Mark Gibson’s BBQ-2-Go mobile barbeque establishment in Miami Florida’s well known Wynwood Art District southeast of I-95 and I-195.

We had been driving around Wynwood for a couple hours , taking pictures of the amazingly colorful and artistic graffiti, when we turned down NW 2nd Avenue and saw a black cage of a trailer that was transmitting smoke infused with sweet carnivorous barbeque smells.  Having already eaten a few hours earlier, eating again wasn’t terribly high on our to-do list.  But, how can you pass up a barbeque stand that you fortuitously stumbled upon in the most unexpected of places?!

So, we pulled over and parked next to The Beetles ‘Abby Road’ mural across the street from Mark’s BBQ-2-Go stand.  We walked up and Mark was socializing with a lovely lady he knew sitting out front under the thoughtful canvas overhang.  After introducing himself, we got right to the ever important discussion about what smokey meaty morsels he has ready to eat.  Mark responded with “I have chicken, pork and ribs shortly.”

Portrait of the BBQ-2-Go proprietor and grill master, Mark Gibson.

The scrumptious meats on the barbeque pit.

Possessing an affinity for pulled pork sandwiches, we elected for pork.  Mark removed a large meaty morsel from under the foil and began chopping it up with his cleaver from the Dexter television show.  He then proceeded to give us a paper bowl, opened the bun up and dumped his surgically chopped pork on top.  We were then faced with the crossroads of selecting which of Mark’s homemade barbeque sauces to complement this pork sandwich.  Posing this quandary to Mark, he quickly responded with “Have the Gangsta Gold.”  Yes, that is correct, Gangsta Gold.  What a fantastic name and tasty mustard based sauce.  It had a sweet, tangy and mild mustard taste to it.

Pulled pork barbeque sandwich covered in “gangsta gold” barbeque sauce.

The seasoned and sauced up ribs cooking on the grill.

Really fantastic.  The pork was tender, not too dry.  Really well done.  Unfortunately we didn’t try any of his other barbeque creations, but the sample that we did have was very well done.  So, if you see a smoking mobile barbeque stand around Miami, Florida and you aren’t vegetarian, stop by and try it out.

After visiting Mark Gibson’s BBQ-2-Go mobile stand, my nephew indulged in the pulled pork sandwich with its “gangsta gold” sauce.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = A+   (outside, shady tarp, convenient location)
  • Service =  A+    (lively personality who has pride in his food)
  • Food = A    (only tried the pork and sauce, but both were great)
by nealf0

Measuring the Shutter Count

July 1, 2013 in Photography by nealf0

At some point, you may need to know how many times the shutter of your Single-Lens Reflex (SLR) digital camera has been opened and closed.  Sure if you bought your camera new, then you may be able to look at the number of pictures on your PC and guess roughly how many times the shutter has been triggered.  But this method is crude at best.  This information is logged however in the camera and certain utilities can be used to access it.

After having my Canon EOS 7D for over a year, I decided to sell my Canon EOS 40D.  Great camera, but it ended up just sitting on my shelf for too long after having the 7D and I came to the realization that I just didn’t need it now or in the near future.  So, I decided to sell it through Amazon.  As part of that though, I did feel that it was important that I accurately present the usage of the camera, specifically the shutter count as the body was in good shape.  Thus, I sought out a program that could read the shutter count of the Canon EOS 40D (review from DP Review).

After a good deal of research, I found the program EOSInfo which works really well with the older camera bodies, such as the Canon 40D.  The Canon 40D has an estimated shutter life of 100,000 cycles, which is a ton of captures.  My Canon 40D came in at less than 8% of that with a shutter count of 7411.  Sadly, I thought I took more pictures than that.  Here’s a screenshot of the EOSInfo program though.

My Canon EOS 40D Shutter Count from EOSInfo

My Canon EOS 40D Shutter Count from EOSInfo

 

After selling the Canon 40D, I was a bit curious if there was a program that also worked with the Canon EOS 7D.  The DP Review mentioned EOS Count as an online alternative for measuring the shutter count of some of the newer EOS bodies, such as the 60D and 7D.  I have not used it personally at this time, but it may be worth checking it out if you are interested as the reviews did indicate success with them.

You would think that this information would be available through the camera, so hopefully this helps you obtain the shutter counts of your digital SLRs.  Happy shooting friends.

 

 

by nealf0

Canon 7D Firmware Update

September 3, 2012 in Photography by nealf0

The much anticipated Canon EOS 7D firmware 2.00 update is here!  Released on August 6th, 2012 for download, this firmware update delivers several enhancements to the already very capable Canon EOS 7D.  The Canon EOS 7D Update delivers the following new features, improvements and capabilities.

1)   Shooting up to 130 JPEG Large/Fine and 25 RAW images at 8.0 frames per second (fps), which is up from 126 JPEG Large/Fine and 15 RAW images at 8.0 fps.

2)  Compatible with the Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2 for instant geotagging of your photos instead of post-production geotagging using Lightroom or external GPS logs.

3)  Enables manual control of sound recording levels. The recording level can be manually adjusted to one of 64 levels, for full control of your audio recording for your high definition videos.

4)  When using M, P, TV, AV and B modes, users now have a choice of setting the maximum allowable ISO, up to ISO 6400 so that your Canon 7D can optimize your ISO settings to ensure that your exposure ideal for your given user settings.

5)  Improved EOS 7D’s RAW image processing for your P, TV, AV, M and B modes.  The improvements include RAW optimization in the Canon 7D without a computer of White Balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, High ISO Noise Reduction, JPEG Quality, Color Space, Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction, Distortion Correction and Lens Aberration Corrections.

6)  The Canon EOS 7D can now resize your JPEG “L” and “M” images and save them as separate JPEG “M” and “S” images, thus saving time in post production conversions.

7)  Users can now add 0-5 star ratings to their pictures within the Canon 7D, which again saves time in post production when reviewing and rating your photos after the shoot.

8)  The  Quick Control has been updated as well, so users “can quickly access a number of features during playback via the Quick Control button. Images can be protected, rotated, resized, highlight alert and AF point displays can be accessed, and image jump can be accessed via the main dial, which are significant time-savers.”

9)  Users can now customize their file names by specifying th efirst 4 characters of each file name, replacing the default ‘IMG_’ that we have all grown used to.

10)  Finally, changing the time in your camera is as easy as just selecting the specific timezone that you are shooting out of.  A very useful addition and one that I could have used a few times.

11)  You can now scroll through your magnified photos much quicker.  “This increased speed makes it easier to confirm expressions, details and sharpness, or whether recomposing, refocusing or reshooting is necessary.”

I was thoroughly impressed by the improvements.  It’s an evolutionary transition where the consumer can expect more enhancements than ever before as more features are implemented in software.  So you have the Canon EOS 7D, now how do you update your camera firmware?

First, you need to download the Canon EOS 7D Firmware Update.

Next, you can either copy the firmware to either the Compact Flash (CF) card or install it from the computer using the Canon EOS Utility.  Since I was working on some studio shooting using the tethered Canon EOS Utility, I preferred to install it through this utility instead, which was an easy install with no issues.  Just follow these steps from my install, or take a look at Canon 7D Firmware Update – English.

1)  Start the Canon EOS Utility software.

2)  Go to the ‘Camera settings/Remote shooting’ option.

3)  Select the Setup menu by clicking on the wrench/tool setup tab.

4)  Go down to the firmware, in this case Firmware Ver.1.2.5 below the ‘Live View/Movie func. set.’.  Click on it the Firmware text.  At which time, you will then have an option to update the firmware if your firmware is older.

Confirm the Canon EOS Firmware Load

5)  Select OK and then browse to the firmware you downloaded earlier.  Select the updated firmware version.  The current version is 1.X.X (mine was 1.2.5).  Select the Canon EOS 7D 2.00 firmware 7D000200.FIR from the download folder on the Windows PC.  Select ‘Open’ and start the installation.

Firmware 2.00 Select

6)  Then follow the instructions on the pop-up, as shown below.  Press the ‘Set’ button on the Canon 7D, which is the round middle button on the control disk.  You are then asked if you want to confirm, click ‘OK’.

Start Load from EOS Utility

7)  It then proceeds to update the firmware.  The installation of the firmware from the PC via the USB cable took just over 7-minutes to copy and install the firmware on the Canon EOS 7D.

8)  After the installation, power off your Canon 7D and remove the battery for several seconds.  I left them out for a few minutes just to ensure that any stored capacitance is discharged.

9)  Install the battery and power the camera back on.  In the Canon EOS Utility you can confirm that the firmware has been successfully updated as shown below, which is now Firmware Version 2.0.0.

Canon Firmware 2.00 Updated

10)  You installation is now complete!   Now, just enjoy these great improvements to your already fantastic Canon EOS 7D camera!

[Update on 01 October 2012]   Since the 2.00 Firmware release, Canon has since released a few updates.  The current latest is 2.03, released on 12 September 2012 and contains a few bug fixes only.  There are no new features.  Information on the update can be found on the Canon Rumors Website in the Canon EOS 7D Firmware 2.03 article or Canon’s 2.03 Release Notes Website.  You can download the latest Canon EOS 7D firmware from Canon’s 7D Support Website.

by nealf0

Photography Backup Process

April 26, 2012 in Photography by nealf0

Oh, the devastating scenario of loosing all or even some of your hard work!  I don’t know what I would do if I were to loose all of my pictures and documents.  However, it is a necessary evil when being so dependent upon personal computers (PCs).  As an aspiring photographer, you would think that I would be on top of backing up and protecting my images.  Nope.  I neglected this incredibly important workflow step for far too long.  Thus, I spent a good deal of time in early 2012 researching various processes of backing up your data to find a method that works best for me.  The most important requirements for me were, ease of integration into existing workflow, cost and 100% protection of my files.  I finally settled on one pretty common, simple, reliable backup process that will guarantee file security without breaking the bank.  This article shares my current backup process at home, my backup process in the field and verification plan for verifying the integrity of my data for years to come.

My goal is to ensure that I am protected from loosing my important pictures and documents, as it would be impossible for me to replace them.  So how do I implement a process that is reliable, simple and equally important, affordable?  Let’s discuss what I already had available to start off with:
  • My laptop running Windows 7 64-bit
  • (1) 2TB networked Western Digital external hard drive
  • Read/Write DVDs, which I was burning my original JPEG + RAW files to.

Not a bad setup, had I been using it properly.  I could easily make a simple backup from my laptop to the external hard drive on a routine basis (riskily I wasn’t even doing this).  Using both the (1) external hard drive and DVDs, they would give me potentially (2) layers of backup protection.  However, I was not addressing my operating system backup, nor was I even copying the same files to the external hard drive that I was to the DVDs.  Yes, I know I was setting myself up for failure and I knew it.  Researching both what others are doing and what the recommended ‘best practices’ are, I found one process from American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) that I felt could be manipulated to fit into my workflow and utilizing my existing equipment.

The one consistent recommendation I found was that everyone should practice a backup process with at least (3) layers of protection.  The most common instantiation of this is:

  • (2) External Hard Drives
    • (1) External Hard Drive for local backup
    • (1) External Hard Drive for offsite storage
  • (1) Disc copy (DVD or Blu-Ray)

Made sense to me.  So, all I needed was an extra external hard drive to implement the infrastructure to support a reliable backup process.  I ended up buying a 2TB Western Digital USB 3.0 External Hard Drive so that I could back it up locally and have the option to put it in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe for offsite storage.

Now that I have the (3) layer backup protection hardware infrastructure implemented, how do I make it work in practice?  This is easier said than done because of the variables that I had, which were the fact that I am using a laptop so it’s not always home, no backup software chosen, I was undecided on what exactly to backup, and I had different external hard drive interfaces (1) network drive and (1) USB drive.  Since I travel with my laptop half the time, a regular scheduled backup isn’t really practical.  So, I required software that permits me to schedule backups to both the network and USB external hard drives either on a regular schedule or manually.

I asked Tom Bourdon, a fantastic professional travel photographer, about his travel photography backup process and he uses SyncToy from Microsoft.  ASMP recommended SyncBack for PC users and ChronoSync for Mac users.  Reviewing them, I felt SyncToy (FREE) worked better for my simple process.  Although I am a PC user, ChronoSync is operationally similar to SyncToy.  So, the backup concepts presented herein are synonymous for Windows and Mac users.

Using SyncToy, I created folder pairs to backup specific folders from my laptop to the target external hard drives.  Folder pairs, set as ‘echo’, are used to generate exact copies of my laptop folders on the external hard drives.  This is used for my Working folder, which contains my plethora of images to be edited, and specific folders from my laptop Users folder.  In addition, a ‘contribute‘ folder pair, which only appends files, is used to copy my laptop Transferred folder to an archive folder on the external drives.  The Transferred folder contains finished images that are archived to DVD(s) before removal from my laptop, thus continually maintaining (3) layers of protection.  Presently for offsite storage, the archived DVD(s) are stored in a local fireproof safe; however a safety deposit box or online storage is very effective for addressing this requirement.  The below Figure depicts SyncToy and the folder pairs utilized either individually or all at once.

The Microsoft SyncToy software with the folder pairs used

The Microsoft SyncToy software with the folder pairs used

In addition to SyncToy, I use Windows Backup and Restore (In Windows 7 for under Control Panel -> System and Security -> Backup and Restore) capability for backing up my System Image should my Operating System (OS) experience major problems.  The entire backup process implemented is shown in the below Figure.

This describes the backup process performed at my home office for my System Image, User Files and both Working and Archived Pictures.

 

Equally important is having a process for backing up your images in the field and verifying the integrity of your images years in the future.  On travel, I use a 160GB HyperDrive COLORSPACE UDMA from B&H Photo and Video for backing up my CompactFlash cards.  It can perform some integrity checks as part of the backup process, in addition to quickly downloading your pictures.  As a nicety, you can view your photos as they are downloaded or after they are downloaded on its mediocre screen.  A very handy device for backing up in the field.  My only complaint is that it does not backup video files, only pictures files (RAW, DNG, TIFF, JPG, etc.).  Not that I shoot a lot of video, but that would be useful as I do use video to capture moments.

Finally, how do you verify the integrity of your files for years to come?  If you shoot RAW and convert them to Digital Negatives (DNG), then all you have to do is convert your DNG files through Adobe’s DNG Converter (FREE) and it will automatically check to ensure the integrity of the file by checking that no bits have changed.  The reason for this is that DNG files, besides being 0-20% smaller than proprietary RAW files, it also stores an MD5 hash for the raw image contained in the DNG.  The MD5 algorithm can also be used for validating the integrity of all of your other files and/or folders full of files.  I settled on the MD5 Checksum Verifier utility from FlashPlayerPro ($15) because this program can quickly generate a separate MD5 hash file for an individual file or an entire folder full of files that I can keep with the files and folders.  In addition, you can then at some later date recheck the file(s) for comparison against the MD5 hash stored for verification that nothing has been modified in the file(s).  Because my working pictures are, well, being worked I only use this on my archive pictures.

With a few external hard drives and some free software, you can easily have a reliable, simple backup solution at your home office.  In the field, it can be a bit more costly but there are some very effective solutions such as using your laptop and external hard drives.  Then for future verification, a simple MD5 hash checker and DNG converter works out great for validating the integrity of your backup files.  Here are a few references to assist you.  Hope this helps saves you from loosing your data in the future.

A revision of this article was published in the Mile High Wildlife Photography Club (MHWPC) May 2013 newsletter.
by nealf0

Park’s Barbeque – Los Angeles, California, United States

April 1, 2012 in Restaurants by nealf0

When I am in Los Angeles, California for work, I always try to visit Park’s Barbeque to clog my arteries with their perfectly marinated, tender and fresh Korean barbeque meats.  It’s not a Travel Channel stop by Adam Richman or Anthony Bourdain, but it is an establishment that my colleague thankfully introduced me to and definitely worth a detour to this famous restaurant.  And I do mean famous.  As you walk in, you are greeted on the right with a wall full of celebrity photos.  You have famous Asian sports stars, Olympians (Apolo Anton Ohno) and actors (extremely beautiful Jessica Alba for example).  And how can we leave out an Executive for World of Warcraft who also made the wall of fame?  Yes, all types, sizes and trades have tread their feet through those fish protected doors.  You can find this local, famous establishment at the following address in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

S Vermont Ave # D
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-1717

So how about that atmosphere, service and food shall we?

Outside Park’s Korean BBQ restaurant. They always have some nice cars parked out front and have valet parking should you go. I recommend parking on the side streets as it’s free.

Walking in, you enter a small corridor of an entry with the restaurant on the left behind a 5foot half wall and 100 or so photos on the right of the famous personalities who dined at this place.  The restaurant is located in a strip mall and spans two floors.  There’s valet out front, which you’ll have to do if you want to park in the front of the restaurant.  You might have to compete with the expensive sports cars typically parked there though.  You can find parking on the side streets instead, so take advantage of those free spots.  Downstairs is nicer than upstairs (and from my experience you get better service).  But, the restaurant is clean, busy and has great BBQ tables for cooking up those meaty morsels.

This is the view of the main floor right when you come into the restaurant and are greeted by the hostess.

Service is usually very good, with the servers/cooks conscientious to your food and needs.  They are quick to bring out the included Korean side dishes and your main courses.  Usually the servers are all very attentive and take turns throwing your food on the barbeque, cutting it up, flipping the meat and adding the vegetables.  However, during our last trip (which happened to be Valentine’s Day) we had horrible service at our table upstairs.  We usually sit downstairs and have always had great service, so I don’t know if it was the result of being busy, the upstairs service or some other vendetta against us.  But, our water was never filled, food was left to burn and I had to ask for our check instead of them bringing it when we were clearly done for quite some time.  Really disappointing for this type of restaurant.  Again, the service is usually much better, but this did leave a terrible taste in our mouths for sure.  I did not return on that trip, although I am sure I will sometime in the future to give it one more shot.

If not familiar with Korean food, the menu can be a bit daunting.  Thankfully I was introduced to the place by someone much more familiar with Korean barbeques.  Once you get there and sit down, you are greeted by the complimentary spread of various Korean side dishes such as numerous kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

These are the free Korean side dishes you receive prior to your succulent meat gorgefest. They get you started with various kimchi dishes, rice noodles, sauteed broccoli rabe, sauteed sea plant, marinated radish, Korean coleslaw, wonton wrappers, cabbage and other odds and sods that they decide to bring as it changes some each time you go.

Once you get past the party in your mouth Korean side dishes, it’s onto the main courses.  They don’t hesitate to start delivering these in a well oiled assembly line fashion.  Without much delay, the raw beef entrees, Seafood Pancake and Kimchi Stew and sticky rice come out.  The pancake is like a thin, dense (you can use chopsticks to pick up the pieces) seafood frittata filled with rock shrimp, green onions, and asparagus that you dip in a mild soy sauce.  Then the scrumptious Kimchi Stew, full of spicy kimchi seasoning, beef and pork part and cabbage that you scoop over your sticky rice and indulge.

These lovely morsels are the Kimchi Stew on the left, Bulgogi (Seasoned Sliced Beef) top right and Pancake with rock shrimp and green onion on the bottom center.

Then there’s the beef.  Yes, those wonderful marbleized bovine morsels that are flown in daily for as fresh as you can get.  Our staples tend to be the Bulgogi and Gal-Bi.  Bulgogi shown above, is a delicious thinly sliced sirloin/prime cut beef that is marinated to perfection.  Served with some grilled garlic, scallions and enokitake mushroom, quite a delightful combination.  Unless they get fried like our last visit when they neglected our table.  Note, you can grab the utensils yourself and flip them if Park’s employees are attentive to it.  Oh those lovely marinated prime beef short ribs, Gal-Bi (aka Galbi).  Short ribs tend to be tough and difficult to come out tender, but Park’s has it down perfectly.  They thinly cut the spare ribs around the bone so the chef can just unroll the meat on the grill.  In addition, the meat is scored so that the marinade just gets sucked into the meat.  They grill them unrolled for a little while before getting the good o’l kitchen scissors and cut up the meat.  The part of the meat closest to the bone is the toughest though, so focus on the other tender chopstick size pieces first.

This is the scrumptious Bulgogi (marinated sliced sirloin/prime beef).

 

These short ribs (Gal-Bi) are full of flavor, tender and oh so good!

I have also had the fish and special pork belly.  The fish was just alright.  The pork belly was good, but just thick bacon really.  I would stick with the beef.

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B+   (limited parking, love the famous photos, clean grills, in a strip mall)
  • Service =  C    (normally a B-A grade, but horrible the last time)
  • Food = A    (really fantastic beef, stew, pancake, side dishes and good other entrees)
by nealf0

Group Photo Registration Pilot Project Instructions for Published Photographs

February 13, 2012 in Photography by nealf0

As most photographers do, they submit their photographs to the U.S. Copyright Office. During my most recent submittal, Kathryn, the Registration Specialist with the U.S. Copyright office was kind enough to communicate to me the proposed changes for artists submitting published works. I thought it was interesting and very useful so I wanted to share this information with you. The below text is quoted from her email to me.

The first submission is limited to no more than 250 photographs. Remember for published photographs you can only submit photographs that were published in the same calendar year.

TYPE OF WORK: select Work of the Visual Arts.

TITLE: Title of work being registered should be the collective title for the group – such as “Davis Hawaii Photo 2011.” If the photos are published the alternative title (ALT space) must begin with “Group Registration Photos”, then range of publication dates must be included, as well as how many photographs are in the group. The dates of publication must be complete dates – day, month, and year. EXAMPLE: Group Registration Photos, , published Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009; 250 photos. Unpublished groups just need the group or collection title.

CONTENTS TITLES: After you have saved the main title you must enter the contents titles. Click New, then select Contents titles for title type, then add the titles of the photographs. Published photos must include the complete date of publication after each title. It is probably best for a larger group to enter the titles in a string. Separate these titles with a semicolon space. EXAMPLE: Diamond Head, Feb. 14, 2009; Pear Harbor Mar. 2, 2009; etc. For each Contents titles box or line enter no more than 1900 characters (spaces are counted as characters). The system will let you add more than that, but not all titles will show up in the cataloging record and for the pilot we want all titles in the catalog record. You can have multiple boxes/lines of contents titles.

Note: you may want to enter the titles in a word document or similar program that can tell you how many characters you have so you can try to cut and paste.

You can also enter each contents title on a separate line.

PUBLICATION: For published works, enter the earliest date of publication. The date must be complete: day, month, and year. Give the country the photographs were first published in, in the appropriate box. Give the year of completion in the appropriate box.

For unpublished photo collections you will only give the year of completion. The year of completion is for the collection which is the year the last work was completed in.

AUTHOR. All photos must be taken by the same photographer.

Select “Photograph(s)” for Author Created.

CLAIMANT: the claimant must the same for all the photographs.

RIGHTS & PERMISSIONS: optional.

CORRESPONDENT: required.

MAIL CERTIFICATE: required.

SPECIAL HANDLING: not for the pilot program.

CERTIFICATION: required.

REVIEW

DO NOT HIT SUBMIT. Save the information and E-mail me the Service Request number so I can look at it and let you know if changes need to be made before you submit.

DEPOSIT REQUIREMENTS: Be sure the files you wish to upload are on the list of acceptable files. As stated above the first submission is limited to no more than 250 photographs. We are requiring that you include a titles list as the first upload. For published photographs the list must include the complete date of publication for the titles.

For some additional information on copyrights and the law, check out Ken Kaminesky’s Copyright Posts.

by nealf0

Kihei Caffe – Maui, HI, United States

February 4, 2012 in Restaurants by nealf0

If you are in Maui and looking for a great local establishment for a fantastic, homemade style breakfast, check out Kihei Caffe in Kihei across from the Kalama Beach Park 30 minutes from Kahului Airport (OGG).  We go every time we visit Maui.  Just make sure you bring cash as they do not take credit cards.  There is an ATM in the gas station next to it though just in case I found out.  Open Daily from 5:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Kihei Caffe
1945 South Kihei Road
Kihei, HI 96753
(808) 879-2230

Onto the atmosphere, service and food.

This local establishment has a lot of charm and character.  You can’t beat sitting outside, enjoying some rich coffee, fresh muffins and looking over at Kalama Beach park and the Pacific Ocean with the trade winds blowing in your face.  Awesome.  The atmosphere has a great local, upbeat vibe.  When you eat there, you feel like you found a gem of a restaurant that is all your own.  There is ample parking around the restaurant as well.

The outside of Kihei Caffe

When you walk in, you are greeted by the friendly folks behind the counter.  We had a very nice gentleman take our order and talk us through the specials, muffins and that you need to use cash.  Which we didn’t have.  But, not to hold the line up, this trustworthy gentleman was nice enough to still let us order while they sat my wife and daughter down and I ran to the gas station to get cash to pay for it.  Ordering is done inside first before you sit down as you can’t hold tables.  I recommend getting there early or being patient if you want a seat.

The Kihei Caffe warning sign

Ahh the food.  Can’t go wrong with their splendid breakfast options.  You’ve got healthy choices like Papaya Delight, fruit salad and Biersch Mueslix.  Then there’s the chorizo and eggs, steak and eggs, sausage gravy and biscuits, breakfast burrito, french toast, waffles and pancakes (blueberry, macadamia nut, banana, pineapple), pork fried rice and eggs and of course the Loco Moco (two eggs, fresh ground beef patty, rice and brown gravy).  And you can’t forget about the homemade cinnamon rolls and muffins.  Everything that we had was really fantastic, full of flavor and holy crap was it filling!  I skipped lunch that day.

Breakfast Burrito from Kihei Caffe

Banana Macadamia Nut French Toast

Loco Moco from Kihei Caffe

Homemade blueberry muffin from Kihei Caffe

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = A   (local, parking, great restaurant charm)
  • Service =  A+    (quick, friendly, allowed us to order without paying)
  • Food = A+    (great menu, good solid selections, tasted oh so good)
by nealf0

Ken’s House of Pancakes – Hilo, HI, United States

January 22, 2012 in Restaurants by nealf0

I had some time to kill before flying out of Hilo International Airport (ITO) and wanted to find a good local place to eat.  Taking advantage of my smartphone, I performed a local restaurant search for around Hilo.  When I travel and am looking for a restaurant, I tend to base my restaurant selection by the number of review stars on Google and of course, the style of restaurant that I am in the mood for.  Lo and behold, Ken’s House of Pancakes popped up with a respectable 4 stars.  Doing a quick search, this acclaimed diner seemed to fit my bill perfectly.  So I headed to Ken’s.

Ken’s House of Pancakes
1730 Kamehameha Ave.
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-8711

Ken's House of Pancakes

Ken’s was started in 1971 and has since received Reader’s Choice Awards for “Best Breakfast on the Big Island”, 14 years in a row, and “The Best Diner on the Big Island”.  So naturally I had to try their breakfast grub on my visit.  Onto the atmosphere, service and food…

Being a diner, the atmosphere is well, a diner.  Walking into the restaurant you are welcomed by the bright diner interior, large diner bar and many busy tables.  This place is busy, so get there early.  The good thing is, being a diner they can flip the tables fast so they keep customers moving through.  I lucked out as I was traveling alone and was able to snag an empty stool at the bar.  It’s worth noting that parking is very limited.  There are a good deal of spots out front, but not near enough for all of the customers.  Not to mention since the restaurant is on the corner of a busy intersection, getting in and out of the parking lot can be a pain.  Especially if you are like me and missed the restaurant as I couldn’t get over and make the turn in time off Kamehameha Ave.  I ended up parking behind Ken’s in the medium size business building just off Kanoelehua Ave.  It was quite and had a good deal of empty spots and just a short walk on the sidewalk down Kanoelehua Ave. to get to Ken’s.

Ken's House of Pancakes Restaurant

The service was great.  The waitress behind the bar was friendly, fast and kept my coffee full.  No complaints.

What a large menu!  I have to say, I like options but I felt like I could be there all day trying to decide what to order.  I was traveling by myself and couldn’t narrow my choices to just one from the menu.  Being a ‘House of Pancakes’, I had to try their pancakes.  And since I was just down from Mauna Loa, they had to be Macadamia Nut.  These buttermilk beauties were quite heavenly I got to say.  Especially when you combine these fluffy morsels with their kokonut, passion and guava flavored syrups.  To balance it out, I had to get some egg meal as well.  Alas, I settled on the very Hawaiian, and ‘Original’, Loco Moco.  How can you go wrong with 2 scoops of rice, 5oz lean beef patty, brown gravy and 2 over easy eggs?  Gravy was tasty and had good thickness.  Rice was the yummy sticky rice.  The beef was a bit dry, but hey, it’s a diner.  Other items that looked divine were their other Moco’s with Spam, pulled pork, chili, etc. and their ‘famous’ omelettes that can be filled with just about anything, like crab, Spam, Chinese sausage, shrimp, Portuguese sausage, etc.  Yes, I was a gluttonous fool.  But my belly was happy.

Macadamia Nut Pancakes

 

The 'Original' Loco Moco

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B-   (local, limited parking, diner)
  • Service =  A+    (quick, friendly, kept my coffee full)
  • Food = A+    (great menu, lots of options, big servings, and tasted oh so good)
by nealf0

Rosine’s – Anaheim, CA, United States

January 19, 2012 in Restaurants by nealf0

This little gem of a restaurant is located off the beaten track in Anaheim, California.  Not really close to Disney or the Honda Center where the Anaheim Ducks play, one wouldn’t typically detour to the Yorba Linda, California area.  I on the other hand am here several times a year as that’s where our office is.  Rosine’s Mediterranean Cafe is a must stop on each trip.

Rosine’s Mediterranean Cafe
721 S Weir Canyon Rd
Suite 125
Anaheim, CA 92808
(714) 283-5141

Opened in 1995 by home trained chef Rosine Najarian, this restaurant specializes in her Syrian and Lebanese influenced home cooked food.  A splendid menu of broad, bold and rich items.  Ah the garlic, rosemary, thyme, pepper and spices!  A true party in your mouth for sure.  And then there’s the wine selection, a wide array of unique wines from around the world including the owner’s homeland of Lebanon.

Rosine’s Restaurant

Alright so let’s discuss the atmosphere, service and food….

The atmosphere is simple and quaint. A recent expansion into the building next door offers a good amount of seating and options for hosting functions.  With an open kitchen and most of the seating nearby, it provides an intimate environment for diners at this family run establishment.  It is located in a strip mall next to a Subway, with limited parking out front, but near unlimited parking behind the strip mall as it shares the parking lot with a grocery store and other stores and restaurants.  Walking in this dim lit restaurant, you are welcomed by one of their servers dressed in black where you’ll be sat at one of the small wood tables.  Usually there isn’t much of a wait, if any at all.  Typically most of the people waiting in the entrance are awaiting their to-go pickup orders.  They have a small stage in the dining area for someone to play some music.   Although that may add to the atmosphere of this culinary escape, I do enjoy the quite mood of the place when dining and having a glass of wine.

Inside Rosine’s Restaurant

Whether you eat in or order take out, the service is prompt and friendly.  They are happy to have you relax and enjoy your meal, wine or desert.  So the service is really good.  Maybe it’s because I eat alone usually, but when I go I really love their Muhammara, aka ‘Walnut Caviar’.  So I always order a side of it.  It’s happened a few times where one server will bring me the starter portion of it, which is a lot of food.  I’m not sure if it’s a nonchalant up sale or not since it’s a few bucks more, so just specify you want the side portion if you order that or any of the other yummy sides.  Still always good service though as they keep the glasses full and are timely in bringing the check.

The menu is very diverse and unique, with menu options that really do transport you to the Mediterranean.  Beginning with the starters, they have a wide selection of cold and hot starters that can suite any taste bud.  But if you aren’t alone, check out one of their cold and hot mezzeh’s for a good sample of their middle eastern tapas starters.  You have the Chilled Mezzeh containing hummus (chickpea dip, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil), tabbouleh (diced parsley salad, chopped tomato, green onion, bulgur, lemon dressing), baba ghannouj (fire-roasted eggplant dip with extra virgin olive oil), muhammara (walnuts, hot pepper paste, pomegranate molasses – my favorite), and sarma (stuffed rolled grape leaves, herbed rice, toasted onion) for $14.90.  Or the Hot Mezzeh  containing cheese böreg, meat böreg, kebbeh, and falafel for $16.90.  You also get pita bread to start, which is good, but it’s right out of the bag so nothing special.  You can see their famous rotisserie chickens in the window when you walk into the restaurant (half for $12.50).  Their chicken is very good, not too dry on the inside and full of seasonings on the outside from their proprietary rub.  Other menu items I really enjoy are the kababs, which you can get for chicken, lamb or beef.  Sometimes they can be a little overcooked though, which is easy to do when cooking kababs or if they sit too long under the heat lamp before serving, but still flavorful and divine with some garlic sauce on them.  I usually order either falafals or one of their two lamb menu options like the Grilled Lamb Chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction or the Lamb Shank with juice of red wine, garlic rosemary.  Both for $23.95.  They are very good, with the shank as my favorite.  The chops tend to be medium-well by the time I get them, so a tad overcooked from how I like them, but still very good with their complex lamb rub.  Their ratatouille is very flavorful as well, so that makes a hearty, but extremely satisfying side.  They tend to put on the side of each plate a few slices of their pickled turnips, which strong bitter, sour taste but nicely contradicts the other flavors on the plate.  Combine any of the above hearty stomach fillers with a side of their garlic sauce, you’ve got a happy belly for sure.

The grilled lamb chops with pomegranate and vegetable reduction

The sides of muhammara (aka walnut caviar) on the left and their garlic sauce on the right

Neal’s Ratings:

  • Atmosphere = B    (local, in strip mall, lots of parking, stage for a band?)  Note:  Updated on 12/30/2012 because of increased seating.
  • Service =  B+    (quick, friendly unnecessary up-sale)
  • Food = A-    (good menu, tasty food, garlic sauce, bought pita bread and little overcooked food sometimes)

 

Note:  This article was updated on 12/30/2012

 

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