Equipment - tools of the trade: February 2005 Archives

Contributor Mehyar writes in with:

here are couple of favorite gadgets i take on

Delkin usb bridge...eliminates the need for carrying a laptop to the field to store data. good for long trips to the countryside in which one has to be backpack weight conscious.


LaCie Slim Combo CD-RW..light weight and usb bus powered. i back up all my pictures with this. among other things, don't trust the high power x-ray machines of the airports.


together with the Arcdisk hd, they facilitate survival from a computer breakdown when faraway from home.

In another weird twist, Canon Japan has announced the Canon 20Da, a limited edition, limited availability (Japan only) version of the EOS 20D digital SLR. Basically, the 20Da is designed for astrophotography and has the infrared filter removed from the CMOS chip, which allows the camera to peer into the Ha spectrum. The camera can also give you live preview on the rear LCD, which helps when you are trying to focus on some guidestars using your telescope mount. Who needs a Hubble when you have a 20Da?

Astrophotography is currently The Big Thing in Japan among camera geeks. Maybe we'll have some initiatives to reduce light pollution and smog.

Canon has just announced the EOS Digital Rebel XT (aka 350D in Europe and KISS Digital 2E in Japan). It now has 8.0 megapixels in the same 1.6x crop factor. Just to dispel any rumors, the CMOS chip in the Rebel XT is actually a tad smaller (0.2mm) than the one used in the 20D, and is 8.0 megapixels not 8.2.

Shooting speed has been increased to 3fps with a 14 shot burst (JPEG) or 5 shot (RAW). The camera body itself is considerablyl lighter (130g) and smaller in all dimensions.

Interestingly, Canon is not using the same BP-511 batteries that they had in the 10D/20D and original Digital Rebel. You now have to use NB-2LH batteries, which are used in some of their point and shoot digitals. Canon says this was to reduce the size/weight of the 350D. My guess is that they also want to separate the consumer digital SLR line (Rebels) from the prosumer line (20D). Many of my friends have a 10D or 20D as their main camera and a Digital Rebel as a backup. Since they used the same lens, battery, and CF cards, it's a nice system. Having the Rebel XT using different batteries complicates this.

For more info, I updated my Canon Digital page a bit with new info, but the best site right now is DP review:

Benjamin Lauderdale has an extended article on Ars Technica on his recent PowerBook G4 harddrive failure. Interestingly, the failure mode was identical to my own recent crisis - the SMART error message and the ability to copy some but not all files before the drive failed totally. See my own blog entry for info on my case involving the Toshiba 80 gigabyte drive ("TOSHIBA MK8025GAS") in my PowerBook G4 12":

Apple Japan replaced my hard drive under the AppleCare plan for free (including free pickup and dropoff). It only took 3 days for it to leave and come back. Now, Apple Japan said in its repair notes that it "found no problem" but "replaced the hard drive and hard drive cable" anyway. Odd.

In any case, if you have an Apple PowerBook, it really behooves you to have something like S.M.A.R.T. Reporter installed. This is a freeware program that will constantly alert you to your hard drive's health. And yes, make lots of backups constantly! With DVD-R prices now less than a $1/disk for 4.7 gigabytes, you have no excuse!

Equipment: iPod Headphones

| | Comments (0) recommends a big pair of headphones and a walkman to drown out the sound of airport announcements and to make the stay seem shorter. Of course, nowadays, everyone uses an iPod instead (and with the Griffin iTalk microphone, the iPod is a great fieldwork tool). I use it for all of my interviews as well as dictating notes to myself. They sync right back up to my laptop and I put them in the same folder as my written notes (now you can see why losing my laptop was such a big deal).

Rather than big "earmuff" headphones, I might also recommend inner-ear headphones such as the Sony MDR-EX71. I've had these now for about a month. These have silicon earplugs in various sizes that seal out outside sound much better than the open-air phones that come with the iPod. The sound quality is much better and it really quietens the roar of the airplane if you're sitting in the rear seats. I bought mine for just over Y4000 in Japan.

The one downside is that they seal out sound so well that you really have to be careful if you're walking around a busy city while wearing them. You can't hear bicycles or taxis that are bearing down on you with homicidal intent. You can also buy Shure high-end phones that look similar but cost over $200. I'm not that rich so I can't say if the sound is that much better.

As readers of my blog know, my Powerbook harddrive crashed right on the eve of my trip to the United States -- and right during a backup session. This meant that less than half of my data was properly backed up, including my most recent ethnographic fieldnotes, interview recordings, and digital photographs. Not good.

Apple's DiskUtility warned of a S.M.A.R.T. diagonistic failure indicating a hardware failure and could not repair it. My usual disk utility program, DiskWarrior, could also not scan the disk because of the hardware failure. I thought I was @(*@*@.....

I had thought that my only remaining option was DriveSavers in California. They gave me an online estimate of $2000 to recover the missing data. Yes, two big ones. They'd take the drive into a clean room and read the data off the raw platters just like the latest episode of CSI New York.

I had almost packed the computer away to send to them when I tried an absolutely new program that's on the market called VirtualLab. It's for both the PC and Mac. Unlike Norton or DiskWarrior, the neat thing about it is that it works with a data analysis server over the internet. Also, you don't buy the program but you buy blocks of data recovery. I needed about 8 gigabytes recovered, which cost me about $140.*

* The program does have some negatives. You have to guesstimate ahead of time how much data you want to recover. If you guess wrong, they charge you more if you want to bump it up later. And if I wanted to recover another drive in the future, it'd cost me over a $100 again. This is aggravating. They should charge either a flat rate or a simple scaled rate and not penalize customers who are bad at math.

The program works fantastic. You do need some way to boot it up separate from the broken drive, I bought an external firewire harddrive (300 gigs for Y30,000) which is now serving as my backup drive. I loaded MacOS X 10.3 on it, then launched VirtualLab. Unlike Norton, DiskUtility, or DiskWarrior, the Virtuallab software was able to workaround the hardware failure (somehow, I'm not sure).

I recovered all of my data. Phew.

I can't praise VirtualLab enough. Give it a try. It's expensive, but a great last resort. They note that it can also be used to recover accidentally formatted or repartitioned drives too. I'll give a report on how Apple Japan fixes my PowerBook later on.

Fine print: Like all of the reviews on my site, I of course received nothing from BinaryBiz for recommending them. I am entirely vendor kickback free.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Equipment - tools of the trade category from February 2005.

Equipment - tools of the trade: January 2005 is the previous archive.

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