How-Tos iOS & Mac how-tos

iPhoto libraries and Dropbox – a warning!

You may be considering syncing your iPhoto libraries between various machines using Dropbox. I tried this recently and it works, but there are some serious caveats, that if you ignore could result in wiping out a lot of your iPhoto changes. Skip to the last paragraph if you want the short version, but for those who get some strange thrill from reading a stranger’s data disaster tales, read on.

So, I recently upgraded to the 50GB Dropbox account as I wanted to be able to sync a large quantity of photos between my iMac and MacBook Pro so that I didn’t have to be tethered to the desk in order to sort and edit them, then make an iPhoto book out of them.

As I started the process of making the book I knew I would have to sync my iPhoto libraries as well. Now, I don’t use iPhoto for anything other than making calendars at Christmas, and the occasional book. I turn off the feature that copies photos into iPhotos catalogue as I prefer to leave them where they are. I also create a new library for each project (although I think that as of 2011 I’ll just keep all of each year’s projects in one library named for the year).

First of all I backed up my libraries by duplicating the entire folder in which they are kept, then zipping it down. Then I created a symbolic link to the original folder and dropped that into Dropbox. That’s a hefty amount to share so I had to leave it overnight to get the contents up onto the server and down onto my MBP.

Once done, I was pleased to see that there appeared to be absolutely no problems. Everything I’d been doing on iPhoto on my iMac prior to syncing appeared in the MBP iPhoto installation. Remembering that with such ‘hacks’ I would need to make sure only one copy of iPhoto was running at a time (to avoid save version conflicts) I got cracking on the book in iPhoto on the MBP.

Yesterday I decided I wanted to continue the book on my iMac for a change. I’d done a lot of work the day before on the book, and that evening had hidden the app away while my wife browsed the net, and then had left the laptop closed and charging on the coffee table overnight as always.

So without thinking, I fired up the iMac copy of iPhoto and as soon as the book loaded I was hit full force in the guts – none of the prior day’s work was there and with a burst of searing adrenaline I realised why.

I hadn’t quit the MBP iPhoto the night before. It was still running, with all of the changes to the book on it, albeit hidden away in the dock. I had a sinking feeling that Dropbox hadn’t been able to upload the new changes to the server and download them to the iMac.

I quickly quit the iMac app and reached for the MBP to pop out the iPhoto app from the dock where it was idling and check all was well. All my work was still there, THANK GOD. However, my mind was starting to work through what had happened.

I could see from the menu icon that Dropbox had started doing a lot of syncing on both machines. I thought through what was going on and came to the conclusion that iPhoto probably makes final saves to the library on Quit, and Dropbox is probably only able to properly sync the changes to the libraries at that point, ready to be used when the app is next launched on whichever machine. I’d closed the MBP the previous evening without quitting iPhoto and, therefore, without letting Dropbox copy the library properly to the iMac.

Then I’d launched the iMac version with an old library, from two days ago. Then I’d quit that version in a panic. And it had started syncing at that point…

With a grim feeling of doom I relaunched the MBP iPhoto and sure enough, in the last two minutes all my work had been wiped out. While Dropbox had been trying to upload the MBP’s newer iPhoto library, it had downloaded the older and freshly saved iMac library and overwritten all my work. And now the newer library was gone for good.

There was no happy ending here – I’ve thought through every possibility. My MBP is meant to be a ‘floating’ computer and hence is never backed up either locally or to the cloud, Dropbox excluded (not that it would have helped in this case for the above reasons). If I had been working on the iMac and forgotten to quit, there was a chance that the days work would have been backed up to my external drives or to Dataflame overnight, but as it was my work was toast and I’ve had to redo it today from memory.

The lessons here are:

  • when it comes to Dropbox-syncing iPhoto libraries between two machines, make absolutely DAMN sure that only one copy of iPhoto (and by extension only one iPhoto library) is being used between the two machines;
  • always make sure that when you finish on one machine you Quit the application and then physically watch Dropbox start and complete the sync between both machines;
  • make sure the DB menu icon has stopped animating on both machines, and ideally manually check the ‘modification date’ on the iPhoto library in question on the target machine before you launch iPhoto on that machine.
  • Here endeth the lesson…

    (PS, I just spent my lunch recreating the lost pages, which only numbered around 8 or so in the end, and I’m confident they’re actually better now I’ve had a second go at them. I still wish I’d never had to do it in the first place)

    Gear & gadget reviews iOS & Mac reviews Reviews

    these are a few (more) of my favourite things

    Who doesn’t love using cool stuff to make their day to day survival more pleasing and less hassle? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll trawl the interwebz looking for cool stuff to buy or install, in the name of streamlining or at least aesthetically enhancing my workflow or daily routine, or just because its… well, cool.

    Here’s a list of cool stuff I use at the moment, none of which falls under any particular category. Consider it more of a Buffet of Cool. Fill your plate with as much or as little as you like and do feel free to pitch in with some of your own Discoveries of Cool.

    How-Tos iOS & Mac how-tos

    how to sync your Macs with Dropbox – for free!

    Dropbox.jpgHappy Christmas, everyone! I hope you all got what you wanted and/or what you deserved. 😉

    My Christmas treat to myself was to spend the evening geeking out with my Dropbox setup. It’s a free service that basically allows you to keep certain files constant across multiple machines. You create an account, download software to the machines you want to use and it creates a folder called ‘Dropbox’ on those machines. Whatever you put in the Dropbox on your computer is uploaded to the server space (where it’s secure unless you mark it ‘Public’), and is subsequently downloaded to the Dropbox folders on all the other machines you’ve set it up with, maintaining consistency no matter what machine you use.

    It’s probably easier to understand if you just try it. It’s completely free, works with Macs, PCs and iPhones – sign up via my links and you’ll even get 250MB extra space on top of the standard 2GB, as will I. Plus, if you follow five of the six ‘Getting Started’ tips once you’ve signed up you get another 250MB free!

    I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to use it for at first. However, combined with the free iPhone app that accesses your server space, I found it was useful for syncing work documents like callsheets or scripts, as well as being a simple and free way to distribute large files like zip archives of photos for friends and clients.

    Finally, I started using it instead of the Sites folder for storing the local copies of the code that runs my websites so that I can make edits on my iMac and be able to pick them up later on the laptop, with no effort copying the files between the two machines.

    However, I felt like I was missing out on some cool uses, so I started investigating syncing the settings of regularly used applications ike Safari, iCal, Address Book, Things and 1Password, and this is how I did it.

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    mac stuff for photographers

    macphotography.jpgIf you’re a photographer and you use a Mac, chances are you’ve probably already heard of the vast majority of these, but it’s still a pretty good list so I really ought to link to it before I lose too many readers.

    The Ultimate Mac Setup for Photographers is a nice collection of apps that you’re bound yo find handy when it comes to your digital workflow on your Mac. (and I nicked the image on the left from their site – credit where it’s due!)

    There’s a couple of things I use that aren’t on there at all, surprisingly. First of all, in ‘Organizing and Editing’ (damn their American spellings!) they’ve tragically forgotten Photo Mechanic which to my mind is by far the best organisational tool for professional photographers. Of course, I’m biased because I don’t use Bridge, Aperture, Lightroom or iPhoto.

    I’m not a fan of what iPhoto does to my filing system. I think Aperture does the same thing, I might be wrong. iPhoto’s default system is to take your photos off your memory card and store them where it wants to see them, in a folder within a folder within a folder within iPhoto’s own folder in your Pictures folder. Then if you make edits to the image it stores another copy and keeps the original untouched (good move). I don’t like this because it ties me into using iPhoto exclusively so that at least all my photos are in one place – but that’s iPhoto’s place, and if I want to use other apps, it becomes messy. Which one do I edit? Where do I save it?

    And what if I have other shoots in different places but I want to start using them in iPhoto? It copies them from where they are to it’s own folder again, creating more duplicates. No, I vastly prefer to have complete control over my photos. I use iPhoto only for the occasional calendar or photobook from Apple, or to create albums of images to put on my iPhone. That’s it. I realise I can now set iPhoto to not move/copy photos to it’s own location, but that’s by the by as it’s simply a consumer tool – it might be great for you, but it’s not for me.

    Photo Mechanic, which I use, doesn’t have any editing capabilities, focussing just on organisation and tagging. I ingest a whole shoot into my computer from a card using the app – it adds my IPTC info to each photo as it arrives. Then I can tag using stars (1-5) or colours; view or edit EXIF and IPTC metadata; preview full screen; move photos around the computer; batch rename; all the usual organisational stuff. It can show me previews of my RAW files almost instantly, rendering a preview JPG from the RAW data without any latent interpretation of the data by the app – the settings I shot at are what it shows me so I can make a judgement call. I can also export images to a web-gallery automatically, with a choice of several different packages – I use the SimpleViewer package almost exclusively as it’s so simple and classic. Finally, the colour or rating tags I apply can be set to be recognised by Nikon Capture NX2, my RAW developer of choice.

    Which is the second big omission in my eyes. They list Lightroom, Capture One Pro and Aperture, but no Capture NX2. I know Lightroom, Capture and Aperture are the big boys with the big marketing bucks, but Capture NX2 is the only software that can do proper justice to a Nikon RAW file, in my opinion. It’s the only RAW converter I’ve used where the image I saw on the LCD is exactly what I get on the screen when I open the RAW file up. Other converters apply their own baseline values to the RAW files which necessitates setting up your own defaults that match what you thought you were shooting at the time. NX2 also gives you all the controls you’re used to on your Nikon camera, such as the Picture Control and Active D-Lighting settings. It’s also up to a useable speed on my aluminium iMac (the first of the new line of iMacs that came out a couple of years ago).

    Other than that, it’s a great list with a lot of great apps in there. Have a look and see if there’s something you’re missing out on.

    iOS & Mac reviews

    fun with Poladroid

    OWN_2258-pola.jpgGrass & Water beads-pola.jpg

    Yesterday I mentioned an iPhone app called Camerabag that applies filters to iPhone photos. Today I happened across a free app for Macs and PCs called Poladroid.

    You drag an image from your computer onto the application (which is represented by a lovely icon of a Polaroid camera) and it makes that whizz and whirr sound and produces a Polaroid-styled JPG which actually has to develop. Once finished it saves in a location of your choice (which you can set up in Preferences). There’s even a setting for randomly grittying up the image, which sometimes results in a lovely smudgy thumbprint somewhere (see the photo of the grass). As with many photography apps these days, there’s a Flickr group of users as well.

    The effect and the realistic texture of the frame is better than the effect used in Camerabag, but as it’s a desktop app you can use it on pictures from your ‘better’ cameras which makes up for the lack of spontaneity an iPhone app engenders. However, the makers of Poladroid have announced they’re working on an iPhone version too, which could be a lot of fun. 🙂