MBLOK: a cross-platform memory cube for many devices

One memory across multiple devices that doesn't involve the cloud? I think I could be tempted by that idea. It's precisely what MBLOK is attempting to achieve via a Kickstarter campaign that launched yesterday. MBLOK is a small, local memory device that connects to PCs and Macs like a flashdrive or communicates with smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth. It should function cross-platform and can connect to upto seven devices simultaneously. There are Android and iOS apps in the works to help you manage your files stored on an MBLOK and keep a track of its battery life. It's meant to last for upto 300 hours. It comes in 128 and 256GB storage capacities.

MBLOK's biggest appeal, for me, is its ability to connect to a variety of different devices without the need for an internet connecton. This makes it ideal for when you're on the move and might want to back up Raw images from your laptop and other photos from your phone, watch films on your tablet, and keep copies of documents, but can't guarantee access to the cloud.

A quick run-down of capability

MBLOK needs to raise $120,000 (Canadian) to reach its Kickstarter goal. That's £65,700. You can pick up an early-bird special 128GB MBLOK for $189 (about £105) or 256GB version for $279 (£155); rising to $249 and $349 respectively when the limited numbers special prices have been snapped up. I was slightly concerned that at these prices and with few lower-tier backing options, MBLOK might struggle. But it's already raised over $15,000 and it isn't even 24 hours into its campaign yet.

Connects to a laptop via USB, to smartphone via Bluetooth

I'm also inclined to regard the MBLOK timeline with scepticism. It seems highly ambitious to me, with a great deal to be accomplished before shipping the product in the first quarter of 2015. This includes establishing suppliers and component production, app development, and a great deal of testing. If I were putting my money into this, I'd be prepared for my device to arrive a little after the anticipated delivery date.

Managed via an app

If you're interested, you can read more and pledge money over on Kickstarter.

Jumping on and off of Dropbox's Carousel

Yesterday, the cloud storage company Dropbox announced its 'Home for Life' initiative, making Dropbox a service that can 'take pain away from technology so you can do more with your life.' Part of that package is Carousel, a photo and video gallery that combines your Dropboxed images with those on your phone in one accessible, beautiful place. When you have downloaded the app, it backs up your mobile photos, and automatically backs up new ones, before sorting them—and those previously stored in Dropbox—into a chronological gallery. There's also the option to share hundreds of images quickly and simply via 'private conversations'.

Put your images on Carousel

The 'Home for Life' idea is about simplicity, and for Dropbox that means taking care of your photos in a fuss-free way as possible: 'And unlike other mobile galleries, the size of your Carousel isn’t constrained by the space on your phone, which means you can finally have your entire life’s memories in one place.' No, it's just constrained by the size of your Dropbox account. And with Dropbox being one of the more pricey cloud storage options out there, this could become expensive quite quickly. It's fuss-free, but at a price.

Easy to upload and easy to share

I love Dropbox. I use it every day. But not for photo storage. Its cost is prohibitive and despite the convenience and good looks of Carousel, it makes more sense for me to use Google+ to back-up my mobile images and Dropbox to store and share documents. When I'm able to auto-upload an unlimited number of standard-sized images (so that's 2048 pixels along the longest edge) from my phone to Google+, or full-sized ones at Google's much cheaper storage rates, it just doesn't make sense to use up my valuable Dropbox space.

If you're uncertain of entrusting your photos to Google, Flickr has an auto-upload feature in iOS 7 and it'll take you quite some time to burn through its terabyte of storage. Or there's Microsoft's OneDrive, which has an auto-back-up feature, too.

Dropbox has made a valiant attempt with Carousel to create a service that sets it apart from its competitors, with a swish interface and direct sharing options, but I'm not convinced that they offer me enough to justify the outlay. I won't be downloading right now. But I'm not you, and if you think it's what you're after, pay a visit to the Carousel website.

Video comes to photo storage app Loom

I've been a fan of Loom since since I tried out its public beta version earlier this year. It's a photo storage service that allows you to access your images across all of your devices as well as auto-upload them to take some of the strain off of keeping your back-ups secure. It's easy to use and looks good, too. Today they've released their biggest update to date, which will allow users to play and stream videos on their iPhones, iPads, and from the website. The process that their developers have implemented lets users watch their videos almost automatically without any of that pesky buffering. As soon as you press 'play' it starts to stream the lowest quality version of the recording while simultaneously buffering the higher quality one and switching to that as soon as your Internet cnnection and screen resolution lets you. Yes, it's similar to the system that Netflix uses.

They've made a pretty video to show it off, too:

Loom already gives you 5GB of storage for free; 50GB costs $39.99 for a year, or $99.99 buys 250GB of storage for a year. However, if you refer your family and friends to Loom you can pick up an extra 5GB for free.

Yes, Loom is only iOS-only at the moment, but Android expansion is planned. Let's hope that's Loom's next major update and it comes along quickly!

After the storm: where we stand with Adobe's Creative Cloud

CCNow that the dust has settled and hopefully the tempers have calmed after Adobe's announcement to move from stand-alone licensing to online subscription for its Creative Suite products, which it has rebranded Creative Cloud, I think it's time for some assessment. What are the positives and negatives of this move; for whom does it work and for whom doesn't it; and what might it mean for the industry?

The figures

Price-wise, a year's subscription to the entire Creative Cloud package will cost you £46.88 ($49.99) a month. If you only want to purchase one application, let's say Photoshop, you can subscribe to that for £17.58 ($19.99) a month. The boxed version of Photoshop was around £600 ($1,000), depending on where you bought it. You would have been looking at around £2,500 ($2,600) for the complete gamut of Creative Suite. With Creative Cloud you also get 20GB of storage thrown in and access to the Behance network that Adobe recently bought and integrated into its business.

Over the course of a year, you'll be spending £562.56 for Creative Cloud or £210.96 for the Photoshop-only package. It's going to take you three years to shell out what you would have for the stand-alone package. Within those three years you might well have upgraded your stand-alone package, at whatever price Adobe set, but the upgrades to the Cloud subscription will have been automatically deployed. Thus for a few years, it is a more cost-effective solution but there will reach a point when your subscriptions exceed the cost at which you could have previously purchased the product.

For existing Adobe customers, the situation is a little different, because your first year as subscribers is slightly cheaper, but does that really make up for then having to shell out month-on-month for a product that you've effectively already bought?

Negatives and positves

The primary concern with the subscription model is that it locks you into the system in perpetuity. In the past, once you'd bought the licence to Photoshop CS3, you had it for as long as it continued to work. With the subscription model you only have access to Photoshop for as long as you continue to pay for it. And what's to stop Adobe from doubling or tripling their subscription fees next year?

If the cost of subscription were to become prohibitive, would you still be able to access your native format files? Right now, there are other programmes capable of opening PSD files, for example Pixelmator, but could Adobe move to a more restrictive format in the future? It could, but all of this is speculation right now.

If you were at all concerned that you would not be able to use Photoshop, or any of the other Creative Cloud applications, without an ongoing connection to the internet, Adobe have assuaged that fear. You will of course have to be connected to install and license the software, and you'll be asked to connect every 30 days to validate the licences, but you'll be able to use your applications for unto 180 days offline. If you're trekking through the jungles of Borneo, you'll still be able to edit your photos on the move, even if the trees don't provide wi-fi.

Winners and losers

Many people have suggested that Adobe's primary move towards the Cloud is to avoid the scourge of pirates. Whilst it might be conceivable that it will help to prevent people from pirating their products—although I'm not convinced; if you can make something, you can break it—what they will prevent, at least until someone finds a workaround, is people using their products, and not necessarily encourage their purchase.

People pirate software for all sorts of reasons. Those who are ideologically opposed to paying for software aren't going to be mysteriously converted by a subscription format. For those who can't afford it, some will now be able to afford Adobe subscriptions, some still won't. As for those who pirated it just because they could, some of those might choose to pay, others might chose to look elsewhere, or to stick with their obsolete but free versions. Adobe will likely win some and lose some in terms of subscribers, but those that it wins will almost certainly be in it for the long haul.

Stayers and leavers

Should you then stick with Adobe for the long haul? If you're a professional who relies on Adobe's products in order to fulfil your obligations and complete your projects that provide an income for you that is in excess of the subscription fee, almost certainly. You're not losing, per se, by paying the fee and it keeps you on a par with your peers and competitors. It's also a legitimate business expense that you can write off against your taxes, which is handy.

Should your figures be more marginal, you perhaps need to consider your options. Then it will depend on how attached you are to Adobe and how comfortable you would feel switching to another provider. If you can find another application or set of applications that provides you with similar outcomes but on better terms, a switch could be in your favour.

For hobbyists, don't feel that Adobe is the only option, especially when it comes to Photoshop. Photoshop Elements is an extremely competent alternative, and significantly cheaper. It is, after all, Adobe's solution for people who don't require Photoshop's full fire-power. GIMP is free. Pixelmator is very highly thought of. Photoshop's capabilities are extensive and impressive, but if you're not making full use of them then you might not need to pay for them.

If you're wondering what I'll be doing, I shall almost certainly be taking out a Photoshop-only subscription to augment my use of Lightroom, which is my go-to editing suite, and has been confirmed as remaining stand-alone for the the foreseeable future. However, I am keeping a close eye on Pixelmator. I think it has potential as a Photoshop alternative.

To the future?

When Google announced that it was shuttering Reader, it felt as if the RSS universe were imploding. How could they possibly? What would we do? But the universe didn't implode: a feast of alternatives has sprung up, some of them far prettier and likely even more functional than Reader. Adobe's move is a divisive one, but it isn't anywhere near implosive. For anyone with the talent and the tenacity, the time is ripe for striking out with an Adobe alternative.

How to keep your photos safe: Backup routines!

As photographers, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to take the most beautiful photos ever. Do you spend enough time keeping them safe?

How often do you back up your photos? If you have to think for more than a fraction of a second to answer that question, the real answer is 'not often enough'

There are a few important steps to creating a backup strategy.

Choose what to back up

This is the easiest bit. Think about this: What do you want to back up? The answer, here, is probably either 'my photos', or 'my photos and lots of other stuff'.

I do both - but I go out of my way to take better, more frequent, and more redundant backups of my photos, because they're more valuable and important to me.

Choose how to back it up

Automatic back-up at home - Until recently, I was using an Apple Time Capsule; but I've had two of the damn things fail on me within a year (and I've written a separate rant about that elsewhere). So I've upgraded to a Drobo FS instead (Amazon US / UK) - Firewire 800 and fully-redundant RAID means that even if one of the drives kick the bucket, I don't lose any of my precious files.

Along the same trait is Automatic back-up over the internet - In addition to my Drobo, I use a service called Mozy, which is an online backup service (for more about why, see 'store the backup' below). It's pretty clever, actually, for about $5 per month you get unlimited storage, and it takes backups in the background, all over the internet. By having your back-ups off-site, your stuff is still safe even if someone steals everything in your house, there is a fire, or similar horribleness. I signed up for a 2-year subscription, set it up, and haven't looked at it since (apart from checking if it's still backing up every now and then. It is. I'm impressed.)

If you don't like Mozy - or if you're looking beyond just backups - there's always Dropbox, which is a bloody good solution, too; very well integrated, includes some clever sharing features, and is tightly integrated with your computer OS - you can even use it to keep folders synced between your different computers, and they have a clever online file browser, too.

Right: That's 50,000 photographs just waiting to be destroyed because someone opened the hard drive enclosure to take a photo...

Consider RAID...

... Over a network: RAID solutions can work in many different ways - you can do them over a network (Check out 'Network Attached Storage' on Amazon ( or .com)).

... Hooked up directly to your PC or Mac: As far as stand-alone RAID goes, you can buy ready-built solutions (Like the G-Tech G-Raid 3TB FireWire 800 / Hi-Speed USB solution available from, or the WD MyBook 2GB solution from - but there are loads of other options available, too.

If you're feeling thrifty and a bit DIY-tastic, you can build your own RAID solution by getting two big harddisks. I'm rather fond of Western Digital Caviar Green drives; they are reliable, quiet, and cheap-tastic: / In addition, you'll need an enclosure. The Drobo seems to be the gold standard, but you don't have to spend that much money; Look for Firewire 800 enclosures if your computer supports it - if not, USB2 or FireWire should do the trick.

Check your backup integrity


I was kicking myself when I thought I might have lost this photo - turns out that I did have a backup of it, despite deleting the folder by accident. Phew! Click for bigger version on Flickr

Remember that you have to be sure that what you are backing up is actually working: There's no good in taking a backup of a corrupted file. Obviously, you can't check every file for integrity every time, but what you can do is to ensure that you keep older backups, too.

Only recently, I discovered that I had deleted a folder of pictures by accident several months ago. If I had only kept a recent snapshot of my pictures folder (as it were, pun fully intended), I'd have been buggered. Luckily (or rather: due to having a sane backup strategy), I was able to dig out an older backup of my photos folder, which still contained the deleted folder, and I was able to restore my photos. Phew!

For important shoots, I immediately burn them to DVD - that way, I know I have a backup somewhere which isn't being touched.

Think about where you store your backups

Okay, so perhaps this bank vault is a bit over-kill, but if your photos are valuable to you (say, if you're a commercial photographer, or if you can't stand the thought of losing them), you might want to consider renting a deposit box, and keep a backup of your photos on an external harddrive there. You only need a tiny bank box, so it shouldn't cost the world.


It's important to think about how you are storing your backups. Remember that you're backing up for all sorts of reasons: If your computer breaks, and external harddrive is handy. But what if someone breaks into your house? It's no good having a full set of backups on external harddrives if the thieves can just take them with them, too. House fires, floods, etc - there are lots of reasons why keeping your backups in your house is a good idea (they're easily available), but there are risks, too.

If you do have to keep your backup harddrive in your house, you can't do much better than ioSafe's brand new Solo G3 backup solutions. They are fire and water-proof (so likely to survive a house fire, and subsequent fire department rescue operation. They aren't exactly good for travelling (the unit sitting under my desk weighs approximately a billion tonnes), but the flipside of that is that they're also practically bullet-proof. In the beforementioned housefire, that's a very good thing: If you can find your ioSafe Solo in the remaining rubble, it's probably there, hugging your data gently.

iosafe_portable.jpgPersonally, I keep the harddrive connected to the network hidden away in the attic. That way, a casual thief is unlikely to run off with it, so even if my computer is stolen, I don't lose my photos.

In addition, I keep a backup on an external drive which I leave at my parent's house - it's low-tech, and the backups are generally about 2 months old every time I swap the drive over, but it's better than not having it handy.

Finally, I have the Mozy backups - although they would be a pain int he arse to restore: I'd have to download hundreds of GB of data. There's an alternative way, too: ordering DVDs or an external harddrive with your data, but that, too, is a pain... In short, Mozy is my absolute last resort.

And finally... Try recovering the backup

The best thing that might happen to you is that you go your entire life without ever having to restore a back-up. Nonetheless, it is an extremely good idea to try it anyway.

If you're unable to restore your backups (perhaps there's a problem with the backups? Maybe the restore feature of your favourite backup package isn't working?), you may as well not bother with the hassle of backups at all: they're only useful if you can use them if the worst happens.

The bank vault and harddrive photos are from iStockPhoto.

Groovy USB film rolls

USB film roll i

I might be in a permanent grump about the poor design of USB sticks, and how they take up too much room when they’ve been slotted into the side of my laptop and interfere with other things I want plugged-in, but I think that I can forgive these babies their bulk. The guys at Photojojo have taken to upcycling used film canisters into USB sticks. How cute are they?

They’ve 4GB of storage, which is up to 1,000 photos, and cost $20. You won’t know which variety of film you’ll get though. Maybe something from Fujifilm; perhaps something from Kodak. 24 or 36 exposures? Who knows!

Head over to the always-fab Photojojo for one.

(Pics are of course from Photojojo.)