Flickr vs. Gallery2, Revisited

I’m still experimenting with online photo galleries, and becoming thoroughly frustrated with my options. At the moment, here is how the two front runners compare;

Flickr, Pro:

  • Relational/Dynamic view – I love that photos are basically all in one big folder, and that you can assign them to dynamic sets, so that the original photo (with accompanying data) can appear in multiple locations, rather than copying and pasting a photo into multiple albums.
  • Licensing – Flickr offers a simple way to license every photo, allowing Creative Commons licenses or Copyrights to be attached to photos. You can have a default license, so that every photo uploaded has the default license, or change the license on a photo-by-photo basis.
  • Community – By design, Flickr is like a social network for photos; it exists as a photo sharing community. And while you don’t have to participate in groups, or have contacts, it is nice to be able to easily share photos, or have your work critiqued by others.

Flickr, Con:

  • Limited Customization – There is very little you can do to Flickr to personalize it, and make it your own. You can select from one of 4 different views (6 if you have a Pro account), and that’s about it. No colors or themes at all.
  • Loss of Control – Since Flickr hosts the images, you can’t tweak the software or add plug-ins to make it do what you want. You are also at the mercy of Flickr, should they change any of their policies or Terms of Service.
  • Restrictions – Free accounts have lots of restrictions (bandwidth, number of sets, file size, images shown in archives) but even Pro accounts have some restrictions. The main restriction is file size (currently 10MB per photo for Pro accounts), although who’s to say that Flickr won’t change the annual fee or restrictions?
  • Censorship – From what I’ve read thus far, Flickr tends to be a bit over-zealous with censorship issues. A user’s comments, photos and entire account can be deleted, with little recourse, if someone flags a comment or photo as “questionable”.

Gallery2, Pro:

  • Complete Control – Since you host it yourself, you are in absolute control. You want all your thumbnails square? No Problem. You want to crop your own thumbnails, rather than have the default? Easy.
  • Customization – There are loads of themes for Gallery2, and various color packs to change the color scheme. But if you don’t like those options, you can create your own theme, too.
  • Plug-ins – On the nature of customization, if there is something you want accomplished in Gallery that can’t be done out of the box, someone may have already written a plug-in to accomplish what you want. Or, you could write your own plug-in.

Gallery2, Con:

  • Strictly Hierarchical Storage – Gallery was built to mimic a photo album, and so photos are stored in a series of nested albums. Photos can show up in multiple spots, but only as links to the original or as replicas, which won’t share any comments.
  • Lack of Community – Since you host Gallery yourself, you’re not really part of a community of users. This can go either way, though; I wouldn’t really gain much “community” from Flickr, since few of my friends and family use Flickr, or even know what it is. And do I want random strangers commenting on my photos?

In the end, I simply can’t go with Flickr. Yes they have Dynamic/Relational sets, but I just don’t trust them with my photos. Before, I might have considered it, but with the censorship controversy I’ve been reading about, there is no way I’d entrust my photos to them. I would much prefer to run my own photo gallery and know I have complete control over it, even if it doesn’t do everything I want. This isn’t to say I’ll stay with Gallery2 forever, but at the moment it looks to be the best solution for my needs.

A Blog of Many Colors

I am constantly amazed at how flexible WordPress is. Little over a year ago, I had only heard of WordPress, but had no real idea what it was. Then my husband started his blog, and I discovered it was like LiveJournal (which I had used for nearly 5 years), only better. Whereas LiveJournal was hosted, and locked you into a limited number of options, with WordPress you could host your own blog, and customize it however you saw fit. With a little CSS and PHP knowledge, you could change the whole look of your blog.

Even if WordPress was only used for blogs, it would still be worthwhile. After all, it’s free, highly customizable, easy to use, and can be hosted at your own domain. But with the large community of WordPress users providing plug-ins, you can use WordPress for more than just a blog. For example, at least 2 of the webcomics I read, Applegeeks and PvP, use WordPress to publish their comics. Using the YAPB plug-in, you can easily convert WordPress into a photoblog, allowing both photo posts and regular text posts. However you want to use WordPress, someone before you has probably already thought of it, and built a plug-in to do what you want. That freedom is what I like about WordPress; no matter what you want to do, you can probably manage it with WordPress.

Searching for a Camera Bag, part 2

So, after checking out some camera bags in-person, I’ve learned a few things. First of all, I really need to have a better idea of what all I plan to store in a camera bag, and how I plan to use it. That will give me a better idea of which camera bags to look at, so I can try them on for fit and comfort. Having said that, I did try on some camera bags in the store, to check out the fit.

The Tamrac Velocity 7x may be a decent camera bag for a guy, but I can’t recommend it to any female photographer. The strap goes from the left shoulder to roughly the right armpit; clearly women have a few things in the way, impeding the strap. It also felt rather “flappy” on my back, due to the position of the strap. Of course, it has a waist strap for stability, but that looks like it must be unclipped to rotate the bag around. Overall, it seemed like an ok bag, just not for me.

The Lowepro Slingshot 100 AW had a much better fit, for a sling bag. The shoulder strap goes from the left shoulder to roughly the right hip, so it stayed against my back much better than the Tamrac. It had a stability strap which buckled from the left hip to the main strap, but I thought the bag felt stable enough without the strap. I had a slight issue with one of the features of the Slingshot, though. When spun around to the front, the bag was positioned just under my ribs, to provide a platform for changing lenses or whatnot. It seemed a little high for my tastes, but I may have just had the strap too short. Also, the exterior accessory pouches aren’t as accessible while the bag is on, due to their orientation.

While I was at the camera shop, I also checked out the Lowepro Rezo 160. Yes, it’s a shoulder bag and not a sling bag, but it seemed nice. The top opens away from the body, so you can still access the camera without taking off the bag. It had a fair amount of space, and didn’t seem nearly as “box like” as my old camera bag.

After checking out the store, I can firmly say that I don’t want a Tamrac Velocity. I really like the look and feel of the Lowepro bags, but now I just need to decide which one I like best. The Rezo was easier to get on and off, and looks more traditional. The Slingshot was nice for the sling bag aspects; weight on the back more than shoulder, and the ability to have the bag on your back and out of the way, but quickly accessible. For everyday use, the Rezo would be perfect. However, if I want to bring my camera along on a bike ride, or wear it for long periods of time (like on a vacation), the Slingshot would probably be more comfortable.

Capacity is also going to be a concern. At this point, I don’t really have much gear; the Canon XT with kit lens, a spare CF card, a spare battery, the battery charger, a few filters, lens cleaning supplies and the manual. Obviously I want a bag with a little room to grow, but I don’t want to lug around a huge, unwieldy bag. I figure as far as lenses go, I may eventually get a mid-range zoom, a wide angle lens, a prime lens for portraits, and a macro lens. At some point I’ll probably also see about getting an external flash. Something that could accommodate the gear I have now, while still leaving space for some gear I plan to get eventually, would be great. Obviously, this means I’m going to need to further research the capacities of the camera bags I’m thinking about.

Searching for a Camera Bag

For Christmas, Matt got me a beautiful digital SLR (Canon Digital Rebel XT). It’s really nice, but now I need to get a case for it to keep it safe. Obviously it’s not going to fit in my old camera case – the old Powershot A610 just barely fit in there. I have the case from my old film SLR, but that is still occupied by the Minolta, and it’s not the greatest of cases anyway. I bought that case over 8 years ago, and at the time all I knew was that it had to hold my SLR. Experience has given me a better idea of what to look for in a bag.

For starters, I need a camera bag that is comfortable. The bag for my old film SLR is basically a big, unwieldy box on a strap. Functional, but not terribly comfortable. Also, I’d like to be able to to get the camera out without having to set the bag down to unload it. For that, I’m going to need a sling/messenger style camera bag. Something that I can carry the weight of on my back, but slide around to the front to access the camera.

Second, I want a bag that has a little room to grow. At the moment, I only have the kit lens for my DSLR, but hope to get another lens or two in the future. I don’t want to get a camera bag that is fitted to just the DSLR, because once I get more lenses or an external flash, I’ll have no where to put them. On the flip side, I don’t want to get a massive backpack style bag that I will never fill, as I’m trying to keep the camera bag mostly streamlined.

Those are the two most important criteria. Some of the other things I’m looking for seem fairly standard. For instance, I want the camera bag to be at least vaguely weatherproofed. It doesn’t have to survive a drop in a lake, but if I transport the bag of gear in a mist or light snow, I want the camera to stay dry. I also want a nice little pocket to store my spare memory card and battery pack. Space to stuff a little notepad might be convenient, in case there is anything important I need to remember about photos or locations.

I’ve been checking out some camera bags online, and the two bags that top my list right now are Adorama’s Slinger, and Tamrac’s Velocity series. Lee has a Slinger bag, and it seems to be quite nice – I’ve obviously not pawed through it, but he recommends it highly, and it meets all my criteria. I checked out the Velocity series online, and it looks like it meets all my criteria, but I would obviously want to check one out in person before I made my decision. I had at first considered Crumpler as I had heard that they were nice bags, but they look to be online only, and I find their website to be painfully obnoxious and unhelpful.

And a Happy New Year!

Christmas has come and gone, and I figure what better way to celebrate the New Year than by setting some New Years goals. Matt’s post on the matter gave me a little motivation; I figure if I post my resolutions online for all to see, I’ll be a bit more motivated to actually maintain them. And so, without further ado;

#1 – Get in better shape. While I wouldn’t mind slimming down a little, weight loss isn’t really my goal here. During the warmer months, we used to take a weekly 10 mile bike ride. In 2007 we didn’t go nearly as often; the heat, moving into a new apartment, and wedding planning all kind of got in our way. The few trips we did make, though, weren’t even for the full 10 miles, as we hadn’t kept in shape over the winter. My goal is to get back into shape, so that when warmer weather arrives we’ll be able to jump right back into the full 10 mile bike ride. We have the workout area in the clubhouse to use, and Matt’s friend Leonard gave us some exercises we can do without ever leaving the apartment.

#2 – Become a better photographer. Matt got me a fabulous digital SLR for Christmas, and I would love to be able to utilize it to it’s full potential. In order to become a better photographer, though, I need to practice. I was considering doing Project 365 (photo a day, not faces), but as January 1st has already passed, I wouldn’t be able to do it for the entirety of 2008. I could always start it mid-year, and still shoot for a year, just not a calendar year. Shooting a photo a day also brings up the question of what I will do with the photos; Flickr, Gallery2, or something else? For now, though, I’ll just focus on shooting the pictures; what to do with them after that can be a concern for later.

#3 – Finish what I start. I have a nasty habit of starting projects, and then putting them on the back burner, where they languish. I have at least 3 craft projects that were moved to the back burner, where they are for the most part, forgotten. I blame at least part of this on my discovery of feed readers – I spend a lot of time on the internet “catching up” on feeds that I ordinarily wouldn’t have read. What I’m trying to do is allow myself to catch up on my feeds once ( and ONLY once) a day. I may need to prune back the number of feeds I read, in order to make time to actually do things away from the computer.

One Task Down…

With the wedding Thank You notes finished and in the mail, it’s time for me to focus on the next project; the combined address book for both sides of the family. I have a rough version done – basically enough to complete a mail merge, so we didn’t have to hand address the envelopes on the Thank You notes. Of course, this isn’t going to be a quick and easy project, because I’m picky.

I’m not going to be happy with just a paper address book, as I want to be able to do a mail merge for envelopes on Christmas cards. With over 50 people on the Christmas card list this year, there is simply no way I have the time to hand address them all. However, I don’t want a lot of redundant information – I’d like to be able to list the mailing address and telephone number for each family once, rather than duplicating it for each member of the household. This has prompted me to try a sort of 2 part address book – one part being the “Household” information (household name, mailing address, telephone number & Christmas card records) and the other part being the “Individual” information (full name, birth date, anniversary, cell phone number, work phone number, email address(es), website/blog, etc.), with a way of linking the Individuals to the Household, so I know where everyone belongs.

With all the information in a database, I’d like to be able to generate a few different reports. Ideally I could create a Birthday List, with all the individuals listed chronologically by calendar year. I tried doing a birth date report before, but unfortunately it factored the year in, as well. Rather than having all the January birthdays, it had January of 1967, and then maybe July of 1976, and then January of 2005. I would like it to list January, then the date with the person’s name and maybe the year in parenthesis after that, so I know how old they’ll be.

Another report I’d like to generate would be an address book page. I know I can’t be at my computer all the time, and having a physical copy of an address book is convenient sometimes. Having all the information in a database means I should be able to generate a view I’d like; what I want is to be able to have one page per household, with all the household information at the top, and the individuals belonging to that household and their information below. That way when information changes, I can just print out a new page to replace the old one.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. I have a basic idea of what I need to do; I have a database set up with 3 tables – one with Household information, one with Individual information, and one linking Individual id’s with Household id’s. In some cases, it feels silly giving an individual an entry; some people I have little contact with outside of the annual Christmas cards, and so the only information I have is a mailing address and the names of individuals living there.  Figuring out how to generate and format the reports exactly how I want will also take a little doing. But I think that in the end, it will be worth it to have an address book that manages all the information I need, in a format I want.

Time For Some Maintenance

I’ve been lax in updating my blog of late – what with the holiday season upon us, and the various projects that entails, I just haven’t been able to really squeeze in the time to write for my blog. We finally got the tree up, but it still needs decorations. Of course, I have to sort through the boxes of tree decorations from my childhood, and divvy them up into 2 boxes; ones that can go on the tree, and ones that I want to keep, but don’t want on the tree. And of course I need to finish the address book (with BOTH sides of our family), finish the Thank You notes from the wedding, and get the Christmas cards ready to go in the mail. Then I need to finish Christmas shopping (for both sides), and wrap all the presents. Let’s not even talk about the craft and photo archiving projects that have been languishing on the back burner for far too long now.

And on top of all that, I think I need to re-purpose my blog. I’m just trying to accomplish too many things with it, and I don’t really have any kind of theme to pull it all together. I have a few ideas floating around in the back of my mind, on how to consolidate a few things and tie it all together. Of course, one addition I was thinking of adding may require some site/theme redesign, unless I can find a way to accommodate it somehow. We’ll see how it pans out – in the mean time, I am still alive, even if I’m not posting.

Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

It’s been a while since I actually finished this book, but I figured I should get my review up before I finish reading my current book. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is not a book I would have chosen on my own, although the premise seems intriguing; do the rich really have some insider knowledge that the rest of the world doesn’t, thereby furthering the economic divide between the rich and the poor? Trust me, a book on finances and money would almost never be voluntary reading for me – I only read this at the strong recommendation of a friend, who had it and offered to lend it to me.

If you’re looking for a how-to book that will teach you the tricks of the rich, this is not the book for you. If you’re looking for a book that will introduce financial literacy through childhood experiences, this is more your speed. Most of the lessons are simple, like don’t spend more than you earn. Some of the more thought provoking points, though, involved how one defines concepts like wealth, assets, liabilities and financial independence.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in this book, mostly because it wasn’t what I expected. What financial advice there is comes in the form of anecdotes, which seem ill-suited for a book on money. I understand the use of anecdotes to make the topic more approachable, but in this case it seems to have been the worst of both worlds; the stories were so dry as to not hold my interest, and most of the advice distilled from the stories was overly simplified. Basically, the book gets you motivated to make money work for you, without really giving you a direction.

The real value of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, however, was not in the financial advice, but in the inspiration and motivation it provided. Before reading this book, I’d never really thought of how to make my money work for me, beyond a simple savings account. I’d never thought about investments, or whether a house was an asset or a liability. What this book did, was make me think about money in a new way, and motivate me to start planning financially for my future.

Flickr vs. Gallery2

I’ve been checking out photo gallery software online, trying to find one that does exactly what I want. Of course, part of that search involves figuring out exactly what I want from gallery software.

Currently my gallery is powered by Gallery2, and while there is nothing wrong with it, I wish it did more. The organizational structure (nested albums) lends itself well to event-based photography, which until recently was all I ever had a need or desire for. I love that it’s customizable; I can change themes, and install modules until it looks like I want, and does almost anything I want. Permissions can be assigned to nearly every task, allowing only registered members to vote on photos, or requiring a password to view certain galleries. Basically, I love that I have complete, neurotic control over every minute detail. But while I like the control, I’m starting to outgrow the nested album style of organization. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk, and take some silly pictures just to play with settings and learn what I can do. If they turn out nice, I’d like to post them to the gallery, but where? They don’t really fit into any of the existing albums, so do I just leave them loose, on the top level? Or do I make a “random” album and drop them in there? In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit neurotic about having things all put away and organized.

This is where Flickr tempts me. I don’t like the loss of absolute control, but I really prefer the organizational style. It’s like my Outlook to Gmail conversion; while Gmail has been my primary email address for a year or two now, I’ve only recently converted to using the web interface. Previously, I had been using Outlook , with it’s directory-style email storage. With the switch to the web interface, comes the use of Gmail’s organizational scheme; labels rather than folders. At first I hated labels, just because I was used to folders. But then I discovered exactly what I could do with labels, rather than folders. Email messages could have multiple labels, and show up under each label without needing to copy the email message to multiple folders. Flickr has tagging (which can also be accomplished with Gallery2, via plug-ins), but it also has sets and collections. A set is like a folder, and yet not. Photos can belong to multiple sets, a single set, or to no set at all. The sets can be grouped into collections, and those collections can be grouped into higher order collections. A good example – I took photos at weddings this summer. As I am wont to do, I ended up taking some photos at the wedding, that had absolutely nothing to do with the wedding (nature shots of the outdoors, etc.) With Gallery2, I would need to decide if they were going in the album with the wedding photos, or in another Nature shots album, since they can’t go in both. With Flickr, I wouldn’t have that problem – the photos could go in the set of photos from that wedding, and whatever other set I wanted. I could create a Collection of sets for Family Events where each set is photos from an event, and another Collection for Wedding Prep, with the actual Wedding Set belonging to both collections.
So this is my conundrum; I like how Flickr organizes photos, but I prefer having the control of Gallery2. I would actually consider springing for a Flickr Pro account, because honestly $25 a year isn’t bad for unlimited photos and unlimited bandwidth. But if I could find a free, self-hosted alternate (like Gallery2), I would seriously consider that as well. At the moment I’m trying to determine if there’s a way I can make Gallery2 more like Flickr, but I suspect it isn’t possible. So, do I sacrifice absolute control to get an organizational scheme I like, or stick with absolute control but remain unhappy with how photos are stored?

Like Netflix for Books

The other day I was thinking. I know, bad opening, so sue me. At any rate, I had just been to the local library to pay a late fine (all of 10 cents!), and the thought struck me; wouldn’t it be great if there was a Netflix, only for books? No late fees, keep a book as long as you like; mail it in when you’re done and they’ll mail you back a new book from your list. But what would one pay for such convenience? I was checking out options online – surely I wasn’t the only one to think of extending the Netflix concept to books? As it turns out, I wasn’t; there are quite a few businesses following the Netflix model.

Two businesses, Bookswim and Booksfree, have an actual book rental program, starting at $15 and $10 a month respectively. For that price, you can keep 2 books at a time, for as long as you want, and mail them back to get new ones. Two others I stumbled upon, PaperBackSwap and America’s BookShelf, are really more of a book sharing program than a rental service; in order to get books, you need to share the books you have currently.

My problem with both of those models is that a) I’m cheap and b) I’m possessive. I’m not going to pay $10+ a month in order to rent books, when I can buy a new book for that price. And I’ve never been the type to trade in old for new; not with video games or movies, and certainly not with books. The only time I’ve ever gotten rid of a book is when I outgrew a children’s series (The Babysitter’s Club books, The Goosebumps series).

Clearly what I need is an improvement on the current (free) library model. I can understand how it would be cost prohibitive for a library to ship books to individuals, so I understand that would probably never be implemented. I also understand that they have a finite quantity of individual titles, and can’t let someone keep a book forever when other patrons are waiting for it. What they CAN do, though, is improve their online interface and introduce a queue. In this day and age, I should be able to update my mailing address, email address and other contact information online – they have my email address linked to my library card number, as I can receive alerts when a book is due. Once the online interface is brought up-to-date, a queue of books and authors you’d like alerts for should be easily done. The “hold” system already manages this to a point – you can basically reserve up to 10 books, and you’ll be alerted when they’re available. The queue would be like a pre-hold; books you’re interested in reading at some point in the future, but not immediately. When you’re ready, you could move the book from queue to hold, and pick it up from the library when it becomes available. I don’t think these type of changes would be too terribly difficult to implement, and would go a long way in increasing the usability and convenience of the library.