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Eye-Fi Card – wow!

23rd April 2011

Innovative New Feature Makes the Eye-Fi Even More Valuable

 

A few months ago, I ran into Ziv Gillat, one of the co-founders of Eye-Fi at a photography trade show. His company developed a set of SD-cards that can send images directly from your digital camera to your personal computer by way of a local wi-fi network.

For background information about these cards, you can read the original review of the Eye-Fi from a few weeks ago here.

Anyway, Ziv was excited to tell me about a new feature that the company was developing. Finally last week, Eye-Fi unveiled a fascinating new capability for any of their X2 series cards.

With this free update, the Eye-Fi can now send images directly to a mobile device – either an iPhone, iPad or Android. By itself, this provides an automated way to backup your images.

On the mobile device, you’ll need to download and install either an iPhone/iPad app or an Android app. These free mobile apps (also provided by Eye-Fi) receive the images from the Eye-Fi card.

The apps provide another very useful feature – they let you resend the images to other online sites. And since they use cellular to upload, the mobile devices replace the personal computer.

To use the new capability which the company calls Direct Mode, I downloaded and installed an update to the included Eye-Fi Center software that is used to configure the SD-card. Using one of the dialogs, I added my iPhone and Android device to my list of supported wi-fi networks. Next I installed the Eye-Fi iPhone app from the iTunes website (and later the Android app from Market) and I was ready to give Direct Mode a try.
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Flipbac Angle Viewfinder

21st April 2011

You’ve probably come across a situation where you find a great photo opportunity but you cannot frame the photo properly because something is blocking your view in the viewfinder. There might, for example, be a crowd of people, a fence, tall shrub, wall, etc., directly in your line of sight.

One way is to use a camera with a movable LCD monitor so you can snap photos at awkward angles. Unfortunately, most point-and-shoot cameras and digital SLRs don’t have a tilt-and-swivel LCD monitor. Therefore, you may want to consider attaching a Flipbac Angle Viewfinder to your camera.


The Flipbac Angle Viewfinder help you compose shots at high and low angles.

The Flipbac isn’t fancy; it’s simply a mirror attached to a small wire frame that you can swing a couple of different directions. It does do, however, what it says it will do. It’ll help you compose shots at difficult angles. It does this by reflecting the LCD image on its mirror-like surface, which simulates a screen that’s able to tilt. You can use the Flipbac in either landscape or portrait mode.
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Earth Day 2011

19th April 2011

Earth Day 2011

… 41 years and counting

Note: This article as been adapted from the original written for Earth Day 2007.

April 22, 2011 

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the first Earth Day. Here is a personal recollection of some of the memories with photos that have followed me since this global movement was in its infancy.

On a daily basis owing to my job, my thoughts are usually centered on the topic of photography. But recently, a few things happened to jog my memory and I was carried back to the first Earth Day of 1970. Stick with me. I’ll get back to the subject of photography soon enough.

From the time I first started reading his compelling, black humor books, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published.

The news coverage of his life and death had my mind wandering back to the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in the city of Ann Arbor. Somewhere in that time frame, Vonnegut was asked to be “Writer in Residence” at the University. As one of the most widely read authors of the 1960’s generation, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience among would-be writers studying at the U of M.

He sometimes frequented a small, local campus restaurant called “The Brown Jug” where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. Back then, it was popular lore that Vonnegut declared smoking to be the slowest form of suicide.

My wife Kris, then a student and part-time waitress, was also a Vonnegut reader. On occasion, she would wait on him in the restaurant. She admitted, that owing to her hearing difficulty, she was not a very good waitress and therefore frustrated the celebrated writer with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his purpose on campus as writer in residence ended abruptly when he left prematurely declaring something to the effect: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing much to teach you about writing.” So it goes.

 

To put things in the proper perspective, 1970 was a very vibrant, exciting and yet conflicted era. I’m reminded of Charles Dicken’s quotation in my high school year book which aptly describes the period: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of Viet Nam and Kent State, living off the earth and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, James Taylor, Woodstock and The Beatles music. With this as a backdrop, we happen upon the Earth Day 1970 teach-in at the U of M.

Not long after Vonnegut’s departure from the campus, we were treated to a free music concert. The well-known folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot came to town to perform for more than 12,000 screaming students in one of the large stadiums at the University. Gord had had been drawing large audiences around the US, Canada and Europe with his classic Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics), a poetic ballad describing the building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing the economy and keeping the land pristine for the future. His music was great back then and to this day, I remain a Lightfoot fan. I was so much the fan that a few years ago I traveled to Las Vegas (by myself since no family member wanted to accompany me) to hear him in concert. And I ended up staying for two of his performances. Would you believe that I even have a life size poster of Gord which was gifted to me by the advertising manager at the Orleans Casino?

Anyway, traveling back to 1970, we understood that Lightfoot’s appearance was part of what was to be part of the first Earth Day teach-in, a gathering of some 50,000 in Ann Arbor to discuss, educate and find solutions to environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. From all of the excitement and the energy which went into the production of the first Earth Day teach-ins, many of us believed that we were on the verge of saving the environment.

As an economics student, I was counting on a future career that would revolve around conservation, ecology and recycling. I was deeply serious about this course of study and studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as remote sensing of the environment and cost-benefit analysis.

My great enthusiasm for all things environmental waned some time after graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. It was fully a year later that I was still trying to find a job in this nascient field. Instead, I ended up in the computer and publishing business. So it goes.

As I usually stay away from public discussions about politics, I won’t comment on how well or how poorly the earth’s inhabitants have done to improve the environment over the past 41 years. However, like others, I have observed a very large and urgent movement in recent years to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles.

So what does all of this rambling have to do photography?

Well, to continue in the same vein, I thought it might be interesting to look at photography then and now to compare their individual environmental impacts.

At first, I thought this was going to be a “no brainer” – that digital photography yields huge environmental savings compared to conventional photography. But as I began to dig deeper, I was reminded that there are two compelling sides to this argument.

Conventional Photography

Having worked in several commercial photo labs long before the advent of digital, I’m familiar with the processes that are used in conventional (film-based) photography.

Most conventional cameras use a cartridge or cannister filled with film for 12, 20 or 36 exposures. Each “roll” of film is individually packaged for sale in hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Besides the resources needed to manufacture the film, a considerable amount more are used to market and distribute the products.

Film derives its light sensitivity from a chemical mixture of silver halide that’s coated onto its surface. After being exposed to light by the camera, the film is first “developed” – the silver halide image is converted into a metallic silver and then “fixed” – the unused silver halide is dissolved. This makes the negative image permament. Color film requires additional chemicals to form the dyes used to reproduce the various colors. And still other chemicals are used to enhance the drying of the photographic materials. In addition to these chemicals, a large amount of water is used to rinse and clean the chemicals from the surface of the film.

Conventional photographic prints are processed similarly using a silver halide sensitive paper and chemicals to develop and fix and wash the positive images. Most commercial photo labs make prints from each exposure on a roll of film.

The environmental impact of conventional photography is significant. A large amount materials is consumed to make film and photographic paper. A large amount of nasty and toxic chemicals are used to process both the film and prints. And an awfully large amount of fresh water is used in the process as well.< /span>

Digital Photography

At first glance, the coming of age of digital photography appears to have a beneficial impact on the environmental.

With digital, no longer is there a need for roll after roll of film. Instead a single chip (SD-card or CF-card) can capture hundreds, maybe thousands of images.

Now, these digital images no longer require chemical development. Rather, the images are immediately available to review while still in the camera. For permanance, the images can be copied to your computer hard drive for safekeeping, further enhancement and presentation.

Unlike conventional processing where each exposure is mindlessly printed by the photo lab, you can be more selective. Instead you can choose to print only the best of the best images. And it’s your choice to print them using a conventional photo process at your favorite photo lab or print them at home on your color ink-jet printer.

Regardless of which camera you’ve purchased, digital photography seems like a winner from an environmental standpoint.

The Rest of the Story

As with many things in life, digital photography has a few “gottcha’s” that cloud its environmental friendly moniker.

The upside is that digital provides big savings in resources by eliminating film, packaging, paper and chemical processing. However, digital shifts the resource burden to the manufacturing and maintaining of the personal computer. Yes, there are some who make do without a personal computer. These picturetakers bring their digital film to a photo lab to make their selected prints. But most picturetakers collect, organize, retouch, process and present their photographs using a personal computer.

While it’s slightly dated, according to a United Nation report from 2004, “the average 24 kg desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels. Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water – a total of 1.8 tonnes of materials.”

Of course a personal computer is used for other tasks as well, so it’s not fair to put the full blame for digital photography’s negative impact on the environment.

And to power all of these cameras, computers and accessories the need for electricity either from the wall outlet or batteries is climbing. Does this contribute to our CO2 footprint?

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are working feverishly to add new and amazing whiz-bang features to their cameras. Now instead of buying a conventional camera every ten years or so, the buying cycle for digital cameras is a lot more frequent. Read: more resources consumed.

Wrapping it Up

We can credit the overwhelming adoption of digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film and prints. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

Unfortunately, after we add the personal computer to complete the processing, digital photography is a mixed bagged from an environmental standpoint.

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut might comment on this no-win situation with the phrase so it goes.

As for me, after all of these years as an avid photographer I’m still a proponent of carefully using our precious natural resources. Aside from photographing family, my favorite pastime is nature and landscape photography. To the best of my ability I continue to practice “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our wildlife nor our environment. Photography, whether conventional or digital, is a gift that lets me enjoy the wonders of our amazing world visually. I think many others agree.

 
More Information
Here’s a few articles that touch on the conventional vs digital photography debate.

The Environmental Impact of Digital Photography
Environmental impact of digital cameras compared to film
How Photographers Are Reducing Their Environmental Impact
How to Be an Environmentally Friendly Photographer

For those of you who have the inclination, here are few links to Earth Day sites.

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Author: Arnie Lee, former flower child and President of Abacus / Stay Focused
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Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot


There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds

As to this verdant country they came from all around

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall

And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring

The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring

Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day

And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see

They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea

Bringing the goods to a young growing land

All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land

From the eastern shore to the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

Were gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Get on our way cause were moving too slow

Behind the blue rockies the sun is declining

The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day

Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping

Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey

Bending our old backs til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Laying down track and building the bridges

Bending our old backs til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains

Into the muskeg and into the rain

Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe

Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay

Driving them in and tying them down

Away to the bunkhouse and into the town

A dollar a day and a place for my head

A drink to the living and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung

All the battles have been won

Oer the mountain tops we stand

All the world at our command

We have opened up the soil

With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

And many are the dead men too silent to be real

Easy Panoramas

17th April 2011

Nothing Beats The Simplicity of In-Camera Panoramas

 

When you want to take it all in, a panorama is a fun way to recreate a memorable view.

Most panoramas are made by taking multiple photos and painstakingly stitching them together with specialized computer software.

Over the years I’ve put together many such panoramas. Since I’ve made so many, I know the routine by heart. I usually build a panorama from six to ten separate images.

First I set the camera shutter speed and aperture manually so that the lighting remains constant throughout all of the images. Since altering the focus point between shots makes it almost impossible to later stitch the photos together, I also set the focus to manual and choose a focus distance for the most important part of the scene. To make sure that the horizon remains level in all of the exposures, I use a tripod and bubble level. To keep track of the images in a set, I place my hand over the lens and shoot to indicate that the next photo is the start of a panorama. After each exposure, I rotate the tripod head so that the next exposure overlaps the previous one by about 30%.
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Easy Photo Gifts

07th April 2011

Do It Yourself Kits

 

I get a kick out of sharing my photos with others.

So when birthdays or holidays roll around I find myself looking for ways to turn some of my photos into gifts.

And like most of you, I’m also on the lookout for ways to save money.

For both of these projects, the sets were 50% off making each an inexpensive way to make custom photo gifts.


For one project, I found a lovely coaster set.

While this one is meant for the Christmas Holidays, there sets available for other occasions as well.

These attractive coasters are made of glass.


Customizing the coaster set is simple.

Each coaster has a opening for a 2″ x 3″ photograph.
For this project, I collected photographs of four of our grandchildren and printed them to the 2″ x 3″ size.


Then it’s just a matter of trimming each photo and inserting it into the small photo mount on the back of the coaster.

Here are their happy faces ready to greet someone who needs a coaster for their drink.


This set also includes a handy wooden holder that keeps the coasters organized when they’re not being used.

This coaster kit is made by Melannco. This company makes many other photo-related products including frames and photo storage cases. The original price was $14.95 but I purchased it for only $7.50.


Another popular photo gift item is a mousepad.

Here’s one that’s ready for you to customize.

This mousepad has openings for four different size photographs.


The sizes for each of these photos are indicated on the template (upper left corner) that is shipped with the package.

Again, I collected four photographs of family members that when printed could be sized to fit onto the template.


Here I trimmed each of the photos and attached them to the template.

You can attach the photo with an adhesive, but I chose to use a small piece of scotch tape.


When completed, the template slides into an opening on the back of the mousepad and beneath the clear, protective surface.

And that’s all you need to do to customize this gift.


This mousepad kit is also made by Melannco. The original price was $9.95 but I purchased it for only $5.00.


 


Without a doubt, I’m happy with both the quality and cost of these photo gifts.

I purchased both of these kits at a local Kohls department store. I’ve seen similar kits made by other manufacturers for sale at Target, Michaels and Hobby Lobby. I’ve also seen them for sale online at Amazon.

 

To find out more about their products visit Melannco.

 

Please note that Stay Focused has no connection to Melannco.

 

Written by Arnie Lee

 


Extreme Sports Camera

06th April 2011

Review of the Eagle Eye

 

From the title, you might think that I participate in extreme sports. Hah, this is far-from-the-truth. Instead, the title is to let you know that there’s a camera that is rugged enough to be used by enthusiasts that do in fact participate in extreme sports.

Let’s move on. In a few days, I’ll be off to the Sierra Nevadas for some easy and leisurely Spring skiing.

In the past, I’ve always lugged a camera around to capture the action. This year, I’ve decided that I would try a different tact.

My goal was to find a small camera that lets me easily record the action. I wanted one that lets me move around “hands-free” like a skier instead of a photographer. So I did a little online research and decided to pick up an Eagle Eye HD sports camera.

The Eagle Eye is a compact video/still camera that comes with a bundle of accessories.

There’s both a 110 volt and an automobile adapter for recharging the battery in-camera; a second lithium battery; two adapters for mounting on different size straps; another adapter for mounting on handlebars; several adhesive cushions for mounting on a helmet; a USB cable and a mini-HDMI cable.


The Eagle Eye doesn’t look like a conventional camera.

It’s shaped like an oversized mobile phone from ten years ago. The outside case is completely rubber coated, making it less likely to injury should it take a fall.

On its face is a small 1-1/2″ LCD for and menu buttons for entering camera settings. The LCD is tiny but is a welcome feature since it lets you review your photos and videos in the field.

The menu functions are similar to most point-and-shoot cameras: set video resolution; white balance; contrast; exposure compensation; power-saving features; format the SD card; internal clock.


On top are two buttons that each have two functions.

Left: when held down for two seconds, powers the camera on/off the camera; otherwise is the shutter release for still photos.

Right: when held down for two seconds, puts the camera into review mode; otherwise is the shutter release for videos.


To make it less susceptible to water damage, the back cover is securely held is place with a tight fitting lock. You’ll have to use a bit of pressure to open the interior compartment.

Inside is the lithium ion battery and slot for a standard SD or SDHC card.

There are also two connectors: one a USB cable and the other a mini HDMI cable.


Here, I’ve used one of the included mounts to attach the camera to my ski goggles.

Given that it weighs only 6 ounces or so, it is comfortable to wear and is not obtrusive.


I took a few stills and videos to make sure that it was working.

Without further testing, I don’t think you’ll want to use this for taking those all-important wedding photos.

Here’s a still taken indoors which I’d rate as just “acceptable”.


However, I am more impressed with the test HD video video. The resolution is a full 1920 x 1080 pixels. The faces are totally in focus and the action smooth.

 

 


My experience with Eagle Eye HD so far is based on an hour or so of becoming familiar with its use.

I’ll complete the review of this camera after I return from my ski trip. I hope to have the results in ten days or so. As already mentioned, since I’m not an extreme sportsman, I may have my two expert-skiing sons help with the review.

 

Coincidentally, I purchased the Eagle Eye from Stuntcams.com. They are located in Grand Rapids only a few miles from our offices where Mike gave me the run-down on this camera. It sells for $249. Stuntcams.com also sells many other sports cameras.

 

Please note that Stay Focused has no connection to Stuntcams.com.

 

Written by Arnie Lee

 


A Look at the Panasonic Real 3D W3 camera

 

I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t particularly interested in 3D photography and video until I took a walk through the aisles of CES this past January.

Among the major television makers LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp and Sony all had huge displays demonstrating some very impressive 3D capabilities.

From the fanfare that they were lavishing on their new equipment, it appears that the major electronics manufacturers are counting on 3D to be a big part of their revenue in the next few years.

Here’s an audience of viewers at the Panasonic booth being wowed with a wall-sized 3D movie.

To use any of the new 3D televisions, you’ll need those cool 3D glasses to watch the new content but not the glasses which sport the cheap bi-color lenses; instead you’ll need to use battery-powered glasses that must be matched to the television manufacturer.


Here’s a set of battery powered glasses for my Panasonic 3D television.

As I understand it, a 3D television image is displayed as an alternating pair of left eye/right eye images. So the left eye image appears each 1/60th of a second and the right eye image the next 1/60th of a second.

Each lens of the glasses contains a shutter. The shutter covering the left-eye opens each 1/60th of a second and the shutter covering the right-eye opens alternating 1/60th of a second. At this rate, the brain sees the alternating images as a single one in 3D.


Several companies are already producing 3D capture devices.
Panasonic is taking steps to support 3D with this stereo lens set that fits on their Micro Four-Thirds cameras.

This has two separate lenses that produces a set of digital image that can be displayed directly on their 3D television.


I stopped at the Fuji booth to watch a demo of their 3D camera.

Well, after a short ten minute introduction, I was hooked. After the show, I ordered one to try out the 3D features for myself.

This is the Fuji Real 3D W3 camera. You can see its two lenses are spaced apart about the same distance as your eyes. When you press the shutter, it captures two simultaneous images from slightly different viewpoints – left side and right side.

In fact, each lens is a 3X optical zoom that can also record a 10-megapixel image independently of one another. But when in 3D mode, the lenses are set to work synchronously.


On the back is a oversized 3.5″ LCD. But unlike a standard LCD, the one lets you view the 3D image without the need for special glasses.

In playback, the camera combine the two separate left and right images and displays them on a high resolution, 1.1 megapixel lenticular lens system to simulate the 3D effect and minimizes flickering and crosstalk (double exposure).


This picture of me is the closest that I can come to showing you how a 3D image looks on the W3’s LCD.

If you were viewing it on the W3, you’d see that my outstretched hand is clearly in front of my face and the gentleman behind me is very distant.

When viewed live, the 3D images are very impressive.


Likewise, you can just as easily capture and playback 3D videos with the W3. Press the video button and it’s ready to record 720p HD movies when you press the shutter.

To view the video on a larger screen, you’ll have to connect the camera to the 3D television with an HDMI cable. My Panasonic 3D television has an SD-slot so I can just insert the SD-card from the camera, precluding the need for the HDMI cable. Playback on a 3D television is very cool. In 3D video mode, the W3 truly gives you the Avatar-like effect.

Although designed especially for 3D photographs and video, it’s also a very capable and unique camera for “normal” 2D photographs.

Three different modes let the W3 capture two images at different zoom factors; two images with different ISO sensitivities; or two different images with different color attributes (black and white; chrome) all with a single press of the shutter.


3D photos and video are cool. But to really take advantage of the impact of 3D, you’ll need a 3D television – something that is bound to slow the adoption of cameras such as this.

As a side note, I’ve used the Sony Alpha A55 extensively and one of the features that it offers is one called 3D Sweep Panorama. Activate this feature, press the shutter and pan the camera (in a sweeping motion) and the camera automatically captures a 3D panorama image. While you cannot see the 3D effect in-camera, you can display it on a 3D television. Sony has several other less expensive compact cameras with the 3D Sweep Panorama feature so 3D is definitely on the minds of camera manufacturers.


In the short amount of time that I’ve spent exploring 3D, I’ve found that the Fuji W3 is a relatively inexpensive yet exciting way for me to add this new dimension.

 

I purchased the Real 3D W3 in February at a cost of just slightly over $300. For more information about the W3 visit Fujifilm.

For more information about the 3D stereo lens set contact Panasonic.

For more information about the 3D Sweep Panorama feature contact Sony.

 

Please note that Stay Focused has no connection to Fujifilm.

 

Written by Arnie Lee

 


Disassembling a Hard Drive

 

Caution – you are about to waste your time. Here is yet another way to divert your attention from the really important things that you should be doing instead of reading this article.

When photography depended on using film, it wasn’t important for the average picture taker to use a personal computer. Digital photography has changed this all and makes owning and using a personal computer almost a necessity.

Nowadays, many of us depend on a personal computer to help with our daily tasks and/or for our livelihood. I’d venture to say that many of you are on your third or forth or more generation personal computer – you’re no longer a novice computer user. As such, you’ve replaced a hard drive or two. And hopefully, you were prudent enough to have backed up your data!

Over the years, I have replaced many, many hard drives. For some reason, instead of depositing the dead drive in the trash, I toss it into a large carton and now have quite a large collection. Every once in a while, I pull a drive out and dissect it.

Why? Because I like to tinker and because I use a few of the internal component
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