Posted Monday, September 20, 2004

Don't Lose Your Photos While Traveling: Another Important Angle

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Macintosh Computer Fair, an all-day event produced by the North Coast Macintosh User's Group, the largest user group in Northern California. It was a blast, and I loved meeting readers and seeing familiar faces again.

During my opening session, I talked about my upcoming trip to Europe and the research I've been doing into digital wallets to store my photos. I mentioned how my paranoia is greater in the digital age -- I've decided to take two digital wallets along so I have a backup of all my photos. Back in the days of film, of course, there was no such thing as backing up your shots while you traveled.

That comment hit a chord with one attendee, who sent me this email yesterday:

Arlene and I visited Antarctica, Chile and Argentina in February and March of this year. Based on experience I had with a Canon Powershot G2, I upgraded to the G5 with better optical zoom and more megapixels. Great camera with great battery life.

I took five CF cards of varying capacity with a total of over a gigabyte -- which I thought would be enough. We went to Antarctica first and then to the Atacama Desert in the far north of Chile. When we returned to Santiago after the Desert, my CF cards were all full. The next day, we were to leave in a rental car and drive over the Andes to Mendosa wine country in Argentina, so I either needed to buy another card (very expensive) or delete images.

So, arriving at our hotel late in the evening, we decided to take the camera with us to the sidewalk cafe in the hotel for a late meal. During the meal, we would review all the images (approx. 500) and delete the rejects. When the food arrived, I placed the camera and bag on the floor to make room on the very small table. The dining area was on a platform about 18" above the sidewalk. Our backs were to the sidewalk while we enjoyed our meal and two kids grabbed the camera and bag and made off with them -- the camera and all the CF cards!

Pretty dumb on our part. We've traveled all over the world and we certainly know better, but anyway it happened. Now here is why I am telling you this story. You mentioned that in the old film days you never worried about backups since it was not possible. If we had been using film, we would have not so obviously been reviewing our pictures and alerting thieves that we had a valuable camera (prices in Chile are 2X US retail).

And, perhaps more important, since film is relatively bulky compared to the CF cards, we would have carried it separately from the camera (that had been our practice). Thieves don't steal film or cards -- they steal cameras, so the goal is to keep the two separated. My guess is that if an evil doer broke into my hotel room, they would grab the camera, not the film or cards -- except if they were with/in the camera.

So the lessons we learned are:

1) Keep the data separate from the hardware -- it's the camera that is vulnerable
2) A digital camera is simply another digital data collection and manipulation device -- a computer -- it needs to be backed up!

Now that's a hard lesson, and I myself have learned from it. Next month, my memory cards and digital wallets will never travel in the same bag as my cameras. And I'll make it a point to keep the wallets in different places in our luggage and hotel rooms. Two backups won't be of much use if both are stolen.