Automatically Sync Photos between iPhone & Picasa Using Photo Stream (or Dropbox)

syncThe Problem

If you are like me, then you wish to use technology on your own terms.  I don’t want to be forced into any particular ecosystem.  Mac vs Windows, iPhone vs Android, etc… I see value in all of them.  I like Mac hardware, but need MS office, so I run VMWare Fusion on all my computers and seamlessly shift between OSX and Windows for whatever I am doing.  But I am not here to talk about that.  Today, I will be discussing my own personal photo ecosystem and how I have managed to make it work for me as of today.  My goal – to create an ecosystem where my photos are aggregated into a single place where they can be viewed and managed, backed up and shared.

It starts with the components:

My iPhone – I have used an iPhone since the 3G version, and thus have 4 iPhones that are now distributed across my family.  I also have a Nexus, but I like my iPhone better, so the Nexus is used for backup purposes only.

My photo library – I have been an avid photo taker (not to be confused with a photographer) since the early 2000’s, now having a photo library of more than 30k photos/videos using more than 100GB of space.  I have painstakingly worked to keep them organized (mostly) and they remain mainly organized with a file structure, not having love for any proprietary database or library.  

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For many years I have settled on Picasa as my photo organization application of choice with my favorite features including the ability to order prints from any service of my choice, they make it very easy to create and share an album online and it is decently tied to my Google+ account which is somewhat important to me depending on the day, plus a ton of other management tools that I have gotten used to over the years.  Picasa monitors my photo folders and automatically updates its library.

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I really don’t like iPhoto.

Carbonite – I use Carbonite for online backup which keeps my photo library backed up just in case.

From the beginning, one of the hardest things with the iPhone has been getting the photos off of all my phones into my photo library which sits on my main system (Mac Pro).  Scratch-your-head interesting, iTunes has never allowed you to sync your photos as part of its sync process.  In the past if you had iPhoto, that would work or you had to use an obscure application called ImageCapture on OSX.  On the third-party side, I was also able to use Picasa import, but in all cases it required a physical connect-to-my-computer type of sync process to extract the photos.  Then Apple introduced Photo Stream which magically synced your photos from your iPhone to your other devices and your iPhoto library.  It took Apple a couple versions before it actually made sense, but eventually Photo Stream seemed to be the ideal syncing solution I was looking for.  Except for two things – First, I wasn’t about to switch to iPhoto.  Second, Photo Stream photos are deleted after 30 days.  Apple assumes you will deal with them in this timeframe.  Now what?  I really want to use the Photo Stream technology BUT I want to use it with my Google Picasa setup.  

The Solution

Photo Stream Method

I started to research how Photo Stream worked behind the scenes and eventually saw threads from many people attempting to do something similar.  I wanted to get my photos to sync over the cloud to my computer, grab the photos and do whatever I wanted with them.  I learned about a process called PhotoStreamAgent, which runs locally regardless if iPhoto is installed or running.  You need to have Photo Stream switched on for this process to run.  The PhotoStreamAgent is responsible for synching the photos from the cloud down to my Mac. The photos are stored in a hidden folder with this general path /Users/xxxxxx/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets/sub.  The photos are distributed in a folder structure with a cryptic naming convention with a single file in each.  

Dropbox Method

Thanks to my wonderful network of friends and colleagues, I recently learned about the Camera Upload feature on the iOS Dropbox app.  This is better than my Photo Stream method in a couple ways.  First it offers the option to sync on wifi or wifi/3G.  This is very nice option due to the second reason – it also syncs videos.  One drawback of the Dropbox solution is that it is only free to a point.  Depending on your account, once you reach the free threshold, you have to start paying.  My approach would be to copy those photos out of the Dropbox folder keeping my actual space usage to a minimum thus keeping my account free.

Have Files…Now What?

So now I know where the photos are, but I need to get them out of this structure and into my preferred year/date structure within my file-based library.  Enter Noodlesoft’s Hazel application ($25 at http://www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php).   I am sure there are many different ways to solve this problem, but I had heard good things about Hazel so I tried it out.  It took me a couple tries to get my script correct, but eventually I was able to configure Hazel to watch the assets/sub folder for new photos, and then copy them into my distributed folder hierarchy with the proper year/date naming convention.

Here is the rundown of my Hazel setup:

Step 1: Setup Hazel on the main /Users/xxxxxx/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets/sub folder and add 2 rules.  

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First rule on “sub” I called “Go into subfolders” which tells Hazel to act on contents of the entire folder hierarchy.  This is important with Hazel so that it doesn’t also include the actual folder.

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Second rule on “sub” I called “Copy” which tells Hazel to copy any new images or movies (I know, no movies yet) to the root of my Photo folder hierarchy.  This is my actual photo library.  This is a temporary home for the photo.

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Third rule on Photos I named “Sort” which distributes the photos we just copied to the root, to my date based folder hierarchy.  Hazel is very flexible with this naming.

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The whole process looks like this:

  1. Take photo with any of my iPhones (with Photo Stream capabilities, my iPhone 3G doesn’t support this)
  2. Get from iPhone to Desktop; either
    1. iPhone syncs through iCloud using Photo Stream to iCloud and then back down to my local desktop into the Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets/sub folder
    2. iPhone syncs through Dropbox Camera Upload feature and then back down to my local desktop to my Dropbox folder.
  3. Hazel kicks in and copies the photo to my photo library
  4. Picasa which is monitoring my folder hierarchy adds the photo to the Picasa library.  I optionally can sync the Picasa folder with Picasaweb for an online photo album.  (Note that Apple removed this from their solution, though you can now share a Photo Stream online, but it is very limited)
  5. Carbonite backs up my folder hierarchy automatically to my online backup.

 When on Wifi the whole process is completed within a couple minutes normally.  

The Outcome

  • I don’t have to worry about physically moving or backing up the pictures I have on my phone or even worse my wife’s phone.  
  • I don’t have to worry about manually configuring my Picasa library with my photos.  
  • I don’t have to worry about having a consistent way of sharing my photos with friends and family.  
  • I don’t have to worry about my photo library backup.

 

The Caveats

I am sure this list will grow over time.

  • All pictures I take, good, bad, accidental, etc are run through this process.  This can easily clutter my photo library.  Occasionally, I have to manually review the photos within Picasa and delete the out-of-focus, junk photos or the 1000 photos of the sidewalk my daughter took when I gave her my phone.  I guess I don’t really have to, but I do when I have time.
  • Videos aren’t currently synced through Photo Stream.  I am guessing Apple will add this ability in the future, probably under “only sync video with Photo Stream when on Wifi”.  It appears that Apple is in fact synching your videos to iCloud as part of your iCloud backup, but they aren’t accessible from anywhere unless you do a restore.  #lame  At least I have the Dropbox solution for video.
  • In practice the Dropbox app will timeout if it isn’t open, meaning you are staring at it upload photos and videos.  This isn’t ideal.  I want the photos and videos to upload in the background all nice and quiet like.  This seems to be more of an issue with videos in that they are much larger and the app isn’t considering the active upload as something that shouldn’t timeout the app.
  • Need to figure out how to do this with my Nikon next.  Maybe one of those wifi storage cards?  Hmmmm.
  • Looks like there is potentially an easier soluton running on the Windows side called iCloud Control Panel (http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1455) which allows you to select where to put your Photo Stream synced photos on your desktop.  Though this isn’t the full solution I was looking for, it would have made a couple steps easier.  That said, I don’t wish to run the Window’s version of Picasa.

Conclusion

I hope this helps others like me.  Since I have implemented this, I have had no issues – everything has worked as expected.  Let me know if I got anything wrong or if you have a different solution.

 

Cutting The Cord in Montclair, NJ

I have been at this for years.  This year I decided to really push myself to find alternatives.  This was even fine with my wife who was so sick of regular TV and how it was affecting our kids, she was more than happy to hand me the wire cutters.  

We had FIOS, which in Montclair, NJ isn’t the best.  My biggest problems with FIOS is the cost of my cable bill and the antiquated/crappy boxes they supply.  I went through more than 6 boxes and I found them all under-powered, buggy consistently crashing daily, slow and unresponsive, etc…  I tried really hard to get the new hardware that FIOS advertises but was unable to acquire it and was stuck with the older boxes.  On top of that, even with double, or triple play my bill was averaging near $200 every month.

So after I decided to cut it off, here is how I get my media now.

1.  I put an HD antenna on my roof (what a sight…not the antenna, me on my roof).  I run the signal through the main cable, so every room can get the Over The Air signal through the COAX.  This is by far the cheapest solution for HD content.  I get about 50 channels, however only 15 are in English.  BUT I get all the major networks in crystal clear 1080P HD.  Every TV (with a tuner, most modern TVs) in the house can see this content without any box involved.  It’s a wonderful thing.

From Antennas Direct – http://www.antennasdirect.com/store/C4-Clearstream-DTV-antenna.html

2.  XBox – In my living room.  I use my XBox 95% for media, not games.  By far the best user experience and overall the highest video quality.  We mostly use Netflix and Amazon (with Prime of course, gets you a lot of free shows/movies).  As a FIOS subscriber (for internet), we also get the FIOS app which provides a number (about 20) of cable channels such as HDTV, Food Channel, and some pay channels as well.  All these channels are streamed through the XBox app.  The quality could definitely improve, but its very watchable.  Keep in mind this is live TV, so you get the commercials,etc…and there is no way to record.
 
[UPDATE – 1/3/13] Verizon has updated and streamlined their app.  They have added a bunch of new channels AND either they have changed their rules or fixed a bug from the previous version.  I am no longer able to watch these channels without subscribing to Verizon’s TV service.  Most likely a bug since I also was receiving HBO and definitely wasn’t paying for that.  I still dont believe that the app is good enough to replace the set-top’s EPG so I am not sure if XBox would be my primary means to watch cable TV.  If they improved the UI to have a more traditional EPG grid and added a DVR, now that is something I would pay for.
 
There is a subscription for $60 per year for XBox that we pay, and you also get all the Pay Per View movies as well.  Movies are available at very similar times as all the other services – believe me I have compared.  AND you can still play games if you like.  Also, Bing is integrated allowing you to search for a program and then get options on what service to watch it on.  Similar to Google TV or tv.clicker.com.
 
XBox Live Gold Subscription – http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/join/gold
 
3. Mac Mini – also in my living room.  I can watch all web based video through the Mac including Netflix, HBO Go (if I subscribed), Amazon, etc…All of these options offer full screen viewing and with digital out from the Mac, this is pretty easy.  My Mac doesn’t have HDMI out, so I have to go from DVI to HDMI for video and do Optical out for audio.
Along with my Mac I purchased Elgato’s EyeTV.  This software/hardware combination along with my OTA antenna signal, provides me a great way to replace my outdated Tivo.  I can record live TV, pause, schedule, etc…  Through TV Guide I get the entire EPG (guide) at my fingertips.  The little Mac Remote works with the Mac Mini to control the software.  I would prefer a better remote, but this one works fine for now.  This has been great with the new fall season.  Maybe next year I will buy an additional EyeTV so that I can record two things at a time.
 
Elgato EyeTV – The one I purchased is http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001QCYHXM/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00, the newer versions can be found at http://www.elgato.com
 
4. Logitech Revue Google TV – have this in the bedroom.  I love the idea of this box, but by far my least favorite.  I get Netflix, Amazon and Google services for finding shows.  Also get a browser.  Overall, the experience is clunky, the box crashes a lot, the video quality is fair, etc…  It is OK in the bedroom since we usually watch TV in the bedroom when we are going to bed.  I can speak at length on why this SHOULD be the best solution, but will save for another post.  There is no additional cost after you purchase this box for the content with the exception of media you purchase.  One thing to note about the Revue, and probably need to keep in mind with all third party boxes, is that if you are running directly to a TV you will probably be fine, but if you are going through a AVR you may (I did) run into HDCP issues.  Again for another post.
 
 
5. Blue-ray player – also in the living room.  For those times, when the kids are away, and I want a wonderful digital media experience – I rent the Blueray.  By far the best sounding, highest video quality when watching media.  My Blueray player has the other services, but I would never use them.  Besides for having these other devices, the Blueray apps are very slow and clunky.  This varies from manufacturers, but most that I have seen are like this.
 
LG BD550 – nothing special, but this is the one I got. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0036WT1WC/ref=oh_details_o00_s01_i00
 
6. [NEW-1/3/13] Roku – as predicted I did purchase a Roku for the bedroom to replace the Google TV (garbaged).  I have to say, I am very impressed with this little box.  The first thing I noticed and was shocked by, is that there is no Ethernet!  How will I stream video without Ethernet?  I have pretty decent Wifi, but Roku also brags about their video quality.  Guess what?  Video quality is great and it is FAST.  Very little hesitation to load a show/movie and start playing.  In fact the other night, I was unable to get West Wing from Amazon to load on my XBox.  I figured it was either my network or Amazons network.  I tried for 30 minutes, but it just wouldn’t play.  I tried it on the Roku, and it played flawlessly.  I am very impressed and would highly recommend.  One more little surprise, I was also able to use their app ecosystem and install the Nowhere DVR app which allows me to stream shows from my Mac Mini which were recorded with my EyeTV!  Nice.  It doesn’t work great, a bit slow, but after you get it going, it works. 
 
What’s next?
  • I am desperately looking for the HBO/Showtime solution.  I am feeling compelled to torrent, but have held back so far.
  • Really need a new universal remote;  gone through 2 Harmony 890’s
 
For more info on setting up your own DVR check out my friends at TWiT http://twit.tv/show/know-how/
For more info on setting up a media PC/server check out more from my friends at TWiT http://twit.tv/show/know-how/4
For a fantastic matrix of all the steaming boxes out there as well as a whole lot of info – http://blog.streamingmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2012-Device-Chart-Grid-090424.pdf
Here is one more from @veronica and the community – http://bit.ly/settop

DartBoston Rule 53 Podcast

 

I recently appeared on the Rule 53 Podcast from DartBoston with Tom Petr from Schedr.com.  Rule 53 is a new and wonderful podcast where they team up more experienced (older, slower, fatter) folk with people that are just starting out (younger, more energetic, no kids).

DartBoston is run by great people including Alexa Scordato who I am convinced I was BFFs with in a former life.

Had a great time and hope to do more podcasts in the future.

 

Check it out.

 

http://rule53.dartboston.com/episode-2-tom-petr-and-barry-goldberg/

The Sadie Poop Incident of 2005

 

So my good friends Dave and Mara just found out they are having a new baby girl. Mazel.  As I was ranting about what an expert I am with babies this old diddy came to mind.  I figured I would revive it from the archives.

 


 





It was late on a balmy evening in October.  She had to make a decision.

What would she decide in her current state of mind?

Having slept only 2 hours in 3 days one could question her mindset.  But all she was thinking was that she needed to sleep.  God knows what she would be like, whose head she would rip off the next day if her condition remained the same.  She had to make a call, make the decision that could affect the next 6 hours.  "How", she asked herself, "Do I accomplish this?"  With what little sanity she had remaining and with little regard to the consequences she made the call – she removed the clothing exposing the ominous belly.  The belly being the only thing that would tame the beast.

He looked on watching and waiting to see what she was going to do.  When it finally happened, he considered saying something even objecting, but knowing her state of mind he thought he would rather  suffer the consequences that question her choice.

Trouble subsided quickly and the wish was granted. Her decision paid off.  6 hours of blissful, peaceful sleep; uninterrupted…

Early morning came, birds chirping in the darkness and the daily routine started again.  Some level of internal satisfaction went unspoken between them not knowing what lied ahead.  She wouldn’t know the outcome of her actions the night before until later since she disappeared into the dewy morning leaving them both behind.

He went about his morning – the typical rushed-waiting that he typically experiences at this time of day.  Anxiously straightening and fixing things up, trying to stay ahead of the curve he went from one room to  the other as quietly as he could.  In his mind he was accomplishing something, but in reality it could be debated. Minutes seemed like hours and then finally it happened.  The muted shrill emanated from the upstairs bedroom.  It hit him like a needle going through his arm.  He reacted quickly.  Like a trained soldier, he jet upstairs toward the bedroom just like he had done many mornings before. Eighteen months of this routine was ingrained in his soul.  He knew what to expect, the anticipated outcome, the possible variations…

As if it didn’t exist, he went through the door toward the screaming. Before he could say "good morning" the thing he had only subconsciously feared came to reality.

It was glorious!  It was everywhere!  One might say massive.  On her hands, her face, the sheets, the walls, the crib…  Nothing escaped her wrath.  It came so easy to her; as if it was inconsequential. He dug deep into his soul considering the previous 8 hours…What could he had done different?  Would it have been worth it?  He then came to the only conclusion that made sense.  It had proven time and time again to be effective against the child’s will.

Sadie – Poop – Everywhere

They should have left the onesie on.