Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Customer Profile: "Inside System Storage -- hosted by Tony Pearson"

Thanks to Tony Perason for his recent Inside System Storage blog posting on his experience with ScanMyPhotos.com. Background on Tony's blog: [It is designed] "for the open exchange of ideas relating to storage and storage networking hardware, software and services. Tony Pearson is a Senior Storage Consultant for the IBM System Storage product line, has been working in IBM storage for over 20 years, and is author of the blook Inside System Storage: Volume I.

Excerpt from Tony's Inside System Storage blog:

Which brings me to my own collection of "old photos". I bought my first digital camera in the year 2000, and have taken over 15,000 pictures since then. Before that, I used 35mm film camera, getting the negatives developed and prints made. Some of these date back to my years in High School and College. I have a mix of sizes, from 3x5, 4x6 and 5x7 inches, and sometimes I got double prints. Only a small portion are organized into scrapbooks. The rest are in envelopes, prints and negatives, in boxes taking up half of my linen closet in my house. Following the success of the [Library of Congress using flickr], I decided the best way to organize these was to have them digitized first.

There are several ways to do this.

Flat-bed scanner
This method is just too time consuming. Lift the lid place 1 or a few prints face down on the glass, close the lid, press the button, and then repeat. I estimate 70 percent of my photos are in [
landscape orientation], and 30 percent in [portrait mode]. I can either spend extra time to orient each photo correctly on the glass, or rotate the digital image later.

Sheet-feed scanner
I was pleased to learn that my Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 sheet-feed scanner can take in a short stack (dozen or so) photos, and generate JPEG format files for each. I can select 150, 300 or 600dpi, and five levels of JPEG compression. All the photos feed in portrait mode, which I can then rotate later on the computer once digitized. A command line tool called [
ImageMagick] can help automate the rotations. While I highly recommend the ScanSnap scanner, this is still a time-consuming process for thousands of photos.

Hire a professional service
Fellow blogger Matt on Unclutterer had a post [
Have someone else digitize your old
] that pointed me to this great service at [ScanMyPhotos.com]. From their Web site:

"The best way to save your valuable photos may be by eliminating the paper altogether. Consider making digital images of all your photos."

Here's how it works: You ship your prints (or slides, or negatives) to their facility in Irvine, California. They have a huge machine that scans them all at 300dpi, no compression, and they send back your photos and a DVD containing digitized versions in JPEG format, all for only 50 US dollars plus shipping and handling, per thousand photos. I don't think I could even hire someone locally to run my scanner for that!

The deal got better when I contacted them. For people like me with accounts on Facebook, flickr, MySpace or Blogger, they will [
scan your first 1000 photos for free] (plus shipping and handling). I selected a thousand 4x6" photos from my vast collection, organized them into eight stacks with rubber bands, and sent them off in a shoe box. The photos get scanned in landscape mode, so I had spent about four hours in preparing what I sent them, making sure they were all face up, with the top of the picture oriented either to the top or left edge. For the envelopes that had double prints, I "deduplicated" them so that only one set got scanned. The box weighed seven pounds, and cost about 10 US dollars to send from Tucson to Irvine via UPS on Tuesday. They came back the following Monday, all my photos plus the DVD, for 20 US dollars shipping and handling. Each digital image is about 1.5MB in size, roughly 1800x1200 pixels in size, so easily fit on a single DVD. The quality is the same as if I scanned them at 300dpi on my own scanner, and comparable to a 2-megapixel camera on most cell phones. Certainly not the high-res photos I take with my Canon PowerShot, but suitable enough for email or Web sites. So, for about 30 US dollars, I got my first batch of 1000 photos scanned.

ScanMyPhotos.com offers a variety of extra priced options, like rotating each file to the correct landscape or portrait orientation, color correction, exact sequence order, hosting them on their Web site online for 30 days to share with friends and family, and extra copies of the DVD. All of these represent a trade-off between having them do it for me for an additional fee, or me spending time doing it myself--either before in the preparation, or afterwards managing the digital files--so I can appreciate that.

Perhaps the weirdest option was to have your original box returned for an extra $9.95? If you don't have a huge collection of empty shoe boxes in your garage, you can buy a similarly sized cardboard box for only $3.49 at the local office supply store, so I don't understand this one. The box they return all your photos in can easily be used for the next batch.

I opted not to get any of these extras. The one option I think they should add would be to have them just discard the prints, and send back only the DVD itself. Or better yet, discard the prints, and email me an ISO file of the DVD that I can burn myself on my own computer. Why pay extra shipping to send back to me the entire box of prints, just so that I can dump the prints in the trash myself? I will keep the negatives, in case I ever need to re-print with high resolution.

Overall, I am thoroughly delighted with the service, and will now pursue sending the rest of my photos in for processing, and reclaim my linen closet for more important things. Now that I know that a thousand 4x6 prints weighs 7 pounds, I can now estimate how many photos I have left to do, and decide on which discount bulk option to choose from. With my photos digitized, I will be able to do all the things that IBM talks about with Information Retention:

Place them on an appropriate storage tier. I can keep them on disk, tape or optical media. Easily move them from one storage tier to another. Copying digital files in bulk is straightforward, and as new techhologies develop, I can refresh the bits onto new media, to avoid the "obsolescence of CDs and DVDs" as discussed in this article in [PC World].

Share them with friends and family, either through email, on my Tivo (yes, my Tivo is networked to my Mac and PC and has the option to do this!), or upload them to a photo-oriented service like [
Kodak Gallery or flickr].

Keep multiple copies in separate locations. I could easily burn another copy of the DVD myself and store in my safe deposit box or my desk at work. With all of the regional disasters like hurricanes, an alternative might be to backup all your files, including your digitized photos, with an online backup service like [
IBM Information Protection
] from last year's acquisition of Arsenal Digital.

If the prospect of preserving my high school and college memories for the next few decades seems extreme, consider the [
Long Now Foundation] is focused on retaining information for centuries. They are even suggesting that we start representing years with five digits, e.g., 02008, to handle the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect 8,000 years from now. IBM researchers are also working on long-term preservation technologies and open standards to help in this area.

Scan Photos, 35mm Slide and Negative Scanning, Photo Restoration, Digital Printing - ScanMyPhotos.com