Chatuchak (J.J.) Market/Review: Istar HDD Docking Bay, S.M.A.R.T. Testing HDDs
• Dom Pedro Baia Club Hotel
• Pousada Solar da Rede Hotel
• Residential Planalto Hotel
• Pousada de Ria Hotel
I want to start off this weeks column by letting you know that ALL images displayed in the column will be watermarked with the "Bangkok Images ©2009" watermark. This watermark will go on my images and any images sent in as readers submissions, outings, articles, anything at all. This DOES NOT mean I'm trying to say I own images you as the readers have generously shared. It only means I'm trying to stop other sites from using your images without your permission, and my images without my permission. The issue of unauthorized use really is quite extensive, and the reality is that you can't stop someone determined to steal. However, we can make our intent known and a watermark does this.
Thank you for your generous contributions. We're slowly collecting enough images to make the mosaics. I realize I'm posting the same paragraph each week, but I assure you we're on top of this project and doing our best to collect enough of the proper type of images to make the best possible set of mosaics. This is proving difficult so please help if you can.
We are still accepting (and pleading for) images of children from SEA. No matter how terrible you think they are, please send them in anyway. These images will be used to complete a set of 3 high quality mosaics which will be sold to benefit the Karen and Burmese Orphans living in the orphanages and refugee camps. The more images the better, I can use all you have. Please take the time to go through your images for anything you think might help. If you missed the "No Place to Call Home" special, you can click on the link and read more about this. Thank you! [email protected]
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F5.6 1/60th ISO 12,800
For our American readers where did you spend Thanksgiving? For everyone else, did you take advantage of Thanksgiving to go check out some of the great buffets being offered featuring our favourite Thanksgiving foods? If you're like me you'll find it hard to get into the spirit of the holidays when the weather not only isn't cold, but it's very hot and humid to boot! Still, I sometimes seek out holiday dinners as I was this Thanksgiving evening. Except this Thanksgiving I had one more reason to be thankful. Bangkok Images had just added a new camera to its inventory. The first new DSLR in six years! With the rapid development of digital cameras and the great new cameras released every year, I hope you can now see how much I believe that it's the photographer and not the camera who makes great pictures.
With that said I must admit the Canon 5d Mark II leapfrogs in technology and image quality anything else we own. In other areas such as HD movies and very low light photography it just plain does things my other professional level DSLRs cannot. On this day I'd only had the new camera in my hands less than 24 hours. It was Thanksgiving evening and I'd mounted a Canon 16-35mm F2.8 wide angle zoom and headed out to see what kind of images I could capture in circumstances my other cameras definitely could not. In circumstances where neither experience nor techniques could compensate for a six year old DSLR. In short, what meaningful images I could achieve with this new DSLR I wouldn't have without it.
The above image is significant because short of a high power flash unit, there is no way I could have made this emotionally satisfying capture of a father and daughter sharing a memorable Thanksgiving Day outing. I don't know them and they didn't notice me. I was sitting on a bench in front of Bourbon Street Restaurant in Washington Square, mostly hidden by large plants I saw this delightful interaction between father and daughter and was able to make the capture without alerting them and spoiling the moment. I made the capture and both of them and myself went on our separate ways. This image was captured at an ISO of 12,800! ISO 12,800 allowed me to use a F5.6 aperture for a decent amount of DOF which gives a distinctly different (and better) look than such images captured at F1.4-F2 with ultra fast lenses, which without this DSLR would have been my only choice. Congratulations to this father. His daughters face says it all! And if its the case that you're a grandfather, even better!
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F8 1/30th ISO 12,800
Inside Bourbon Street everyone was enjoying a fantastic Thanksgiving meal buffet. I sat in the bar area at a table, observing many harmless activities which would not be allowed in most parts of the west. This cute and animated 5 year old girl sitting at a bar with her mom brought a smile to my face and a camera to my eye. Again, no flash, no attention. "Click" and I'd made a fun capture and no one was the wiser. At ISO 12,800 again there was no way my previous DSLR could have made this capture in the same way. F8 and 20mm provided enough DOF to have all the 'layers' of the bar visible and in focus.
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F4 1/60th ISO 25,600
At the darkest end of the bar several large men sat drinking strong drinks and telling tall tales. I watched them for a period of time as they exchanged stories amid the Thanksgiving Day festivities. Too dark for F8, too dark for F5.6, too dark for ISO 12,800.. was it possible? Sure, at F4 and ISO 25,600 I made this capture hand held! And even at this extreme ISO full color and contrast is present and a great amount of detail. It was Thanksgiving Day, I was living in Bangkok Thailand, I had a brand spanking new camera, and I was making shots impossible just 24 hours before. Only one thing could make this Thanksgiving 2009 evening more special. Yep, I set down the camera and picking up a large dinner plate I made my way to the head of the buffet line. It doesn't get any better than this..
Chatuchak (J.J.) Market
Tom Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative. Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels around Thailand and you can get your copy here! I've got a copy of this book and I can tell you it's well worth it, especially for first time travellers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.
When Tom agreed to become part of our small select product review team I was both excited and grateful. I hope you enjoy this and future reviews by Tom. For those whose plans include extended travel in Thailand and China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books. Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at: [email protected]
One afternoon we went to a place called JJ Market. JJ Market is hard to describe. It probably had its origins as an open air market but has become more permanent and more of a fixture as the years go by. I’ve been dragged through many a market in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China and have become pretty jaded about these things but JJ Market was unique in its layout, scope and sheer variety of things. Most markets in Asia I’ve been to have maybe 10-15 different “sets” of inventory and no matter where you go they all carry the same sets. This was different and quite enjoyable for an outing.
The Market can loosely be categorized as follows:
- Open air Stores – Mobile carts and guys on the street.
- Semi-Permanent Stores. Kind of like a booth or kiosk in the mall. Usually covered with an umbrella.
- Permanent Stores – Sort of still open air but they have a permanent structure built for their store and a solid roof over it. They tend to be clumped together so tight that you would think they are really just installations in a larger room. But if you look up you can often see cracks or gaps in the sections of the roof.
In addition to the scope of it all one of the most amazing things about JJ market was the diversity of what was there. While many stores carried similar things (like T-shirts) very few stores carried identical things (like the same T-shirt). Each store had a different inventory and different selection. This was in contrast to many shopping areas I had been in the past where all the stores more or less had the same stuff. When you think about this and how many stores were there it’s quite an amazing market.
Take Your Kid to Work Day
A recurring thing that I noticed was that on the weekends the children were in the shop with their parents. Often they would be studying or doing other schoolwork. Some of the older one were given tasks such as stocking or cleanup.
There were quite a few shops which sold decorative oriental things. Buddha’s, heads, statues, mini temples and such. It was probably among the most exotic looking merchandise in the market.
There were several food sections in the market. This one was loud, packed and full of energy. Finding a place to sit was a challenge.
Several shops around the city sold exotic mounted insects to hang on the wall.
The Clock Tower
Close to what would be the center of the Market the clock tower was the biggest, closest most obvious landmark. And unless you were very near it you had no chance of seeing it under the canopy of umbrellas and awnings.
This store had a LOT of shoes for sale, as did the 3 stores next to it.
Thailand had some interesting mannequins. A bit different from the look you get here. Many where white (not tan) and some had an almost evil smile to them. These two were showing the latest in children’s military chic clothing.
This store sold no end of roped beads. A string of beads was something like 10 Bhatt (33 cents).
One SERIOUSLY Mellow Cat
We spent a lot of time at this one jewelry store. They had a couple of cats including one that was VERY mellow. He was just hanging out while hundreds of people were walking back and forth all the time, music blaring and shoppers stepping just a few feet from him. He was so mellow in fact it was a challenge to keep him awake to pet him. He kept going back to sleep. He was a pretty cat, interesting black and white striped pattern I hadn’t seen before.
The Animal Section
Parts of JJ market were sectional, that is they had a number of similar stores group together. The Animal section was one of them. By the number of stores stocking the “merchandise” it would seems that dogs were the most popular animal for sale. Especially fluffy tan ones. Birds had a close second. Most of them were the small parrot like screeching variety.
Little Squirrels for Sale
The vendor was not pleased when I took their picture..
Cool Lighted Balls
Never saw these in America. Pretty cool. If you thought about buying larger things at the market there were plenty of advertisements that they could be shipped via DHL.
In another section of the Market there was a brisk trade in decorative (as opposed to edible) fish. They had fish of all kinds and they were generally priced by breed and size.
This store had a neat display of little glass statues. I made sure to get the “no pictures” sign in my picture. Some stores were funny that way, they didn’t want pictures taken of their stuff.
We shopped throughout the afternoon and into the evening. As the sun went down the lights came on and gave the market a new atmosphere. It seemed more accessible as your focus was more directed at what was around you. Yet more infinite in some way because you could no longer see to the end of the row.
The Market Altar
There are many altars in Thailand and JJ Market wouldn’t have been complete without one of its own.
After dark a lot of the stores started to close up for the evening. Many of the vendors packed up there stuff and left. For the more permanent installations there were these rolling shutters. . Many of the vendors packed up there stand left. For the more permanent installations there were these rolling shutters.
Review, Istar HDD Docking Bay, S.M.A.R.T. Testing HDD's
Istar HDD Docking Bay
Docking stations aren't new, but they've become a lot more common over the last few years as their chipsets become more standardized enabling true plug n' play operation without hassles or headaches. Docking stations are used to connect internal SATA hard drives to a computer via external interfaces such as USB 2.0 and Esata. Without powering down the PC you can change out SATA drives as often as you wish by powering up/down the docking station separately. These features make a docking bay a very useful utility device.
Docking bays can be used to format internal HDD's and prepare them for use without opening up your PC's case. You can transfer and store data on them as you would an external HDD. With a dual docking bay you can transfer/copy data between two SATA HDD's for just about any purpose. They're extremely useful for restoring your laptops backed up image on to a new 2.5 inch SATA drive. And of course they can be used to employ relatively inexpensive internal HDD's as external HDD's, though I'll caution you about this practice later in the article.
Istar Dual Docking Bay
There aren't many reviews of other information on these devices out there, and it's impossible to find side by side comparisons pitting one docking bay against another. You end up reading specs, checking out product sites, comparing prices, and then making your best decision with the hope of getting a good one. Istar has been around a while and they make lots of storage devices. When I saw the IStar xAGE902DU-SAU with it's dual Esata and USB 2.0 ports and dual bays I knew it would be a good bet.
The unit comes nicely boxed and packaged with the manuals, power supply, and enough cabling to connect via Esata or USB 2.0.
I took the device from the box, connected the power supply, and then connected both Esata cables between the device and my workstation. The back of the device has independent Esata ports, a USB 2l0 port, and a power input port. Looking down into the mouth of the slots you can see the ESATA connectors.
All "dual" docking bays are not created equal. Some only have a single power switch, or a single Esata port. If you want your docking bay to have two independently functional docking slots you'll need to make sure it has independent power switches, Esata ports, and release mechanisms. The Istar Docking Bay meets these specifications.
Once set up you'll notice you have two slots, two lighted power buttons, and two release mechanisms.
You have the choice of mounting up to two SATA hard drives in the slots. Carefully place the drive over the slot and lower it down on to the connecter with care. This is the type of device where you should pay attention to what you're doing so you don't end up damaging a connector. With just a bit of care the drive will drop solidly on to the connector.
Pressing the corresponding power button results in the drive spinning up and the lighted button going red to indicate the power is on. As you access the drive and transfer data the light will flash blue.
Accessing the Drives
Depending on if you're using XP, Vista, or Win7 you'll go about accessing the drives in slightly different ways. All three OS's will automatically detect the drive in the docking bay in exactly the same way it will detect an external drive, or a new internal drive mounted inside your PC. You'll see a balloon saying "Found new Hardware", "Installing new Hardware" and "New Hardware Ready to Use." At this point you're ready to go to your disk manager and initialize the drive.
If the system boots with the docking bay and SATA mounted in a slot, it will initialize upon boot. If you're powering up the drive on a system already booted you'll need to initialize the disk so the operating system sees it. On Vista and Win 7 right click on "My Computer" and choose "Manage." When the manage window comes up choose "Disk Management" and when the Disk Management screen comes up go down the list and look for the drive. If you don't see it click on "More Actions" and rescan the disks.
Once you see the drive in the Disk Management Console it will be ready for formatting and partitioning, or if already formatted and partitioned ready for use.
Right click over the small box on the left that says the disk number, like "Disk 5." You'll be given a choice to initialize the disk. Now, right click on the big area next to it that says its unallocated and configure the hard disk the way you want it. Finish up the configuration by formatting the drive. Once formatted you're all done! You'll now find the drive visible and ready to work in your Windows Explorer file utility.
To dismount this drive simple press the power button on the dock and the drive will spin down. Press the release mechanism and lift the drive out. Be careful, the drive will be hot and may burn you. Also, the inertia of the spinning platters inside the hard drive will make the drive feel like a spinning gyro and may be disconcerting the first time you feel it.
If you want to use another drive, put a drive in the slot, power it up, and repeat the steps above. It's that simple!
This is a great device! For about $50 you gain connectivity for two internal SATA drives, either 2.5 (laptop) or 3.5 (desktop) sizes, and tons of utility. There are cheaper docking bays, but before choosing one make sure it's as independent and as well built as you desire.
The docking bay feels a bit light when empty, but once you mount one or two drives it becomes quite solid. Everything works as advertised. No drivers are necessary so no installation procedure nor a installation disk is needed.
Before deciding to use these as external storage drives please keep in mind that internal hard drives do not have the external protections such as bump resistant casings, dirt and water resistant seals, or anti-static resistant grounding. It is indeed possible to use these as storage drives, but you'll need to be aware of these shortcomings and guard against damaging your drives.
The function and utility a docking bay affords is a great value when compared against the very reasonable purchase price. Still not convinced? Read the bonus review section below.
Bonus Review Section, S.M.A.R.T Testing your HDD's
Like most of you I have a bunch of hard drives taken out of service for one reason or another.. suspected bad, went bad, upgraded, whatever.. and not wanting to throw them away for fear of throwing out something useful, or that might have data on it, or whatever.. here I am with a box of hard drives. I've got PATA, SATA, both in 3.5" and 2.5".
After upgrading two 1tb drives with two 2tb drives I was left with the old two 1tb drives. I re-initialized them, partitioned and formatted (slow format), and basically prepped them to go in one of my NAS's to replace two 500g drives. Before replacing two perfectly fine working 500 gig drives I wanted to know if my old two 1tb drives were in good shape. How do you know?
Since the mid-90's hard drive manufacturers have included a sort of record keeping capability based on the S.M.A.R.T. standard. This includes how many hours the drive has been spun up, the average temperature, average seek and find times, and if any errors have been reported and logged. There are two different types of S.M.A.R.T. reports, quick and extended.
The extended reports are actually quite useful and among all the data they provide several pieces of this data stand out as particularly useful:
1. Average temperature. It gives the average temperature of all the tested drives in their database (hundreds of thousands I'm sure) and your average temperature. This is useful in knowing if you're running hot or not and if you might need to make some changes to your systems cooling.
2. Total hours spun up. This is very useful. All hard drives come with a MTBF (Mean time before failure) lifespan estimate. Compare hours and see what percentage of life your drive is estimated to have. Divide it by 24 and then again by 365 to see how many years is left on the drive.
3. Total fitness is perhaps the most telling and useful. It tells you if your drive is 80, 90, or some percent 'in shape' with 100% being the top score. This number comes from all the error testing and performance testing, and then compared to their vast data base.
Lets take an example. On one of my 500gig Western Digital drives I see these three values as:
1. Average temperature is 44c. The average for this drive is 40c. This tells me this particular drive runs a bit hotter than average. The really interesting part is there are two identical drives in this NAS enclosure, the other had an average temperature of 32c. 12c's of difference just from positioning! This tells me I might need to raise the enclosure, reposition the fan, clean a filter, do something.. without this information I would have never known.
2. The total hours spun up is 21,905. 2.5 years! This is exactly how long this NAS has been in service. MTBF tells me this drive should be good for an average of 50,000 hours. Roughly 50% of it's life is left.
3. Overall fitness is 90%. Not bad! With another 2.5 years estimated on the clock, it's been running at about the right temperature, and with no errors it's overall fitness is 90%.. perhaps I'll find a use for these two drives.
Why S.M.A.R.T. Reports are Useful
Testing my two 1tb drives that I want to put in my NAS enclosure I find that both are running at 42c, with average temperature being 39c. They have 8,810 hours or roughly 1.04 years of use on the clock. These are rated at 100,000 hours MTBF, or 11.4 years of continuous use. They have no errors and a Overall Fitness rating of 98%. These are perfect candidates for my NAS drive.
A laptop drive I replaced because I suspected it of being flaky had an average temperature of 67c! It had only 300 hours on the clock. All sorts of errors were reported and the Total Fitness was rated at 44%. The report gave big red warnings telling me this drive is ready to quit on me. It's a good thing I changed it! This is a great example that heat kills. This drive came from an old Pentium P4 mobile CPU laptop. It used to get so hot it would burn your lap if you used it there for longer than a few minutes. It broke and Dell replaced it 7-8 times in it's 4 years of life/warranty. Dell finally replaced it for a brand new model days before the warranty expired and my son is still using it today.
In my box of drives I have 14 500g drives. Some are good, some are bad, some have been used more than others. Using the S.M.A.R.T. reports I can sort them and see if I can come up with 8 of them in good shape and low hours. What would I do with 8 of them? Use them for a RAID 60 in the new server I'm going to build. That would eliminate a major cost factor of the build. If I like using a full server then later I can replace these 8 500g drives which provide a 3tb RAID 60, with 8 2tb drives that will provide 12tb of RAID 60.
The problem with S.M.A.R.T. testing is that software tools are scarce. Your hard drive manufacturer might list one as a utility, but they're often DOS ran, require bootable floppies (really!), or something inconvenient. Plus, you can only use the software with their drives, they lock out everyone else!
By far a product called SPEEDFAN from Almico provides the best S.M.A.R.T. support out there, as well as helping control the fans in your PC and keeping track of all the various temperatures of your CPU, CPU cores, GPU's, and different measurement points provided by the manufacturer or via self-applied adhesive temp strips.
Speedfan works particularly great with Dell laptops and ASUS motherboards.
I suggest you check this useful utility out and see what you can learn about your current drives installed in your PC's, and what you have laying around in your box of junk! All the reports you see here were created through Speedfan.
This drive was flaky as hell, but since it was in a RAID array with 12 others it wasn't easy to know which of the 12 was causing the issues. Now, with the help of a docking bay, I was able to pull my RAID drives one by one and test them individually. The type of data on the drive doesn't matter, the data is written into the EEPROM of the drive and stored and this is what the S.M.A.R.T. technology reads.
In this case there was a raw read error rate where the threshold was exceeded. All other parameters looked fine. Yet, my RAID was having fits and it was driving me crazy trying to figure out what was causing the issues. A SpeedFan generated S.M.A.R.T. report quickly found where this drive was failing, generated a "Overall Fitness" score of 0% which let me know this particular error was fatal, and with the drive identified I plugged a replacement back into the RAID and my headache went away.
This drive was obviously broken and the docking bay and S.M.A.R.T. test were mainly used to provide empirical verification which made me comfortable returning the drive for replacement under warranty. Printing out this report and enclosing it with your return drive lets the hard drive support team know what's wrong with the drive and may possibly speed up the return of your replacement by helping to avoid testing.
This drive wouldn't spin up at all, it wouldn't do anything. Yet, the S.M.A.R.T. technology allowed the SpeedFan program to access it's EEPROM, determine the serial and firmware numbers, and to tell you the drive was beyond salvage.
You don't need a docking bay to test the hard disk already running in your system. Just run SpeedFan and run the test on every hard drive in your system as part of your periodic maintenance. Every time one of my hard drives hiccups I run a S.M.A.R.T. test. The information is invaluable and allows you to monitor your hard drives and to replace them before a catastrophic failure and the total loss of all your valuable files and data.
SpeedFan is free but accepts donations, making this both the cheapest and best insurance to safeguard your data available.
Photography News of Interest
Do you use Lensbaby products? If so they need your images! If you'd like to share your images with thousands of others and you like the possibility that your image will be one of 12 images selected for their Lensbaby Book, then check out thislink.
Are you one of the lucky ones who has the new Panasonic GF-1 Micro 4/3's camera? If so Panasonic has recently released a firmware upgrade you might be interested in. You can get it here.
What makes a great Rock 'n' Roll photograph? I enjoyed reading this article about the Experience Music Project and I thought you might too. Read ithere.
Political Photography? You'd better believe it. Most news organizations select their photographs to make certain politicians appear 'less' or 'more' in some respect depending on their political bent. Is it fair? Is it ethical? Does the camera lie? Peter Kennard and Alexander Rodchenko admit they've done this, mostly to undermine, and discuss the issue in this article. Here.
Here is some more of the general action during the rally.
First shots are of my room and the views from it.
It sure looks like you had a heck of a time! I hope you'll write in and tell us more about these events. The images are fun to look out and I'm sure the readers would like to learn more about these events. Please consider sharing more.
I feel like a total dud with this gorgeous camera and lenses – so much to learn and so different to film.
I am just fiddling and learning as I go. However I do have the experience of my stock days – I guess all of those basics about photography never change.
These are all jpegs that have not been fiddled with – I would not know how to do that yet.
Just thought you may be interested in a couple of my pics. I am back working in Australia now – needed the money. I will be more organised and much more financial when I come on my next trip to BKK in 2010 – will definitely do one of your courses then. Stick said you are good value.
I really like these. Your new D700 and your choice of lenses are working out well. Your experience with film will bode well for your digital experience, but you must realize there is a much about digital which was never an issue with film.. or was perhaps treated differently with film. And when I say 'much', I mean an awful lot.
I work with many from the film days who are now just getting their feet wet with digital. Many of the basics remain the same, but much doesn't. And digital almost mandates a healthy amount of time spent in post processing, especially if you want the best image quality and to reap the benefits of shooting digital.
What makes a quality workshop a good value, is the ability to take what took me years to learn when going from film to digital, and pass that knowledge on to you in a much shorter time period. Depending on the individual different areas will need to be covered..
Good luck back home. I hope you send us some more images to share.
Take care Phil
I suspect the readers' submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they'd like to share to please send them to me at: [email protected]
A few weeks back a reader asked me for a point and shoot pocket camera recommendation. Despite there being hundreds to choose from one model leaped to the front of my recommendations because it's one I plan on purchasing for myself. A few months ago my recommendation would be for the Fuji Finepix F200EXR and it's still a great choice. However, the Canon S90 Powershot has moved to the top of my list due to its large sensor (for a point and shoot it has one of the largest) and its fast F2.0 lens. I recommended this model to the reader who asked the question and he took it into consideration. He put a lot of effort into his research and asked questions on the models he'd narrowed things down to, but in the end he too thought the Canon S90 Powershot made a lot of sense so he went out and bought one. I asked him to give us a brief hands-on report in the event anyone else is considering such a camera. Here it is :
First report on Canon S90. Very happy with pictures so far. Took 250 pictures all over BKK yesterday. Used the AUTO setting only. They seem much clearer, better color than the Sony T90 but I do not have my LCD monitor here, just the laptop.
The video also looks good and the S90 LCD makes it easy to know how many seconds you have shot.
The adjustment ring on the lens is easy to use, I set it for zoom and works fine and fast. Battery life seem very good and overall the camera is easy to handle. The shutter button will take a little getting used to, it is on the top, in the center of the camera so just a bit of a reach.
The only slight inconvenience is with the pop up flash location. The way I normally hold point and shoot cameras is with left index finger on top doing this will not allow the flash unit to extend. Not a big deal…I will learn.
This first group of shots were taken using the 28 mm up to the 105 mm settings.
Thank you! It's great to hear you're enjoying your new Canon S90 Powershot and the image samples you sent in exhibit great image quality for a point and shoot. I can't wait to see more!
Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.
A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review
Last week was the busiest I remember for a long time. This week is the same. We picked up the new BKK Images mobile on Friday but it didn't have all the accessories installed yet.. so we took it home over the weekend to have the sound system installed and brought it back Monday to finish up the accessories.
Monday didn't quite do it, so we worked on the new vehicle Tuesday and some of Wednesday as well. I'm pleased to report that it is now completed, very comfortable, very safe (for both you and your gear), and perfect for the business of photography workshops. The last bit of business will be to find an airbrush artist to do the graphics.
A new camera purchase was also made that enabled BKK Images to provide the very best of image quality with our commercial work, and HDTV video as well. Yes, we added a new Canon 5d Mark II to our inventory after it's been on the market nearly a year and the firmware has went through several revisions. I'll be bringing you a full review on my experiences with this camera soon. So far I'm very pleased and have had a very positive experience.
Windows 7 x64 Ultimate continues to work great on our main workstation and we'll be upgrading our training workstations soon. I hope to bring you a full report on the upgrades and Windows 7 in the near future.
Yes They Can!
I wasn't sure how I was going to approach this subject because the potential for insulting our Thai hosts is high, yet this isn't my intention. Please accept my apologies if you see this blog entry as an insult, and please try to accept it in the spirit intended.
At times I've lost faith in obtaining quality craftsmanship from Thai craftsmen. More, much of the time I feel we have to spend an inordinate amount of time just making sure the job gets done and that we don't get cheated in the process. A recent renovation of BKK Images HQ lasted several months and while the job was done to my satisfaction, it required my daily presence, hourly supervision, and being on guard during the entire process to make sure substandard materials weren't being substituted, substandard techniques weren't being employed, and that mistakes weren't covered up with a cheap coat of paint.
The list of such examples is very long and I'm sure most of you who have been here any time at all have their own list of examples. Often it's training, and often it's attitude. It seems that until recently most every exception involves foreign owned or managed businesses. The Service Center at Canon and Nikon are examples of exceptions. The mechanics in the service area of Toyota would be another. I could give you a list of foreign franchised restaurants and businesses which were doing very well when the foreign management was watching over things during the grand opening months, but once they returned to their own countries everything fell back to the low quality product and services you've come to expect of Thai run and/or managed businesses.
This is why I'm pleased to share an exception. During the last week we've purchased a new vehicle for Bangkok Images. To say we've had our issues with the Thai owned and managed sales staff would be an understatement. A huge understatement. I'm not going to rant about these experiences, despite the temptation being very high to do so. Instead when a Thai owned and managed business not only pleased me, but performed their services at the very same high level of quality I know is possible, I'll admit to being stunned. Pleasantly stunned!
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F5.6 1/8th ISO 3200
Better Sound is Needed
The factory stereo system in our new vehicle left a lot to be desired. So, on Friday evening after picking up the new vehicle I was driving home when I saw "The Sound Lab" which I've driven by thousands of times during the last four years. With visions of poorly trained Thai workers tearing apart my brand new interior and fiddling with the wiring dancing crudely through my mind.. I pulled into a parking space and was promptly greeted by the manager. He asked what he could do for me and I promptly replied "my new truck has only 13 km on it, can you promise me you won't hurt it?" He smiles and nodded his head and then took me around to see different cars being worked on. From simple jobs costing a few thousand baht, to several jobs costing 1.5 million baht or more. People putting several million baht into their sound systems wouldn't go to a bad place would they?
He took me into the showroom and showed me the bare minimum head unit replacement which fit my needs. It was 5000 baht. He didn't attempt to push any others, I had to ask. He patiently and completely showed me every unit he had, in order, until I told him I'd heard enough. I ended up selecting a dual DIN sized JVC DVD player with IPod, USB, and other support. A model I remember a friend in the states just bought for $525 and he'd sent me the JVC link. I asked how much and he quoted a price which beat my friends price in the states by more than $100. I figured he'd stick it to me with installation, but installation was free. I figured he'd charge my visa the customary 2-3% smaller merchants so often charge, but he didn't. I figured he'd try to sell me expensive speakers and amplifiers, but he didn't. He simply listened to me, went and got a new unit from the storeroom, and asked for my keys. He said it would be installed in 30 minutes. It was installed in 20.
During the installation I watched his workmen. They were very careful with the interior pieces they removed, and careful to cover the new seats so dirt from their clothes didn't make them dirty. They used the proper tools to remove the trim pieces and stock radio. They carefully preserved the stock radio and it's wiring and packed it in a box so I can save it, in the event I sold this car and wanted to return the stereo to original. Every wiring connection was carefully soldered, heat shrinked, and then taped. The connections were wrapped solidly and the solder connection was bright and shiny. They finished the connections, bolted the new unit in place, and reinstalled the trim pieces. THEN they sat there and took the time to tune the equalizer, set the time and date, and then walk me through the operations in fairly good English. Finally, the wiped their fingerprints from the trim and paint, vacuumed up the wire bits and pieces, and returned the keys. I drove home listening to my new unit with an excellent feeling of customer service.
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F4 1/40th ISO 160
In fact, I could hardly wait to go back. On the way home the sound was so clean and nice, it made apparent how poor the quality of the original speakers. He could have tried to push these on me, telling me they were necessary, but he wanted me to experience the difference and recognize the value. The next morning I pull back into The Sound Lab and am greeted by the same manager. The night before I'd done my speaker and amp research. Without thinking twice he took me to exactly what I needed for the level of head unit I'd purchased and offered me a price, including installation, which was cheaper than on-line discount prices in the states for the exact same items. He told me it would take two hours to replace the speakers, tweeters, crossovers, and wires. It took 2.5 hours.
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F4 1/4th ISO 3200
His workers had to remove my door panels, seats, kick boards, and most of my interior. I was cringing, a brand new vehicle being torn apart by non-factory trained and backed workers. I figured I'd have to spend months tracking down the new squeaks and rattles. I watched them the entire two hours and was astounded with their attention to detail, from the smallest solder joint, to the proper placement and securing of the crossovers. Each piece they removed to gain access was carefully placed safely out of the way. When the job was finished they once again tuned the system for the best performance, cleaned the truck, educated the consumer (me) on how to use the product, and once again I was on my way home.
WOW! What a difference! Crisp clean and powerful sound. The head unit can play movies on it's 7 inch screen, interface with my IPod EXACTLY, and read from my USB powered hard drive 100's of gigs of music. And then it plays this music through my new speakers brilliantly! And this was done with no hassle, within the time limited given, at the quoted price, full warranty cards provided, consumer education, and great attitudes. My new truck was put back together perfectly, no squeaks or rattles, no issues of any kind. It was clean and print free. Everything was perfect.
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F4 1/80th ISO 100
Head Units, Speakers, and Sub-Woofers Oh My!
On the way home I was enjoying music like before when the obvious came to me. The head unit was providing such clean sound through these great speakers, yet something was missing. Yep, there was no bass. The manager knew I would experience this and ask, or I wouldn't and if I wouldn't, then I didn't need to spend the extra money.
The next day I pull back into The Sound Lab and the manager greets me with a smile and asked if I came for a sub-woofer. We both laughed. He showed me what he recommended and soon his workmen were working on the installation. This time he explained they'd need to run a very thick gauge power wire directly from the battery and he showed me how they encased this wire in a hard plastic sheath, and then where they fused it to protect my vehicle. They used the same size/gauge wire to mount the ground wire to the chassis.
Canon 5d Mark II, 16-35mm F2.8 @F5.6 1/20th ISO 100
Then the most amazing thing happened. They took 10-15 minutes and listened through my music, noting which type of music I listened to, and then carefully adjusted the five adjustments on the new amplifier to provide the best sound. The original worker wasn't happy with his work so after 20 minutes of trying he called a more experienced guy who then spend 30 minutes making the adjustments! Then, they built several custom EQ programs to match my music taste and stored them in memory. They made these adjustments with the doors both opened and closed. They cleaned the truck perfectly and returned the keys to me, but only after once again showing me both fused locations (power AND ground) , explaining how the entire system worked together, and making sure I had my warranty cards.
Driving home I realized I'd now reached MY point of perfection. It's not a 2 million baht installation by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great system that plays very clean precise music at any reasonable listening levels. There are no squeaks and/or rattles. No fingerprints. Everything works as it should. They even showed me how to use the head units rear panel connections to preview images and video on the units 7 inch screen!
But most of all they showed me that it is indeed possible for a Thai owned and managed business to provide the highest levels of customer service, install a highly technical product, and to keep to the quoted installation times and price quotes. They showed me there is a Thai business out there who really does care about treating their customers properly. And I'll admit to being a bit ashamed that I find them such an exception.
If I ever do have 2 million baht for a great car stereo system I know for sure the guys at The Sound Lab will be the ones who build it for me. If you are ever in need of these services I give them my highest recommendation.
The Sound Lab 619 Srinakarin Road
Suanlang, Bangkok 10250
Hours: 0900-1900 Every Day
Until Next Time..