In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog August 14th, 2010

Bus 11, Behind the Scenes/Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid, A Review

Thailand Hotel Guide
• Jansom Chumphon Hotel
• Tusita Haven Resort & Spa
• J.B. Hotel
• Novotel Centara Hat Yai

I have some unfortunate news to report on this project and total 100% transparency is how I feel this should be handled. My planned beneficiaries of this project, innocent very much in need children at a certain orphanage, have fallen victim to their local manager who we have found cannot currently be trusted and I doubt this is likely to change. Decisions need to be made if we're going to carry this project forward and if so who the new beneficiaries will be. I do expect this project to generate significant revenue so I take it very seriously. As you read this I'll be back in the Mae Sot area investigating further. I'll keep you informed. For now I'll still collect images with the intention of making the best most meaningful mosaics possible and as always, I'm asking for and will greatly appreciate your help with the images.

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]


Quick Click Links

Feature Photograph Bus 11, Behind The Scenes Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid, A Review Photography News of Interest

Readers Submissions Readers Questions A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review Infocus Blog, Smelling The Roses..T


Feature Photograph *menu

Canon 5D Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4 @F11 1/160th 22mm ISO 100

A postcard picture for Ayutthaya’s new floating market? Nah.. but it sure could be. Picture postcard perfect. A piloted sampan crossing under a bridge with a fountain in view, and the Thai flag proudly flying in the background. Stick and I both saw this scene at the same time and without a word between us we both raised our cameras and made the capture, knowingly nodding to each other when finished. It was a solid no-brainer capture.

With such a quick capture how would you have framed the scene? The tendency for an amateur would be to frame only the sampan by zooming in, after all it’s the center of attention. Someone more advanced would want the bridge in the scene and would pull their zoom back for the wider view. Someone trained in “seeing” would have noticed the Thai flag in the background and the colorful flowers which could be used as a foreground and thus framed the scene.

What might you have done with this capture opportunity? I hope more than my efforts. In my eyes, this image is significant because it’s a perfect example of the perfect picture lacking soul.. or feeling. It would be a great commercial picture for a brochure, but to me it has no soul, no feeling, and no merit other than as a snapshot.

I’ve been to dozens of floating markets, most have lots of history everywhere you look, residents who’ve lived on the klong for decades, and well used buildings and sampans would be everywhere. History equals feelings and begets “soul” which this image is missing. In fact, the ‘soul’ is exactly what this particular floating market is sorely missing. As Stick as mentioned, it feels artificial and manufactured.. so no big surprise the image is either..

Bus 11, Behind The Scenes *menu

Canon 5D Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L @F5.6 1/125th 48mm ISO 400

Have you noticed the ugly green smoke spewing buses have largely disappeared from the Bangkok landscape? They’ve been replaced by these new natural gas powered models which are bigger and more comfortable. You’ll find them in two main colors, yellow and orange. Orange as you can see has open windows and now air conditioning, yellow buses have fixed closed windows and nice cool air conditioning.

My wife often rides Bus 11 to her place of employment and knows the drivers and conductors so I asked her help in finding out some details.

First, Bus 11 runs from where Sukhumvit meets Patthakarin, to Pratunam up above Pantip Plaza. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed to say I’ve never ridden Bus 11, but I haven’t. I did however go aboard the bus you see in the picture above and its clean with closely spaced plastic seating like you’d see in the airport waiting areas.

What really interested me were the people operating the buses. I wanted to know where they lived, how much they made, who owned the buses, and if the buses were private or publically owned. These buses are not the BTMA (Bangkok Mass Transit Authority) larger buses, these are much smaller. It was interesting to find out they start at just over baht 1m, and one with A/C will set you back less than a new Toyota Fortuner! Not nearly as expensive as you’d think!

Don’t think of these buses are you would your normal public bus, think of them more as one step up from a Song Thaew or Baht Bus. They’re privately owned and then rented out to the drivers and operators.

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8 Sweep Panorama Mode

The above panoramic shows the ‘housing complex’ where the drivers and conductors and the other support personal who run these buses live. The buses are rented to a licensed driver who then pays for his own fuel and upkeep. How much they make is strictly dependent on many fares the conductor collects from the riders. The fare? From 1 to roughly 15 baht depending on how far you’re going. The conductor keeps track of who gets on/off the bus and where, and collects the necessary fare. Most riders take the same routes every day and know the fare having it read in exact change.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/125th 70mm ISO 400

I can’t help it, one of the first things I noticed were the satellite dishes mounted on the roofs and glimpses of flat panel televisions in the shacks. I wasn’t invited inside, but from what I saw the interiors were mostly a place to hold their clothes, a floor to sleep on, and a television and often a computer here and there.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/200th 78mm ISO 400

This corner lot was vacant and their tin village was set up at the very start of the bus 11 route. They don’t pay rent and told me if they did they’d quickly move to a new location. Buses are parked in the street directly in front of this village when not in use.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/125th 75mm ISO 400

When the camera came out most of the residents went inside. More and more Thai people hesitate to have their picture taken. I’ve noticed this trend increasing with our current political demonstrations. However, the family above just looked on as we asked questions, silently appraising us in turn. Several who knew my wife smiled in recognition. I’d guess for the years she’s been riding this bus they had no idea she was married to a farang.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/100th 70mm ISO 400

Clothes and dishes are washed in buckets, electricity is ‘hijacked’ from the local power lines which strikes me as very dangerous, if not a cheap way of getting electricity. The clothes are then hung over makeshift wooden or PVC braces with every car going by throwing up more fine dust which I’m sure must coat the freshly washed clothes.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/60th 200mm ISO 400

This is a conductor on her way home with groceries. She stopped in her tracks when she noticed us there with a big camera and waited until we left before going inside.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/100th 85mm ISO 400

If you look to the left in this image you’ll notice a small store set up where the “bus people” can buy much of what they need on a daily basis.

Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8L IS @F5.6 1/200th 90mm ISO 400

How much do they earn? It varies by how many people ride the bus. Drivers can make in excess of baht 10,000 monthly and conductor 4000-5000 baht. The drivers must be licensed, but I’m told the licensed drivers often let unlicensed men drive the bus earning very little. With copies of their licenses posted, an unscrupulous licensed driver can sit back in the tin village watching satellite television while his poor oppressed drivers bring in his income. This sounds familiar for some reason.

As the buses stop running in the early evening when most are home from work, the tin village takes on a quiet glow as light from televisions and computers escapes though the crack of whatever they’re using for a door.

An existence such as this raises all kinds of social questions such as living conditions, where the children attend school, health concerns, medical care, and fair play with the bus owners. The workers rotate in from villages in Isaan to earn some money before returning back to their regular lives. This is just one small group of people working in Bangkok under the same conditions. If these people weren’t here to operate the buses at such a low cost, would the bus owners find it profitable to still operate the buses? And would the people who ride them still be able to afford the fares?

Transportation costs are a major factor in the employment of any Thai living in Bangkok. My wife recently started a new position that takes her clear across town. Taxi fare would take a full 70% of her wages. A bus and sky train route 50%. She was finally happy to find a bus route for 30%. Significant to say the least. About what an average family in the west pays to operate an automobile?

Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid HDD, A Review *menu

Introduction

I’ve heard you, those of you saying “Steve, come on, we don’t want to spend $600 for a SSD, isn’t there something more down to earth and that will still give us a big performance bump?” I’m happy to say there is. The Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid hard drive that comes in 250gb, 320gb, and 500gb models. I purchased 2 of the 500gb models on Amazon for $124.00 USD’s each.

But let us be clear, these are for laptop computers. Because the SSD portion of this hybrid drive is for the “read” functions only, the “write” speeds remain well below the better desktop drives.

Comparing Types of Drives

Laptop computer hard disks top out at roughly 50mbps read and write. A super fast desktop drive can read at roughly 110mbps and write at 70mbps. These new Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drives read at 115mbps+ and write at 50mbps+. This means they read at speeds beyond even the fastest desktop drive such as the 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor, but still write at the best laptop speeds. The better SSD drives can read at speeds in excess of 355mbps, and write at speeds of up to 255mpbs! However, these are ‘sequential read/write’ times and there are other measurements more meaningful to how a drive operates, and this of course depends on how you’ll use the drive.

Sequential read/write speeds are meaningful in the same way top speeds are meaningful to automobiles. Unfortunately we don’t get to drive our cars at top speed everywhere we go, instead we have a lot of stop and go traffic and need to worry about such things as braking distances and merging speeds. A hard drive or SSD is much the same. Access time and the ability to transfer small blocks of data are much more important to the performance characteristics than sequential read/write speeds.

Let me give you an example. This is probably the best utility for measuring realistic drive performance out there, it’s so good most SSD manufacturers recommend it so a customer can tell if their SSD is operating properly and correctly configured.

A laptop with a regular hard drive takes about 5-6 hours to run the test to completion and earns a score of less than 1. A Seagate Momentus XT drive equipped laptop about 15 minutes and earns a score of 40-50 depending. An SSD equipped laptop using the Crucial C300 I reviewed earlier completes the test is roughly 30 seconds and earns a score of 565. An SSD equipped laptop using theIntel X-25v 40g SDD I reviewed just a few weeks ago completes the test is about 50 seconds with a score of 225. The C300 SSD mounted in a desktop system equipped with a faster SATA III 6gbps interface completes the test in less than 10 seconds with a score of 665. The differences are rather profound and very closely represent the differences you can expect using these different types of drives in laptops and desktops.

Installation

Installation was a snap. I made a disk image using Norton Ghost 15 (Another I recommend is Acronis True Image) and put the image on a USB powered external HDD. I then replaced the laptops old hard drive with the new Seagate Momentus XT hybrid, booted off the CD-ROM using the Norton Ghost 15 Recovery Disk. The recovery disk instantly saw the drive image on the external USB drive and asked me if I wanted to restore it to the new drive. I hit the “yes” key and 45 minutes later we were done. I removed the recovery CD and the USB external drive, and it immediately booted and nothing needed to be reactivated. Installation really is that easy if you use a good disk imaging program.

How It Works

The drive for the most part is identical to a traditional hard drive. The difference is a small board with 4gb of solid state SLC-NAND flash memory. Using a technology called “Adaptive Memory” which is basically a very smart algorithm that keeps track of your latest disk accesses, and then quickly matches what gets stored on the SSD portion of the drive and what gets stored on the mechanical part, doing its best to keep your most accessed programs and data on the SSD.

As you move from task to task, the Adaptive Memory quickly adapts and boosts your access times. For instance, you might process images using Lightroom and Photoshop for a few hours and soon the Adaptive Memory will have all you’re using on the SSD portion and your work will go along very fast. Then you finish your imaging and move on to playing a video game. Almost immediately your gaming speeds will increase as the Adaptive Memory transfers the SSD resources to that purpose.

What about programs you use all the time, but only as you boot the machine. Like Windows? Adaptive Memory quickly learns which programs are used often and reserves a portion for them. Windows will boot much faster using the Momentus XT hybrid than with a regular hard drive.

Performance

I wasn’t sure how to test this considering it wasn’t a full on SSD or mechanical drive. I used the AS SSD drive utility above, but perhaps my observations would be more useful.

The first time I booted into Windows 7 Ultimate I noticed a speed increase, but not much. The second time I booted into Windows 7 the speed picked up considerably. By the third time and from them on boots into Windows were much faster than normal, in the 30-40 second range for a full boot up. Compare that to a full 2 mins+ of the regular drive.

My most used programs, my browser, my email client, my torrent client, Lightroom, etc, are all now loading much faster than before. And as I move from task to task, the operations quickly are learned by the Adaptive Memory technology and become quicker as well.

Performance is much better than with a standard HDD, but it’s obviously not an SSD.

Further Testing and Explanation

You guessed it, I couldn’t just run this exciting new drive in a laptop and leave it at that. I had all sorts of things I wanted to try it on. I slid it into my hot swappable bays of my workstation and really put it through a workout and compared it to many drives.

If you need a drive for functions that only involve reading such as a cache for images or image previews as used in Photoshop or Lightroom then it might make sense to install one of these drives just for this purpose and dedicate it for that use. Otherwise I see no place for this drive in a desktop.

I spanned two of these drives in Disk Manager into just a single drive, hoping to end up with a 1tb hybrid drive. I quickly learned the SSD portion of the drive wasn’t activated in this configuration. I would guess the algorithm didn’t know what to do when two drives were spanned together.

I also tried putting one of these drives in several (4) USB drive enclosures hoping to see the great read performance from an external drive. Even though the USB 2.0 standard can easily handle speeds in excess of 100mbps I saw zero improvements with the hybrid drive mounted in this configuration. This tells me the drive is optimized for the SATA II interface and not USB. Fair enough, though this does limit the real use of this drive to being a primary laptop hard drive.

Summary

The bottom line is easy. If you’re not ready to lay out the cash for a SSD, and you need to replace your hard drive anyway either for a capacity increase or whatever the reason, the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive is the drive you should buy. There is nothing comparable in this price range. This drive is tremendously faster than a normal drive. And the cost is roughly $10-$20 USD’s more than the same drive without the hybrid capability. This will be the best $10-$20 you ever spent.

Frankly, I feel it’s worth replacing your current drive at the full $124.00 USD cost for the performance benefits you’ll gain. A full 500gb of storage with read speeds faster than the fastest desktop drive like the Western Digital Raptor? Until the Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid it was unheard of.

And a 5 year warranty to boot? What more could you ask for?

Photography News of Interest *menu

This guy's shot is truly about “being there!” Imagine how fast things were happening and what it took for him to keep his cool and make this shot! Great work.

I used to make the Tiger Zoo a regular stop on my “Pattaya Loop” workshop and have taken dozens of clients to this location. No more. First, they put bars up in the one are where we could photograph the tigers without glass or bars impeding the shot, and second the tigers are living in deplorable conditions which seem to be getting worse over time. At this place tigers are treated like objects, like they have no life or deserve no life of their own. The Tiger Temple is worse, and I choose to no longer support both places. This article reinforces my views. If you truly care about tigers, stay away!

This elephant gets some mighty large caps. But did they have to say it made him look like an “Elephant Pimp?” Really? What would make someone say that other than an immature writer still working from his mothers basement?

This survey of over 500,000 images from a wedding site has some interesting if meaningless stats. For instance, it claims IPhone users have had more sexual partners than those using Blackberries or Android phones. Other stats that make a lot of sense is that overwhelmingly the people who were photographed with a DSLR ‘appear’ more attractive than those with a camera phone or point and shoot. It’s a fun read, but internet junk reading at its finest.

This is long awaited. Adobe releases it’s Lightroom 3.2rc and ACR 6.2 upgrades which now supports the new Sony NEX-5 and corrects a host of bugs that were plaguing the earlier issue of Lightroom. I’ve personally tested this and it solves most of the issues and works better. This upgrade you’ll want to do. You can get theLightroom 3.2rc upgrade here , and the ACR 6.2 upgrade here .

Readers Submissions *menu

Hi

Friday evening car show in San Pedro.

If any of you remember the Love Boat TV show.

That is the bridge shown in the intro.

Small show – redevelopment area along the waterfront.

Bart

Bart –

This looks like it was a really fun shoot. SoCal for sure has a lot of great opportunities such as this. I love the fireboat! The Woody’s are great too!

Thank you!

Steve

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]

Readers Questions *menu

Hi Steve

I am coming to Thailand next month. I have a lot of old film negatives from the 60 and 70s that my Thai wife assures me I can get processed very cheaply in Bangkok. Can you recommend a good place?

I also have older negatives of my late father's from the 30, 40s and 50s that I would love to get processed. Some of them appear to be half the width of the normal film negatives; some are much bigger, almost like a rectangle, and they individually arranged, not is a strip, and I also have some that are on a circular card! Hopefully you will have some idea what I mean but I can scan or send a pic if you don't. Is there anywhere in BKK that could develop these?

Many thanks

Jeremy H.

Canberra, Australia

Jeremy –

This one place recently did some printing for me. They are near Seacon Square, across the street and not easy to miss as they’re very large. I think you could negotiate prices as over the phone they’re quoting 150 baht a “roll” to scan and give you files on disk.

Chakraval Frame 02-748-0215-6

Of course there are many such places in the greater Bangkok area.. but this place gave me control of their color profiling and let me color profile their system because their system was so far off.. which can be read a few different ways..

Do you know flatbed scanners can now do a very good job of scanning most any film positive or negative and time notwithstanding, it might be a better long term choice:

I hope this helps

Steve

Thanks Steve.

This is great. I have a Canon scanner with a film attachment and tried scanning film and really struggled to get a decent image. Maybe I need to go back and try again!

Regards

Jeremy

Jeremy

Software with scanners makes a huge difference. The new scanners have much better software more than they do better hardware.. You might want to check out your Canon support site for their latest software and see if that helps.

No matter how you go about it, scanning images is boring. But for family archive purposes very easy.

A professional drum scanner which is what you want for your best images.. are becoming more rare every year. The best drum scanner operators have 20-30 years of experience and can make a huge difference..

Steve

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 *menu

This week was slow, actually it was dead. No ‘out’ work at all. I’ve been having some significant issues with ATI’s new 5000 series video cards which are causing some real issues with my system. The only positive part of this is the excellent ATI service center who so far has readily exchanged the defective cards for new ones. So far 5 cards with issues in the last two weeks! We also have been busy updating our workstations and laptops with the latest Microsoft updates, this month a Microsoft record of 14 updates! And then we have the much anticipated (and appreciated) LR3.2rc update and the ACR 6.2 update. We continue to review multiple pieces of new hardware and software.

The “What’s New” area of our site continues to grow in popularity. We try to update it 4-5 times a week with the latest information and sneak peeks of our latest images. Check it out to keep track of Bangkok Images exploits and commentary throughout the week.

Still a ton of hardware and software reviews being formed, but it takes a while to properly review software and get a good feel for it. We’re still looking at the second part of the new Sony NEX-5 and our 16mm lens arrived and we’ve really been putting it through its paces. A NEC wide-gamut colorimeter, the NEC monitors themselves, image hoods, Adobe CS5, Topaz, PTIgui, and the new Office Professional 2010.

Infocus Blog, Smelling the Roses *menu

And then taking a picture.

Really, when was the last time you really took some time to think about a composition before you made the capture? The digital age has spoiled us as photographers in more ways than one.

In a recent discussion concerning Kodak discontinuing Kodachrome and them giving Steve McCurry the last roll to expose as he wished.. it spawned a greater discussion about the “digital generation.” Basically the “we want it now” generation.

We talked about the joy and excitement of our anticipation taking the finally completed roll of film down to the drugstore and then waiting that necessary 7-10 days for them to send it out to the lab and get your negatives and prints back. And finally how you’d get that (usually yellow from Kodak) envelope back in your hands with its sticky gummy flap.. and how we’ll finally get to see how our pictures turned out.

I was the type who would take the envelope unopened to some quiet and peaceful place so I could slowly open and savor each print as it uncovered the next in the stack. I’d watch others rip them open in the drug store and go through the stack of prints in 10 seconds or less and judge the entire roll of film during that ten seconds. What was wrong with me, why was I taking hours and studying each print and then comparing the print to the negative to see if the lab missed anything?

This translates to the way we approach life, and certainly to our photography style. The person ripping open the packages in the drug store was probably the person shooting off an entire roll of film in just a few minutes without thought of composition or future use.

A real photographer will often study the scene, sometimes as in the case of Ansel Adams for hours, days, or even weeks or months before making the capture. And in truth, since the advent of digital photography one of my greatest challenges is getting my clients to slow down and think about what they’re shooting. To mentally ‘develop’ their composition before pushing the shutter button. Their reply is “digital is free, it doesn’t matter how many images we take!” I might argue this, but let’s say it’s true. If you’re so busy taking “free” images and not stopping to think about what you’re doing, then will any of your bazillion images be worth anything?

Another photographer I respect greatly, perhaps the best architectural photographer in the world, recently commented how much he enjoyed his new Sony NEX-5 equipped with a lens adapter so he could use his manual focus primes. He stated that with his Canon G11, a fine P&S, he was often taking many pictures but not using them for anything. Now, the NEX-5 (so equipped with his manual focus primes) prompted him to change his point and shoot style, to slow down and think more about what he was shooting. His reward? More meaningful images he’ll do something with!

The conversation then turned to how many writers who write submissions for local websites would do well to think about what they’re going to write, to think it through like you would a junior college essay question, BEFORE you write. Make the plan, and then write the plan. Think the plan, and then shoot the plan. Slow down, consider your entire environment towards your composition. Like our feature photograph today did you see the Thai flag in the background or the tulips in the foreground. The fountain? Both boat pilots?

If your goal is a big stack of prints then by all means, shoot away. But if you want to earn that rare photograph which you’ll want to hang on your wall.. then slow down, stop and take in your environment, and put thought into what you shoot.

Until next time..