I was listening to the latest episode of ATP and they talked a bit about photo solutions they are using and wether or not it’s a good idea to switch to Photos for Mac. None of them mentioned Synology Photo Station, even though they all own Synology NAS products.

Because I couldn’t find a clear list like this anywhere else, I want to list out, here, the features of Synology’s Photo Station software.

Photo management is the topic that just won’t die. It’s just not easy and simple yet, there are so many little worries and concerns that the knowledgable geeks have with every solution out there. I believe Synology offers a photo solution that has more on the positive side of the balance than anyone else.

Mobile Apps

Having good apps is both the minimum bar of functionality, and the most amazing aspect of the Synology software ecosystem. So many consumer electronics companies try to provide a mobile app to interface, and so many of them do it badly. But, the DS Photo+ app is really quite good.

DS Photo +

Unfortunately, it has the same problem that every photo backup app on iOS has, namely it only backs up your photos if you have opened the app recently. This is where Apple’s iCloud Photos solutions really take the wind out of everyone else’s sails.

Web Albums

Web albums are the primary purpose of the Photo Station software running on your Synology. The whole thing is a web application that indexes and presents a nice album view of all the folders of images you have. I think the fact that it uses folders as it’s default organization structure is a really good choice. I don’t like having everything in one massive opaque library file. Storing photos as files and folders is a metaphor I understand and has passed the test of time. I have my photos broken down by year and month folders. So all the most recent pictures are in the 2015/04 folder.

Folder Structure

Permissions

If you have multiple people in your household with different collections of photos and all want access to it, you have lots of control with the Synology. Creating users and assigning them permissions is a straightforward task for the knowledgable home geeks.

You can have different users have different permissions (like viewing and uploading) per folder. You can also short-cut the whole thing and have everyone in your house use one primary user account for logging in just to simplify things.

Sharing

Sharing is where Photo Station sets itself apart. From the web interface it’s easy to choose photos for shared albums. These shared albums can be protected with a simple password that you give to friends and family, or can be unprotected but hidden behind a long URL (this is the default option in the latest version). You can also just create plain old public albums listed for everyone in the public interface of your diskstation website if you are using your diskstation to host a public website.

sharing

The photostation software also has features that allow you to post photos or links to photos to sites including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Picasa.

They also allow you to set up a built-in public ‘Photo Blog’ a feature I haven’t used because I prefer to post photos to my WordPress blog.

Synology has to make the web interface available to the internet in order to make this sharing funcationlity really work. The Disk Station software tries to walk you through setting up Dynamic DNS and firewall rules during initial installation. Exposing your NAS to the internet has some inherent risks.

Indexing and Conversion

When Photo Station analyzes all the photos in you photo/ directory, it will auto-rotate and generate a few thumbnails as well as indexing all the EXIF metadata. This makes searching by map and timeline and various tags possible from within the web interface.

Detail View

In the Disk Station control panel you can have the software automatically convert all video files to mobile friendly formats.

Editing

I wouldn’t say these are great ways to edit, but they have integrated the web-based Pixlr and Aviary photo editing services. These are actually quite powerful and don’t require you to have special software installed on your personal computer. But, they do have some limitations in speed and funcationality compared to programs like photoshop or lightroom.

Tagging and Face Recognition

You can assign tags to photos one at a time or to a selection of multiple photos. There is no concept of stars or favorites in Photo Station, but you can add a tag you call “Favorite” or “5 Stars” in the interface if you wish to be that organized.

You can manually select faces in a photo and assign a name. The Disk Station will do it’s best to identify faces based on the data you give it. This feature is still listed as experimental.

Conclusion

Web based software is unlikely to be as fast and easy as a natively built desktop app, but I think PhotoStation comes close. I like the fact that I have all my family photos on a cloud service that I control and own. And I love the fact that it’s still integrated with a good Mobile App, even if the integration isn’t as smooth as Apple’s iCloud Photos. Uploading files to a NAS inside of your home network is going to be a lot quicker than getting photos up to iCloud. And the NAS should be set to back up it’s files weekly to an offsite cloud location anyway. I set mine to go to Amazon Glacier on Sunday nights. Overall, I think the benefits outweight the problems.

I still have to finish my detailed description of how I get all my photos into the Synology disks from our two iPhones and our Sony Digital Camera. Look for that soon.

I try to make choices for simplicity in my technology. But, when it comes to cameras I’ve decided some factors outweight the simplicity and convenience of using an iPhone for my primary photography instrument. I believed the iPhone was the best way to go for most people. The photos are crisp and clean and getting better every year. The apps and always-connected nature of the device means your photos actually make it out onto social networks and blogs so much more easily. It’s even easy to have fun and be creative using the iPhone camera.

The problem is that too many of my iPhone photos were not turning out. Mainly because most of our family photo moments happen in poor lighting. Our apartment is situated so that not much natural light comes in, especially during the afternoon and evening hours. Exacerbating the issue, the artificial light in our living room is all provided by table and floor lamps, which just don’t do enough for smart-phone cameras.

Also, I know enough about photography to know what I’m missing out on. I understand the concepts of aperture and shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, auto-focus speeds and optical image stabilization. I also have the desire to express my creativity through photography and videography to a further extent. So, I started looking for better tools.

I had been looking for a long time, but we have a new baby arriving this week!

I’ve had various cameras in my Amazon wish lists over the years, but my requirements broke down like this:

  1. Low-light performance: primarily from image stabilization and buying a faster lens.
  2. Video performace: full HD video at 60FPS allowing for buttery smooth 1/2 speed shots.
  3. Cost: Camera, kit lens, fast prime lens, tripod and a few basic accessories for less than $1,000. Which is expensive, but cheaper than some consumer electronics investments for the family.
  4. Image quality: clarity, color, and megapixels.

I read a lot of reviews, for the cameras in the middle pro-sumer range. I think The Wirecutter Camera Guides are very well written and thoughtful. I also love the depth of detail available at dpReview. I also enjoy reading the reviews at Tools & Toys, though I often come to different conclusions than they do.

NEX 5-T

I eventually decided I wanted a Sony. The new Sony a6000 with kit lenses can be found refurbished on places like Newegg for decent prices, but I was a little nervous about investing in a refurbished unit. I decided to drop down to the NEX-5T which is about 2 years old at this point, but is still available new in retail packaging from Amazon.

NEX-5T and accessories Here’s the whole kit.

I then picked up a fast 35mm Prime Lens which allows me to take photos in extremely low light and get really shallow depth of field, creating the bokeh look.

Example of Shallow Depth of Field

I still had enough Christmas money for an affordable tripod, camera bag, and a few filters, as well as a new EyeFi SD card and a copy of Adobe Lightroom.

In my mind the ability to get all of this under my budget number was the biggest deciding factor. I got as much camera as I could afford and still get the lenses and accessories that will make my photography experience that much better. The camera body can be upgraded in a few years if I feel the need to do so, Sony seems committed to the E-Mount Lens system for now. I plan on getting a few years of solid family and personal photography into this kit, I can imagine in 2-3 years smart phone photography may have closed some of these gaps.

Watch here for Part 2, my guide to getting this camera connected into a photo management system.

My wife is nine months pregnant and quite uncomfortable. There are some things that prevent her from moving around much. So, we have all been stretched beyond our usual reserves of energy. So, for meals the past two days we have ordered food in.

My favorite experiences was with the Panera Bread app. It wasn’t the fastest in performance, but it was a great user experience. I tapped through a very intuitive menu system. (I have given up on restaurant websites that make you scroll around a big PDF of their menu.) I had the option to associate this order with a rewards card. And I got exactly what I wanted for sides and setting detailed options on the order. Then when I knew we were about to leave and would be driving by soon I clicked “order”. Then I had my next nice surprise, I could pay with ApplePay and my thumb-print from right within the app. No need to enter my credit card info. I arrived at the store 10 minutes later and my meal was waiting for me on a shelf, in a bag with my name on it.

This experience was both simple and powerful. I felt so happy to just get the food I wanted without waiting in line or having to unload my family for a trip into the store.

The other app I used recently for aquiring my vittles was the Domino’s Pizza app. They are just around the corner from us and I can walk there to pick up, so again I don’t use any delivery. I just fired up the app, logged in with an account I created on their website a couple years ago, and ordered a pizza using a coupon right in the app. I did have to use stored credit card details, and I did have to sign a receipt when I arrived, but it was simple and clear user experience. I like my pizza acquisition to feel like a vending machine transaction, like they do at Little Caesars.

For my future research, If I am so exhausted I need delivery I would try out one of the two new apps I’ve heard about Foodler or GrubHub. These apps collect menus from many local restaurants and tie them to 3rd party delivery services, so you can order food from restaurants that maybe don’t normally deliver, or that have agreements with these food delivery services.

My Fire TV Stick freezes at least every day. Sometimes it just loses it’s connection to WiFi but it’s been having more and more problems lately. The problems resolve themselves if I unplug it from power and reset it. The Stick is noticibly warm to touch when I do this.

I see a few mentions of this issue online. I’ve requested a replacement from Amazon. It’s possible this is just a hardware issue. I will update the blog here if I get a replacement and it works reliably.

To get help, go to the Fire TV Stick help page on Amazon and click ‘Contact Us’.


Update 2015-04-18: Still no contact from Amazon. Latest software updates installed but still seeing the problem pretty regularly.

In today’s home we consider it essential to have connectivity to the internet at all times. For many of us, internet access is more important than traditional services like phone lines and cable TV. You may need it for work, or you may just use it for fun. Most people in the US are using broadband internet now, instead of dial-up internet that tied up the plain old telephone lines.

This shift to always-on internet access has turned each person’s home or apartment into a branch of the internet. Devices on your home network communicate with each other, and they reach out to computer around the world through your internet service provider.

Getting Internet Access

Here’s something we probably already know, in the United States, all ISPs are pretty dissapointing.

My recommendation is get the cheapest internet access you can stand to have so that you can watch two video streams at the same time. This should be at least 5 Mbps download. (Mbps stands for Mega-bits per second) If you have a full family each using their own devices like smartphones and tablets and TV streaming boxes, you should consider 20Mbps a really good speed. This speed is not available in many places, especially rural areas.

You are the one that knows your family’s needs. Higher capacity internet is important for a few scenarios. Specifically cloud backups and restores. If you have to download a big backup from your cloud service, or start up new backups online for the first time, super fast upload and download speeds will be important to you.

Broadband comes in a few basic flavors.

  • Cable
  • DSL
  • Wireless
  • Cellular

A few cities offer fiber-optic connections to the home for a premium price. It’s unclear how quickly that technology will spread in the near future. Cable and DSL are the reliable, consistent and common options. People that live in rural areas might be too far away to get those services and may have to fall back to wireless privders. Sometimes privder’s advertise a wireless technology called WiMax. This connection is usually quite good but your connection speed will drop off dramatically for each mile further away from the tower you get.

I once lived in a rural neighborhood where DSL was available but the connection quality was so bad I considered switching to WiMax before we moved. DSL runs on the old copper wires that the phone company installed. This means the quality of those wires can degrade over time, resulting in quickly dropping speeds over greater distances. Noise in the signal is what kills your internet reliability. It’s like static in a TV signal, but even more disruptive because each internet packet that has static in it must be re-transmitted form the sender and acknowledged by the recipient until it succeeds.

Routers

Don’t lease your router. I recommend you buy a Cable or DSL modem and set it to pass through directly to your own router. This isolates different concerns. And allows for flexibility in setting up complicated network structures in the future. You are responsible for your homes network, and the ISP is responsible for connecting that equipment to the internet. ISP tech support will usually still help you troubleshoot internet problems even if you bought your own router and didn’t lease theirs.

What kind of router should I get?

Advice from The Wirecutter has not led me wrong yet. I purchased a really good ASUS RT-AC66U router from their recommendaton last summer, and it has been a champ. Consumer router technology evolves quickly and their latest recommendations are probably better. If you buy a good router now for $150 it should last for 4-7 years. But, speeds are always increasing and you may want to upgrade before then, so this isn’t a guaranteed a long-term investment.

Ethernet vs. Wireless

Ethernet cables are very useful. It used to be true that if you wanted to get good video quality at a set top box you needed to connect it to your network on a wired ethernet cable. So it would be a good idea to have several ethernet cables running from your router or switch into the living-room TV cabinet. This isn’t as important anymore, but wireless signal problems can still be a real nuisance for video set top boxes. Anywhere that you need reliable high speed connections you should have an ethernet connection available.

Wireless Router Signals

On newer routers you have the choice of setting up a 2.4 and/or 5 Ghz networks. Higher frequencies don’t penetrate walls as well. If your walls are dense and made of plaster or concrete you will really start to run into range problems. So, it’s a good idea to position your router centrally so you are as close as possible to all the most common places you need a good wifi signal. If you need to watch Netflix in bed on a tablet, then you might run into problems using the 5GHz signal from the room 15 feet away through several walls. The 2.4GHz signal will probablys still work though.

You might be able to move the router depending on your home layout, if you are hunting for perfect, remember that line of sight is your best bet. If you can see the router from where you are at you will get a good signal! If you can’t see it, make sure it’s just a thin or light door between you. Think of your wifi signal like a slow billiards shot, it can make one bounce around a corner but it loses a lot of energy in the process.

You can see this phenomena in the following animation. signal strength diagram Physics research on router placement

Advanced Troubleshooting of WiFi

Your signal can also suffer from interference of routers around you. But there are channels that you can find which may be more open and could decrease signal noise inside your home. Finding this information can be a little tricky and techical.

With a Mac the tool is built in - alt-click the WiFi Icon - select “Open Wireless Diagnostics…”

On a PC - NetStumbler is free. You can pay $20 for inSSIDer but I haven’t used it, it’s a second-hand recommendation.

Find a channel that is optimal and then log into your router’s administration interface. Usually it will be at http://192.168.1.1 or http://192.168.0.1 or possibly at http://192.168.1.100

Refer to the instructions online for your router to change the WiFi channel, or just dig through the settings screens until you see a drop down list of channels. Change it to a channel that is not heavily occupied according to the wireless diagnostic tool you are using.


This is not everything I could say about networking. I have more articles planned. And more hardware reviews. I plan to start researching range extenders and powerline adapters soon.

  •  → Written by: Tim