Encase your HDD in a Peli Protector 1120 case

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I have written a more than healthy amount of posts about backups, archiving and data storage. If you have followed my blog you already learned about my backup strategy (Link 1, Link 2). There are three copies of my archive: On my NAS and a carbon copy on two separate 4 TB drives. One of those two drives is not deposited in our house. This “external” drive is sheltered in a plastic case, which I put into a cardboard box with some bubble wrap. The cardboard solution was bothering me for quite a while and I decided to get the best protection I can think of – a Peli case.

Peli cases are rugged, watertight boxes which come in all sizes. The smallest one is big enough for a harddrive, the biggest one can hold military equipment like shoulder-mounted rocket launchers or rifles. I decided to go for a Peli Protector 1120 case with pre-cut foam. It came at a price of 40 € – not cheap for storing your HDD but I wanted one of those indestructible, stylish cases very badly.

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As you can see the box is completely filled with foam. At first I placed the encased HDD on the box to see where foam had to be removed.

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You can mark the corners with toothpicks if you like, but in my case most of the foam had to be taken out, so there was no need for special marking. The foam is pre-cut and can be ripped apart easily. The foam is not cut into cubes as I thought, but into long stripes. The border of the foam is not pre-cut. Since the hinges of the plastic box are larger than the cutout, I had to carefully saw away some material with a sharp kitchen knife. Cutting the foam can be made with high precision, I was surprised as I though it would be more complicated.

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Since the cut-out was too deep for the HDD I took some of the foam which I removed in step one and placed two layers on the floor of the box.20150617-Pelicase-HDD-005

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The encased HDD fits snugly into the foam. Once the lid is closed the drive is protected against moisture, water and physical impact.

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Bottom Line. A Peli case is not the cheapest, but one of the best ways to protect your gear. The cases are virtually indesctructible and can endure a lot of abuse while the content is still safe and unharmed.

Photographing Motorbikes (Part 2/2)

20150603-Moto-Morini-Header-001 This is part 2 of the big motorbike photography series. If you haven’t read part 1, click here. Last week I showed Japanese motorbikes, this week belongs to the Italians. The following images depict a Moto Morini Granpasso 1200 and a Ducati 748 S Biposto. In contrast to the motorcycles in the last post the italian bikes were shot in an environment with no street lamps, so I had to make everything with flashes. First, let’s go through the three key elements for this shoot. Location. The Moto Morini Granpasso is a travel enduro with 1200 ccm. That means it is built for rough terrain and going cross country. Therefore I chose not to photograph it on a paved road but on a small dirt track next to a field of wheat in the countryside. The dirt track attributes to the character of the bike, the open field provides a nice backdrop with little distraction. Lighting. The shooting took place after sunset, with some residual light gleaming over the horizon. This provided a nice atmosphere, but also meant that the shooting had to take place late in the evening (way beyond 10 pm). The foreground was lightpainted with handheld flashes, set to manual mode and also trigered manually. The flash power was set using the famous trial and error method, aka chimping. Perspective. I wrote about that in the first post of the series, nothing new here. Camera at roughly the height of the bike’s tank, bike at an angle of 30, 45 or 90° towards the camera axis. How the shoot took place. The camera was set to 30 sec exposure and the aperture closed to the max to achieve the nice “beam”-effect at the bike lights. After starting the exposure (exposure delay mode again activated to avoid disturbance from the pressing of the shutter button) I moved around the bike in a half circle behind the camera, firing my flash several times to light the bike. That is the basic recipe, the rest is playing with the flash power, flash zoom, number of flash impulses and where to point the flash.20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-004 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-002 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-003 After lightpainting some action on the Kawasaki I wanted to knock it up a notch. So I made another 30 sec exposure and started lightpainting the exhaust fume cloud, wheels and the driver. All had been done in one take, no composition in Photoshop. You have to work fast, but it is absolutely feasable as 30 sec last longer than one would think. 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-001 I am totally in love with the next two images. It was quite late already and the moon began to rise behind the treeline in the opposite direction where we were shooting. So we rotated our setup by 180° and made some exposures with the moon in the background. In order not to overexpose the moon I dialed the camera settings to 2 sec exposure @f/6.3. Longer exposure modes would have lead to a non-circular moon as he moves a noticeable way in 30 sec. The bike and the surroundings were then lightpainted as described above. Since the aperture had been opened a great deal the flash power could be reduced significantly. 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-006 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-005 Second italian stallion. A Ducati 748 S Biposto. It’s a yellow crotch rocket (“Rennsemmel” in German, which translates to a “Racing breadroll”. Us Germans are weird, I know). Let’s break down the shots for the last time: Location. The road is the extension of the northern runway of Hanover airport. The road with the signal lights is outside the airport perimeter and therefore totally legal to enter. We chose the location because a.) there is little distraction in the background and b.) the signal lights are an unusual sight and therefore interesting. Lighting. Besides the signal lights no other light source was present. We shot way after sunset with only a small residue of daylight gleaming over the horizon. The bike itself was illuminated by lightpainting with a handheld flash set to manual mode as described earlier. Perspective. Facing west the sky is a deep blue (magic hour). The bike was positioned in the classic 30/45° or 90° perspective. 20150611-Ducati-748-001While the deep blue is nice let’s take a look into the opposite direction… as you see the residual light over the horizon adds to the atmosphere. The path before the bike was also lightpainted with the flash. 20150611-Ducati-748-008 20150611-Ducati-748-007 Suddenly the airport guiding lights were shut off. To achieve another lighting mood I opened the aperture to f8 and adjusted the flash power accordingly. While the photo has been shot in the same direction and at roughly the same time as the image before, the altered exposure makes the image look more dusk-ish and less night-ish. 20150611-Ducati-748-006 20150611-Ducati-748-004 20150611-Ducati-748-002 20150611-Ducati-748-003 Bottom line. Choose a good location. Be there when the light is good for your shoot. In my case I chose dusk, the magic hour and beyond. Position the bike in such a way that its character is reflected accordingly. Play with the exposure, use a flash and/or lightpaint the scene.

Photographing Motorbikes (Part 1/2)

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Introduction.
I have a driver’s license for motorbikes as long as I own a driver’s license for cars. But since the day of my driving test I did not ride a bike since I never owned one. When I was younger I did not have the money, during my studies I had other things to focus on and over time the wish for a motorbike went dormant. But it was always there, slumbering in the back of my mind.
Fast forward many years.
It was time. The desire awoke and powerfully forced its way out. On a Friday I decided to buy a motorbike, and a few days later I was fully clothed and geared and called myself the owner of a second hand Yamaha FZ6 Fazer. And with this “newly found” hobby, what would lie closer than combining it with my other hobby – photography ?

That’s why this and the next post is about motorbike photography. I will feature four different bikes, one being my own and three others from friends and colleagues. In this post I will present a Yamaha FZ6 Fazer and a Kawasaki Z750 Streetfighter (and one image of a bike I made in 2011, presented as a case study).

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Basic thoughts on bike photography.
Keep in mind what I am showing in this and the next post is just one of many possible “recipes” for creating good motorbike images. I am not claiming that this is the only valid way. Disclaimer end.

There are three key elements for good motorcycle images:

  • Location
  • Lighting
  • Perspective / positioning the bike.

Location.
The bike is supposed to be the main subject of the image. Choose an environment which fits the bike and that is not too distracting. Examples include wide open fields, long roads, empty parking spaces, industrial areas or, in the unlikely event you happen to have access to one, a hangar or an airport runway.

The images I am showing you today were shot in two different locations (three if you count the single image from the case study below). One is a pedestrian walkway (= no parking cars that disturb the image) and the other one is an underpass beneath a railway track. Both locations have their own appeal.

Lighting.
All images were shot when it was dark outside, so the street lamps illuminated the scenery. Strobes were used to lightpaint the rest. Keep in mind to use filters to match the light of the strobe the light of the street lamps. Flourescent light demands a green filter on your flash, incandascent light sources require an orange filter.

But also working with available light can produce stunning results. If the parameters match, using a flash is not necessary. Refer to the case study below to see what I mean.

Perspective.
I found it appealing to photograph the bikes at “eye-level” or a tad above (but not too much). During my photo sessions the camera was mounted on a tripod at roughly the level of the bike’s tank. I positioned the bikes in such a way that the street lamps illuminated them.

There are basically two standard ways to position the bike relatively to the camera: side view (bike at 90° to the camera) or a diagonal positioning (bike at 30-45° to the camera, either the front or the back facing the camera). A full frontal shot (bike axis in line with the camera) was not to my liking, as the bike’s charakter did not come through in these images. Again – my taste, must not match yours.

Pay attention to the position of the handlebar. Tilting the handlebar to the left or right can make the shot more interesting.

Case study from 2011.
To illustrate how these three elements play together let me show you an image I made in 2011.

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The image was taken on the fly. The bike was parked at the yacht harbour in Nice, France. We were on the way to a restaurant when this scene caught my eyes. It was magic hour, the street lamps illuminated the empty parking space. No people near the bike. Pause – click – that was it. I especially like the colours in the image.

If we dissect this shot all three elements mentioned above can be found. The location is great. The bike is alone on a empty space, the elements in the background make the scene more vivid and interesting, but don’t distract the viewer. The bike is the main subject of the image. Lighting could not be any better. Magic hour – blue sky, the green of the bike stands out very nicely. Perspective – also here the owner of the bike (whose acquaintance I did not make by the way) parked the bike at an angle of about 30° against the road in the background. The handlebar of the bike is slightly tilted, which makes the shot more interesting. Again – the shot was not planned and a lucky superposition of all three mentioned elements led to the nice outcome.

Back to the recent shootings.

The shooting procedure in detail.
The camera was mounted on a tripod at roughly the level of the bike’s tank or a little above that (see previous paragraph). I took long exposures (up to 30s) and brutally closed the aperture (most images @f/22). I activated exposure delay mode (1 sec) to eliminate vibration from pressing the shutter. Once the exposure started I used the (handheld) flash (in manual mode) to lightpaint the bike. Flash power was determined by trial and error. I am not afraid to confess that I use chimping as a method to achieve a good exposure.

Pay attention to the direct surroundings of the bike. Remove leaves, sticks, stones or debris. Pro tip: bring an old rag to the shoot and, after positioning the bike, wipe the tires with it. Play with the lights of the bike. Make an image with the lights off, one with the lights on to see what looks more interesting in your eyes.

Post processing in Lightroom involved the repair stamp tool to remove unwanted objects from the foreground (any leaves, stones, sticks, cigarette butts I missed earlier). Gradient filters, vignetting and the brush tool were employed to direct the focus on the bike. I darkened the corners and borders of the images and, if necessary, used the brush tool to brighten the details on the bike a little. Photoshop was used only to scramble the numberplate.

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The blurred background in the images with the blue Kawasaki is a natural effect of a long exposure – it was a windy evening and the leaves were in constant motion.

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Note the three extra light sources in the following two images. That was achieved by simply walking behind the bike during the exposure und fire the flash in direction of the camera. I am not in the image because I wore a black jacket and did not reflect enough light back to camera to leave an impression on the sensor. Remember – 30s exposure !

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Finally I took out an LED flashlight and started fooling around:

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The shapes were drawn during the 30 sec exposure duration. I pressed the shutter button, fired three bursts with the flash to illuminate the bike and then ran behind the bike. At first I painted the exhaust fume cloud (flashlight on – paint cloud – flashlight off). Then I moved down and painted the “fly-away”-lightstrips behind the rear tire. Flashlight on, painting, flashlight off.

When lightpainting remember to switch the lightsource off when moving it from one element to the next, otherwise that movement will leave a lightstrip, too. By the way, the header image of this post was created using the same technique. It was especially tricky, as “lumenatic.com” contains many letters. The flashlight had to be switched on and off in sync with the painting and the letter spacing had to be roughly equal. Took me ten takes (which included three “keepers”).

The following images of the Yamaha were shot in an underpass. It is a more sterile, restricted evironment than the open walkway with its trees and bushes. I applied the same rules (location-lighting-positioning). The bike stood in the light cone of the ceiling-mounted flourescent lamps. I used a flash (with a green filter) to brighten the bike even more. To be honest – the impact of the flash was quite modest as the bike is black. I made comparison shots, one without flash one with. The difference was minute (due to the small aperture).

In the following image I used the flash mainly to illuminate the exit of the underpass, so that the viewer is not guided towards a “black hole”.

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Stay tuned for the next post, in which I will present a Moto Morini Granpasso 1200 and a Ducati 748 S Biposto.

Underground car park: Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

20150524-Mercedes-001I stumbled across this gorgeous Mercedes Benz SLS AMG in an underground car park in Frankfurt. Now I am not a sportscar person, but the sheer beauty of this piece is stunning. The design screams “I AM PERFECTLY ENGINEERED” and boy, do I love the matt paint finish (It makes the car look Apple-ish now that I think about it a little longer).

These images are a great example that impressive car photos do not require extensive lighting or a monstrous setup. All three shots were snapped more or less while bypassing with my family waiting a few meters ahead. The shot was made with only the flourescent light that illuminated the car park. 1/640 s @ f/4 and (auto) ISO through the roof did the rest. Looking at the EXIF data I could have chosen a slower shutter speed, but the camera was set to these values since I shot in bright daylight shortly before.

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Review: Novoflex MagicBall 50 tripod head

20150418-Novoflex-Title-001A multitude of heads for tripods is available on the market. There are three-axis heads, ball heads, geared heads to name only a few. I have gone through different tripod heads in my photographic life and today I want to share some thoughts on the Novoflex MagicBall. To say it up front in case you wonder: This is not a new head, it’s been around for several years now. I purchased mine about 2 years ago and now I felt it was time to share some experiences.

Three different sizes of the MagicBall head are available with a carrying capacity of 5 (MagicBall Mini), 7 (MagicBall 50) and 10 kg (MagicBall). The model reviewed in this article is the MagicBall 50 with a carrying capacity of 7 kg. The MagicBall 50 weighs around 600 g and is roughly 15×9 cm.

The MagicBall is (nomen est omen) a ball head. Such heads allow a quick composition of the shot, since the camera can be moved freely on the ball head. The MagicBall construction consists of a precision machined aluminum ball and a metal bracket, onto which the camera is mounted. The screw for mounting the camera is operated by turning a contoured metal wheel. The aluminum ball has an insanely smooth surface and a stylish blue coating which further improves the surface. The bracket moves with two plastic gliding pads on the aluminum ball. Once the camera is aligned in the desired position, a knurled metal handle is turned and the gliding pads are pressed against the metal ball, thus creating friction and locking the camera in place.

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Composing a shot can be achieved quickly by loosening the knurled operating handle, aligning the camera and tightening the knurled handle again. The bracket slides smoothly over the aluminum ball. The amount of friction can be controlled by turning a tension adjustment ring, which sits between the knurled handle and the metal bracket. Locking the ball head in a certain position can be achieved with a high degree of accuracy, although a little offset might occur when the handle is tightened.

Fastening the camera is done by turning the contoured wheel which sits below the mounting screw. The idea is good, but the contour is not deep enough to obtain enough leverage when turning the wheel. Tightening the camera is fairly easy, but behold those fools who want to unscrew it again. Unscrewing requires a lot of force and made me curse a few times already. In a few situations I was unable to loosen the screw by turning the wheel, so instead I grabbed the camera and rotated it instead. That worked, but also ripped off the rubber pads on the mounting surface (I glued them back in place, that is why the surface looks a little messy on my model) [Note: During Photokina 2014 I talked to one of the engineers from Novoflex about that issue. They are aware of the fact that unscrewing might require some force, but won’t change the design at the moment due to cost issues.]

The MagicBall allows a movement of roughly 45° in the one direction (tilting sideways) and 180° (tilting back and forth).

The camera axis is usually aligned perpendicular to the bracket axis as seen above. Taking images in portrait mode is not possible that way, as the camera can only be tilted 60° to the side. There are two solutions for taking images in portrait mode though.

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You can mount the camera at an angle of 90° (so that the bracket axis and camera axis align). This way the ball head can be tilted (sideways, see image) the full 90° to achieve panoramic mode. But the camera is not supposed to be mounted that way on the ball head – the body won’t rest completely on the rubber pads of the bracket. That means lower friction. If you have a heavy lens the weight of the camera might induce rotation of the complete camera around the axis of the screw.

On the following image the camera is mounted as seen above and the head is tiltes 90° sideways. As you can see the camera axis and the bracket axis are a few degrees off already. I was not able to tighten the mounting screw enough to prevent rotation. My verdict – not usable with heavy lenses in that position.

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But there is another solution – lens brackets. That way the ball head can remain in the upright position and images in portrait mode can be made by rotating lens and camera in the lens bracket. Unfortunately not all lenses are equipped with such a bracket.

Bottom line:

The Novoflex MagicBall is a compact, robust and fast ball head. Its built quality is excellent and the blue coat of the aluminum ball gives the product a stylish appearance. With the MagicBall quick and easy image composition when using a tripod is possible.
On the downside the fastening mechanism (screw with contoured disc for rotating) requires a lot of force to unscrew, furthermore images in portrait mode are difficult to obtain due to special restrictions when tilting the ball head. A lens bracket is advisable in that case.

Photographing the solar eclipse

20150320-Eclipse-Montage I am a little late with my report, but little late than never. During the solar eclipse on March 20th 2015 I took some photos of the event. The results are ok, although I could have done better in my opinion.

I have to admit that I did not prepare very well for the event. I missed buying one of those solar filter foils, which come at a price of 25-30 € for a 20×30 cm sheet. The day before the eclipse (ahem, yes, that’s late) I started looking for a solution and the only thing I could find in the nick of time was a welding mask, borrowed from the workshop at my workplace.

“Unfortunately” it turned out to be an active welding mask. These masks are electronically triggered, meaning the glass only becomes ultradark when a bright lightsource is present. I did not attempt to disassemble the system, so I strapped the complete mask in front of my lens. This worked much better than expected:

I mounted the Tamron 150-600 mm lens on my D800 and strapped the welding mask with a rubber band to the camera. The mask sat stable on the lens, only the rubber band prevented the lens from being locked at 600 mm – the tension pushed the lens back to approx. 460 mm. If I wanted to shoot at 600 mm I had to zoom manually and keep my hand on the zoom ring to prevent it from being pushed back.

That way I shot many images and also made a short timelapse-video.

Here is an unedited image (if you disregard the watermark…):

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The sun is green, and no contour is visible. Well, what did I expect. The sun does not have craters like the moon.

Basically I photographed green pac-mans / smileys. On most  images the sun is hardly recognizable as such. Through the smeared glass of the welding mask a sharp picture was next to impossible. As mentioned above it was an active mask with a screen which is triggered in bright light. The construction has several layers, meaning several layers of glass, meaning a  loss of sharpness.

One detail I could capture though was a sunspot in the upper left corner:

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Bottom line:
Due to bad preparation the results were not as good as they could have been. However I managed to take a timelapse video and show a sunspot. The main lesson I learn from this shoot is to prepare well (D’UH…) and use appropriate filter media (D’UH²).

Against which risks are you protecting your data ?

20150405Lumenatic001Backups are absolutely essential. I wrote about that topic quite a few times already and I can’t stress that point enough. I live a solid backup strategy and it has saved my a$$ multiple times already.
The core of my backup system is a 4-bay NAS system (Network Attached Storage) with a time machine backup (=the content of my computer’s harddrive) and my archive (=everything I do not want to keep on the computer’s harddrive, mostly images). In addition to that there are two identical copies of the archive, which I keep in different locations. Those are “naked” harddrives which I connect to my Mac using a USB 3.0 docking station.

The reason for all that hassle lies in the multitude of sources for data loss. Let me structure this a little. In my opinion the four main sources for data loss are:

  • User or software-related events (eg. accidental deletion by the user, buggy software)
  • Hardware failure (faulty parts, “natural” aging of components)
  • Physical / electrical damage (harddrive dropped to the floor, water damage (the famous coffee spill), lightningstrike/power surge)
  • Major catastrophic events like fire and theft.

Let me explain how my backup strategy covers those risks:

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The Synology DS414 – a 4-bay RAID system

User- or software-related events can be rescued by using the time machine backup I keep on the NAS. If I accidentally delete something, time machine (from here TM) is there to fix it. Same applies if some software runs amok. The little risk which remains is that something happens to TM itself. But for data really being lost two events have to occur at the same time: data loss AND the failure of TM. That is a small risk in my opinion.

Hardware failure is a more extensive topic which requires some sub-points. There are several reasons for hardware to go faulty and each one of those risks can be countered by a different measure.

  • “Natural” aging of components. Harddrives are pieces of technology, and using them causes wear, both mechanical (if you still have spinning HDDs and not SSD drives) and electrical, since also chips won’t last forever.
    This can be easily countered by replacing the your backup drives with newer ones after a certain timespan. I deliberately choose not to further specify that timeframe since I have no objective measure or guideline. To speak for myself – I replaced the drives when they became too small.
  • Single components can be faulty. Although quality control is exceptionally good in the electronics industry, there will never be a 100% certainty that all defect parts have been sorted out in the factory. Keep in mind it does not have to be the actual medium carrying the information which can break. The discs inside your harddrive can be in perfect condition, but if the controller fails you still lose your data since it is no longer accessible.
    This risk is taken care of by using a RAID system where the data is redundantly stored on different drives. As mentioned above, I am using a 4-bay system from Synology. The configuration is RAID 6, meaning that two drives can fail at the same time without losing any data. It is safe, but also requires a lot of space. In my current configuration I have 4×2 TB drives installed which result in “only” 4 TB of usable storage space (upgrade to 4 TB drives imminent).
  • Design flaws in the harddrive series. Not very likely, but also not impossible. If all the harddrives in your RAID system are the same model and the series has a design flaw – there is a miniscule, yet not impossible chance, that all harddrives might fail at the same time.
    To counter that the harddrives in your RAID system should be at least different models (same size) and/or from another manufacturer.

The risk of physical / electrical damage can be countered by different measures:

  • If the cat pees into your computer or RAID system (don’t laugh, happened to a friend of mine) or the drive drops from your desk, your drives are most likely be toast. Redundancy is the answer.
    That is why I have two copies of my archive. These drives are stored separately from the computer and are not plugged in permanently. In my case I have a naked internal 3,5” HDD, which I plug into a dock when updating my archive. The rest of the time the HDD is stored in a plastic container, which I keep in a drawer in the same room as my computer. This way my archive is safe.
  • Power surges (e.g. when a lighting strikes the power grid) can damage electronic equipment. Here two countermeasures come into effect.
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    Power surge fuse

    The first one is a filter device, which is placed between the wall power socket and the electronic device. If lightning strikes, a fuse is blown inside the filter device which cuts power. That’s much better than roasted electronics.
    The second counter measure is described in the point above. If one copy is not physically connected to the power grid (like the backup copies I keep in the drawer), it will not be affected by a power surge. So even if the filter fails and your computer is damaged, you still have the separate copy of your archive.

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“Naked” HDD with storage container

The pinnacle of data protection is protection against major catastrophic events.
I am talking about a fire, burglary or a flooded apartment due to a broken water pipe in the walls. In that case only an off-site copy of your data will save you. That is why I have two identical copies of my archive (the naked HDDs in a plastic storage container). The first one is stored in a drawer at home, see above. The second one is stored in another house. You might deposit the HDD at a friend’s house or at work, if that is an option. That brings some hassle as you have to collect and bring back the HDD for the next archiving session, but if you are willing to go the extra mile for extra security, that is what you have to do.

Bottom line:
–        Backups are essential, protect your data !
–        Redundancy helps you to protect against multiple risks
–        Choose for yourself which risks you want to protect against.

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