Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fields Data Recovery - The Biggest Scam On Earth


As much as it pains me to tell this story, I'm doing it in the hopes of saving anyone who reads this from being scammed by a company that preys upon people who are in a state of panic and are ripe for the picking - like I was a few months ago. And, if you're reading this, please share it any way you can. You never know who may someday be in need of data recovery from a computer, a phone, a hard drive, or anything that stores data and they should be aware of what a loathsome scam Fields Data Recovery is perpetrating on the public.

I had the misfortune of having a hard drive crash. It started to make funny whirring and clicking noises and like an idiot I had not taken the time to back it up. I panicked. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, this was a 3TB hard drive that had all of my images from the last couple of years. Everything.

Two years of work gone in the blink of an eye.

Fields Data Recovery Facebook Ad

I freaked out. Then, as if by divine intervention, I saw an ad on Facebook for Fields Data Recovery, a data recovery business that seemed to be exactly what I needed. I immediately went to their website and poured over the pages. The testimonials were music to my ears. Everything I read turned panic to hope.

Fields' Website. The testimonials are written by their own people.

I contacted them and spoke to the most pleasant young lady imaginable. "I'm so sorry to hear about your drive, but we've got you covered", she said. "Just ship it to us, our team of experts will inspect it, and within a few days we'll be in touch. While I can't make any promises, you're not the only one who we've helped and you stand a great chance of getting all your images recovered and transferred to a brand new hard drive. Did I mention there's no charge until we determine what needs to be done? You're under no obligation to pay us anything after we diagnose the issue and we quote you a price. From what you've told me, I'm guessing it will probably cost around $400.00 or so to recover your data, and that includes a new hard drive onto which your images will be transferred."

She was so reassuring, so nice. How could I go wrong? A new 3TB hard drive was $150.00 alone. $250.00 to recover my images was a lot of money, but well worth it. I shipped the drive off immediately and waited. 

A week later, Kris Nordberg from Fields Data emailed me in response to a call I made trying to find out if there was any news:

___________________________________




Hi Miguel,
Sorry, I was unable to call and reach you for a follow up. Our technicians have recognized a clicking noise- just like how you had described. We currently have your drive mounted a data extractor that can tell us what faults the drive may be experiencing (sic). I will let you know as soon as I have more updates. Please feel free to email or call me if you have any questions. 

Thanks, 
Kris Nordberg 
Fields Data Recovery 727 N 1st St, Suite 320 St. Louis, MO 63102 
_________________________________

The next day, I received another email from Kris:




Mike, 
Our technicians have identified a mechanical fault with the drive. The drive is being moved into our clean room. I would assume that the drive will be needing a head swap. I'll let you know as soon as I have another update.
Regards, 
Kris Nordberg  
Fields Data Recovery 
Account Manager 
727 N 1st St Suite 320 Saint Louis, MO 63102 Phone: 866-879-1281
____________________________________

I replied, asking how much a head swap would run. He said that they typically start at $650.00 and go up from there. Ouch. This was way more than the nice lady had told me she thought it would cost to recover my images. And I still didn't know if the images could be recovered. So, I waited.  

A couple of days later, Kris called back. He said the drive needed the new parts. Before they would order them, I needed to pony up a $400.00 non refundable payment. As soon as I paid that, they would order the parts, install them, get the drive running and then perform a ghost image of the contents to see if any data was recoverable.

What could I do? If I didn't authorize the $400.00 payment, I would never know if the images could be salvaged. I agreed, and luckily (you'll see why in a bit) I made the payment over the phone using my American Express card. 

Time passed. I had heard nothing. Then Kris emailed me again. The parts had been received and the head swap was complete. Most important of all, the drive was running and Fields was conducting an imaging phase to ascertain what data was on the drive:

_____________________________________




Hello Mike,
I hope you're doing well. I wanted to let you know that we are still going through an imaging phase with your drive. The drive itself is no longer making any clicking nosies (sic), and it spins at a healthy rate. We have identified that some of the storage regions (sectors) are being read at a slow rate. Once we have completely read the sectors we will be able to tell what information is recoverable. 
Regards, 
Kris Nordberg 
Fields Data Recovery 
727 N 1st St, Suite 320 St. Louis, MO 63102
_____________________________________

A few days later, Kris emailed me and said that the imaging phase was almost complete and that he would let me know the results as soon as it was complete. I was so close to getting my images I could taste it. Then I received another email from Kris:

_____________________________________




Dear Miguel Olivella, 
The lab process on your damaged device was completed. Unfortunately, even after the advanced work no functional data was recoverable. The negative results were confirmed with further review by a senior-level engineer.Conclusion: No recovery possible.
Should you have any further questions regarding the specifics of your case please don't hesitate to call me direct at 866-879-1281, or email me at kris.nordberg@fields-data-recovery.com. 
Please accept our apologies in this instance and we will return your device ASAP. 
Regards,
Kris Nordberg
Fields Data Recovery
727 N 1st St, Suite 320 St. Louis, MO 63102

__________________________________

I was devastated. Clinging to any shred of hope I asked Kris to return the drive as well as the parts that were replaced. He eventually replied that the old parts had been tossed but that the drive would be shipped to me with the new parts installed.

A few days later, the drive arrived. Thinking that since the drive was now supposedly operational with new parts having been installed, perhaps a local computer place could try to run some data recovery software on the drive and find something. I took the drive to a local shop and it was plugged into a computer. You could have knocked me over with a feather. It was making the same whirring and clicking noises it had made before I had sent it off to Fields. Further, the techie said he could find no evidence that the drive had been opened, which Fields would have had to do in order to install the new parts.

I sent Kris an email:

____________________________________

From: Mike Olivella 
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 3:34 PM
To: Kris Nordberg 
Subject: RE: Tracking for Hard Drive
Kris, I’m extremely disappointed with your firm. I have taken the drive to another computer company and they said that the drive was not repaired as you said it was. It still makes the clicking noise that it made when I sent it to you which tells me nothing was done by your firm. I paid $400 to have it repaired. You said in an email (that I have) that the drive was repaired and running. It is not. 
I expect a reversal of the charges to my American Express in the amount of $400 immediately. 
Mike Olivella
___________________________________

One of the images Fields sent me of "the" hard drive and "replacement" parts
Kris responded promptly. He said, "A head swap was completed on your drive, please see the pictures attached. The other party would probably find that to be the case because the head swap was unsuccessful. The money upfront (sic) for parts and labor was a non-refundable fee. I cannot authorize any refunds."

I guess they thought I was born yesterday. Sending me generic images of a hard drive was supposed to defy logic? I replied, reminding Kris that in several emails, he had assured me the drive was repaired and running. Apparently, he decided to turn the matter over to his branch manager who sent me the following email:
___________________________________




Mr. Olivella, 
Thanks for your emails. I hope you saw the email sent on August 10, informing you that the data was unrecoverable. Unfortunately even though the drive was not clicking for some time, the replacement read-write heads again failed - this is why your drive is now clicking, again. I'm a bit surprised you expected a working drive after knowing the recovery attempt was unsuccessful, I'll make sure Kris is more clear about this if a similar situation arises in the future. 
We are very sorry that the recovery attempt was unsuccessful, but Kris made it clear there was risk and that we could make no guarantees to success. We acted in good faith throughout, I'm sorry you feel otherwise. 
Regards, 
Todd Taylor  
Fields Data Recovery  
Branch Manager  
727 North 1st St  
Suite 320 
St. Louis, MO 63102
__________________________________
Seriously, dude? Did you think I just fell off the turnip truck? You charged me $400.00 for replacement heads and these brand new heads you supposedly installed just happened to fail in a matter of days? Or maybe, just maybe, you charged me $400.00 for doing absolutely nothing.

I Googled Fields Data Recovery, something I should have done before pinning my hopes on a company I knew nothing about. My jaw dropped. I was not the first person to have been duped by Fields. The first thing I ran across was this YouTube video from a German guy that got fleeced by Fields:


Then I found page after page of reviews slamming Fields, with many of the comments describing a story that was eerily identical to mine - people sent a drive off, got calls saying parts were needed, they paid a non refundable $400.00 charge, were told no data was recovered.



I went to Yelp. Fields has a one-star rating because of all the complaints. The Better Business Bureau's web site specifically disclaimed Fields as not being BBB accredited and listed 31 customer complaints and 35% of customers lodging complaints.



But wait, you say....that means 65% of the people contacting the BBB had a positive or neutral experience with Fields. Sure, except those 65% later turned out to be shills for Fields.

Some further digging revealed that after being lambasted with so many negative reviews on the BBB site as well as others such as CNET, Fields began to create its own fake testimonials and having surrogates sing its praises on web sites:




Now I was really ticked off. You've heard that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? That's nothing compared to the fury of a Cuban that has been fleeced. 

I started with a bit of restraint, choosing not to cut off my nose to spite my face despite every fibre of my being wanting to rip Mr. Taylor a new one. I took a deep breath, counted to 1,000 and emailed him back advising him that what he said made no sense; that obviously no replacement parts had been installed; and that even if the replacement heads/parts failed it was ridiculous for Fields to expect me to eat a $400.00 charge for parts that failed within a matter of days. Mr. Taylor responded sarcastically, basically telling me to kiss off. There would be no refund.

Mr. Taylor didn't know that he was screwing with the wrong guy. I told him I would immediately contact American Express and have them reverse the transaction, a service AMEX provides for its customers when they've been charged for something that smells to high heaven. Mr. Taylor scoffed at my response, saying:
"We will provide American Express with all documentation regarding this transaction, including all emails of the receipt that while you did not sign, you viewed (with IP logs) and discussed with Kris. We will also provide the photos you have viewed showing your drive (with serial) open in our clean lab, during the head replacement procedure."
My next move was to call AMEX. No sooner had I told the representative why I was calling, he interrupted me and said, "Is this about the charge to Fields Data?" I said yes. He said that I was not the first person to contact him about a problem with Fields. He had dealt with several other AMEX customers who had related virtually identical stories to mine, and further, that AMEX was well aware of Fields and their scam.

In cases like these, AMEX notifies the vendor of the dispute and solicits a response before deciding whether to honor the charge or reverse it. Despite Mr. Taylor's bravado, Fields did not respond. I received a notification a month later from AMEX advising that Fields had not responded, the matter was closed, and the charge was reversed.

Suck on that, Mr. Taylor. And now for the next step - exposing Fields for the scum suckers that they are.

While I'm not out any money to Fields, I fear that others in my position may not be so lucky. That is why I'm asking anyone who reads this to share it, post it, pass it along, and do anything you can to get the word out about these dirtbags. They are bottom feeders and should be avoided like the plague. They routinely advertise on Facebook and are able to suck people into their scam, take their money, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Don't let them do this. Let's do what we can to get the word out. Please pass this along.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Making Time For Some Wildlife Photography

Northern Pintails feeding in a fresh water impoundment
Earlier this month, I had the chance to do something I haven't had the time or opportunity to do for a while - wildlife photography. I spent some time at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge on the East Central Florida coast photographing waterfowl and wading birds. It made for a memorable morning as my visit gave way to a lot of new images.

Flock after flock of Pintail flew in from the east, circled, and landed in the water within 100 yards of my location
My morning began well before dawn as I wanted to be on site before the sun rose. The drive to the Refuge took me about a half an hour and once I arrived I made  beeline for one of the freshwater impoundments so I could catch flocks of pintail and blue wing teal coming in from their roosts for their morning meal. I was not disappointed. As soon as the sun began to rise, I could hear the splashes of waterfowl landing in the water. All I had to do was wait for there to be enough light to start shooting.


As soon as I arrived, I made some gear decisions. Assuming that my subjects would be some distance away from me and wanting to get some tight images, I opted for my DX-sensored Nikon D500 camera body with its 1.5X crop factor. In conjunction with my 400mm f2.8 lens and a 1.4X teleconverter, I would be able to shoot with a focal length of 840mm at f4. I attached the teleconverter to the lens, the combo to the camera body, and the setup to a monopod. I was good to go. 



As the sun began to rise, I started to shoot. I took some shots of the flocks as they flew in as well as once they were on the water. As soon as I knew I could push the shutter speed to a fast enough setting that wings would be frozen instead of blurred, I tried my hand at trying to capture individual ducks as they swooped in and landed.



Not long after the pintail arrived, blue wing teal began to show up in greater numbers. Teal are much smaller than pintail and have a reputation for flying fast as they buzz an area. I was ready for them and they did not disappoint. After getting shots of them feeding, swimming, and landing, it was time to catch them in flight. It was challenging but I had some success.


With my main waterfowl targets in the can, so to speak, I shifted gears and began to search for wading birds. The Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is home to several species of wading birds, including Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, the endangered Reddish Heron, Ibis, Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills just to name a few. Going from pond to pond, I found a few of each. My first priority was a nice portrait of a Snowy Egret. I found one in a perfect location, back lit by the sun and standing in front of some brush that served as nice, dark backdrop.


Next up was trying to find a Reddish Heron. As if on cue, one was in a nearby pond and it was putting on quite a show as it began to feed.

Reddish Herons have a unique way of feeding. They spread their wings in order to create shade on the surface of the water so they can better see their prey. They then dart back and forth in what appears to be a frantic, schizophrenic manner and when they isolate there prey they pounce.




With just about everything on my wish list checked off, I was ready to head out. As I drove out, I passed a few more impoundments and stopped when I saw something of interest. A Great Blue Heron napping on a mangrove caught my eye, as did a Little Blue Heron feeding in a large group of wading birds that include just about every conceivable species.



My day was complete and one that was way more productive than I could have hoped. I plan to return on my next trip to the East Central Florida area and can only hope that I am as fortunate as I was on this particular day to have the cooperation of so many birds.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Love-Hate Relationship With Catwalks

The view of the Tucker Center's basketball court in Tallahassee, Florida from the catwalks above the arena in 2014
Normally, when people talk about being in the nosebleed section of a stadium or an arena it's usually a sarcastic reference to being relegated to crappy seats. When I tell people that I'm headed to the nosebleed section it's not with any sarcasm my voice, it's with a mixture of excitement and fear. You see, my version of being in the nosebleed section of an arena is a bit different and a lot higher than the cheap seats - it's the catwalks that ring arenas high above the facility.

The catwalks and all the steel girders that support the structure
While I'm climbing up and down ladders and ramps, negotiating obstacles, cables, and lights, I am scared beyond words. I don't like heights. Actually, I really, really hate heights. But when I sit at my computer after a game and look through the images that I get from the catwalks, I know it was well worth the effort and the anxiety.

The arena lights just in front of the steel grates that make up the floor of the catwalks
Shooting from  the catwalks is not for the faint of heart. Many photographers set up remote cameras up there and then trigger them from the floor because spending one minute more than is necessary while perched on a catwalk sends shivers down their spines. I refuse to trust a camera's autofocus capabilities, or worse yet pre-focus on a spot and set the camera to Manual Focus, as a way of generating images. I'd rather not hope that a given shot sequence is in focus only to later see if the images are sharp. I prefer to do it old school and actually shoot from above.

The opening tip taken from the side
There are some guidelines I follow when venturing up to the ultra cheap seats ... errr ... catwalks. As far as equipment, I only take one camera body strapped securely around my neck with a lens attached. Since basketball is the sport most frequently photographed from catwalks, I'll concentrate this blog post on shooting basketball from the heavens.

Rebound in the lane, taken from a side angle
For basketball, my lens of choice is usually a 300mm f2.8 that I hand hold. On occasion I will also take a wide angle lens or my 15mm fisheye for artsy stuff. If I take one of these extra lenses, it is stuffed deep into a pants pocket. I leave everything else on the arena floor and that includes camera bags, lens hoods, cell phone, monopod, and anything else that might accidentally be dropped from up above. Not only are these items superfluous, they pose a risk of serious injury (and possibly even death) to the people below if accidentally dropped.

Another shot taken from a side angle
Some arenas do not have catwalks that run directly above either basket nor directly above center court but you can still position yourself to nab some cool stuff. I like to shoot the fisheye or wide angle lens for team introductions or a shot of the venue but after that it is usually put away. The 300mm on a full frame camera body is ideal from up top because it lets me get close enough to the action while still allowing me to follow it so I don't miss too many shots.

The best shots from overhead are when players are looking up at the rim or at the ball
Even if you aren't directly over a basket, image perspective can be altered somewhat in Photoshop to make images look more like they were taken from directly overhead as in the four examples above that were shot from the side.

By moving around the catwalks and changing locations I get different vantage points and thus different images. I shoot some images vertically but most of the time I stick with a horizontal orientation.

Not your usual game action shots but still interesting images that help tell the game's story
If you're lucky, your arena will have a location from which to shoot that offers a view directly over one or both of the baskets, or at least close enough to being directly overhead that your looking straight down at the basket. That is the ideal situation as you can mix some shots from the sides with shots taken directly overhead.

The grate over the center catwalk supported by girders underneath. Top/center of the image depicts a small opening without a grate that is almost directly over a basket at the Tucker Center. That is what I shoot through over the railing
To me the most desirable images are when the players are looking up, such as the opening tip, going for a rebound, about to release a floater in the lane, or just before a dunk. 


Images shot from almost directly overhead of the baskets
But with a little imagination, other images can add some pop to a set or a portfolio and are there for the taking. I didn't know how the images below would look until I downloaded and opened them in Photoshop. As soon as I did I was very glad I did not delete either of them while shooting.


You never know what will take place on the floor below so you have to stay ready
I usually keep an eye on the game clock and anticipating the media time outs. When I know one is approaching, I'll boogie over to a spot directly above one of the teams and wait for the coaches to do their thing. Not your traditional, vanilla time out image but a unique one.


Two versions of a timeout, one where the team uses its bench to sit (top) and the other where seats are placed on the court for the payers to sit (bottom)
If you're fortunate enough to have catwalks available for use, my recommendation is that you give it a go. On your first visit, get there early and get a feel for what it's like up there and explore the vantage points that exist. Take plenty of test shots to dial in the right exposure and then get ready to create some pretty cool images. If you're like me, your heart will be in your throat until you are safely back down on the court but when you download your cards and take a peek at what you got, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Squarespace Ain't What It Used To Be....

My new home page which is now a gallery of 20-some images with a little bit of everything included
I'm not quite sure what's up with Squarespace but it doesn't seem to be the same old reliable website design/creation website that I have been using for several years. Over the past few months, I have noticed that my site was taking longer and longer to load, so long that it was becoming a concern. It wasn't because of anything I had done to the site in terms of adding anything or changing things up so I was pretty sure it wasn't due to something on my end.

My new logo - out with
my full name (Miguel
Antonio Olivella and
instead using the name
most people know me
by - Mike Olivella.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when I was told by several people that they had tried to visit my site but that when they clicked on a gallery, loading was insufferably long. So much so that they gave up and moved on to other sites.

That will not cut it. So I contacted Squarespace and asked what was going on. Using Live Chat, I was told by a techie that the likely culprit for slow loading was that my pages had too many images and that the images' file sizes were too large. I was also told that my pages would load a lot faster if I followed some of their guidelines (which I know were never in existence when I first signed on to use Squarespace):
  1. Reduce the file sizes of my images by limiting the pixel width to their "suggested" 1500 px width, and never wider than 2500 px;
  2. Compressing the images so each file size was no more than 500 KB in size; and
  3. Keeping the overall content of each page (in the case of photography sites, photo galleries) to less than 5 MB total per page.
My Home page, just like all my other gallery pages, gives users the option of switching from seeing one large image to a grid based display. Clicking on any of the images in the grid enlarges it to full size.
With all due respect to Squarespace, these "guidelines" are fine for content based web sites but they won't work worth a flip for photography web sites. Do the math - if a gallery page is limited to 5 MB in size and each image is 500 KB, that means each gallery is necessarily limited to 10 images that are only 1500 px wide and are artificially compressed (read quality drastically diminished). That's absurd for photography intensive sites which is how Squarespace originally cut its teeth in the website design/template arena.

Clicking on "SPORTS"
now reveals three Sports
galleries - Team,
Individual, and Art. 
In redoing the site, the
navigation menu for the web has
changed. "FEATURED" is my
 new gallery.  
Photography website designers and consultants will tell you that photo galleries should contain 20 or so images to adequately illustrate one's work. So for Squarespace to "recommend" that page content be limited to 5 MB is not even close to realistic for photography.

Further, how in the world can Squarespace advocate guidelines that "suggest" a 1500 px wide limitation when many of its templates display images in a full bleed format?  Hellooooooo, Squarespace - an iMac has a screen width of well over 2500 px so a full bleed image needs to be 2500 px wide. If you reduce a 2500 px wide image to 1500 px in width you necessarily decrease the visual quality because the image must be stretched by the template to become full bleed. In addition, you further diminish the quality by compressing that 1500 px wide image it to keep it under 500KB which makes it look even crappier when stretched to full bleed.

Not exactly how I want my images displayed for prospective clients, Squarespace.

But the alternative is no better. If it takes too long for an image or a gallery to display, it doesn't do me any good to have 2500 px wide images that are each 1 to 1.5 MB in size, the typical file size for a 2500 px wide JPEG image that is saved in the highest possible quality. No one will ever see them because they will have moved on to another site before the images ever load.
A new page, "Featured" will give me a chance to post recent, notable images in a small gallery
Anyway, after going back and forth with Squarespace for the last few days, I finally bit the bullet and reluctantly resized all of the images on my web site. Using Lightroom, they are now all 2000px wide and have been compressed so as not to exceed 600KB in file size. That's as much of a compromise as I'm willing to make.

I've also added a new photo gallery in my Personal Projects - images from my visit to the 9-11 Memorial in NYC
I then went through each of my galleries and revamped them. Those that exceeded 25 images were split up into at least two galleries. For example, my USA travel images are now in two galleries, one consisting of color images and the other black & white images, each gallery containing no more than 25 images. My old Sports gallery is now three galleries - Team (for football, basketball, baseball, etc.), Individual (for tennis, golf, etc.), and Art (my artsy fartsy, pageantry, non-action type of shots). 


So now my galleries are 20MB or less in total overall size. This is in contrast to my old galleries that ran anywhere from 50 to 60 MB in size.

Preliminary testing shows a noticeable increase in loading speed but still not as seamless as I expected. I'm not quite sure whether that is Comcast's internet service's fault or Squarespace's fault. It remains to be seen whether anyone else will have the same experience or whether they will notice any image degradation so if you're reading this I'd appreciate any feed back as to whether you notice any loading issues or loss of visual quality in the images.

New "Contact" page
Since I had to dig in and revamp the site, I re-did the About page as well as the Contact page. The way the template I'm using is set up, these pages default to the left side of the page instead of giving me the option of centering them. I wish I knew enough about writing code to fix this but I don't. So, I'm contacting Squarespace and asking their techies to help me edit the code to fix this.

Time will tell whether I stay with Squarespace. A lot depends on the feedback I get from people now that I've gone to the trouble of shrinking my image sizes and compressing them. Stay tuned.