Friday, December 21, 2007

note to nonprofits and researchers asking for free use of our images

We receive many requests for the use of our photographs from nonprofits and researchers. I've explained, in exhaustive detail on the FAQ page of our website, the time and expense that it takes to supply images to any cause.

If we’ve been kind enough to donate photos in the past, please realize that it takes significant staff time and expense to track usage of any photos. If we’ve donated photos in the past, please do not assume that we will automatically donate the use of photos going forward.

One researcher asked us for photos of schooling fish. We donated the image, and we never heard back from her again. We even had to contact her office to get a copy of the use – the image was published in Science. When she asked to use the photo again, we refused. She asked “what have I done wrong to deserve such treatment?” Her question should have been, instead, “what can I do in the future to make you WANT to donate photos.” A note of thanks, a copy of the usage, etc. will go a long way to making us want to take the time and effort to allow continued use of our images.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

spammed by Photo District News and IPNStock - Shame on You!

IPNStock is a service that I used to subscribe to, whereby I leased their software to run my web-based image search engine. They morphed into a stock agency, then they were purchased by the publishers of Photo District News.

I got a spam about a photo contest from nielsencontests that told me to unsubscribe, send UNSUBSCRIBE to support@nielsencontests.com. I did so, and got the below failure notice. Seems that the people behind nielsencontests are IPNStock! Seems that the person at IPNStock is gone or has an invalid address.

I am upset that IPNStock is running a contest and disguising this fact. Along the same vein, I once purchased a subscription from Photo District News and stupidly gave them a valid email address a few years ago. They sold that email list EVERYWHERE. I am still getting blasted by photo-related spams from this one error. I've complained bitterly to PDN about this several times.




------ Forwarded Message
From:
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2007 18:10:08 -0600
To:
Subject: Delivery Status Notification (Failure)

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.

Delivery to the following recipients failed.

KCotlier@IPNstock.com



Reporting-MTA: dns;vnu001schmsx02.enterprisenet.org
Received-From-MTA: dns;nawinmsx013.enterprisenet.org
Arrival-Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2007 18:10:08 -0600

Final-Recipient: rfc822;KCotlier@IPNstock.com
Action: failed
Status: 5.2.2
X-Display-Name: Cotlier, Keith




From: Norbert Wu
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2007 16:09:52 -0800
To:
Conversation: UNSUBSCRIBE
Subject: UNSUBSCRIBE

UNSUBSCRIBE




------ End of Forwarded Message

Friday, November 16, 2007

United Airlines' discount coupons -- why bother?

Here's something that the airlines do that seems to have the sole purpose of angering the customer. I am a frequent flyer with United Airlines and try to fly them as much as possible. I've generally had good experiences with them, although every frequent traveler has horror stories. Mine might be the time on my way to Japan in November 2001 when a male flight attendant came by with a flashlight to make sure our seatbelts were fastened. I was watching a movie, it was late, and frankly I did not want to be bothered. He shined his light on me, and I did not hear him at first. When I finally understood what he wanted, I grumbled under my breath and put on the dang seatbelt. He leaned over and said in my ear "If you want to get arrested, just keep it up." Now, I admit that this was in the months after 9-11. It was interesting to watch the flight crews' reaction in those days. If you flew in the first few months after 9-11, the flight crews treated every passenger like a criminal. They threatened you with arrest if you did not listen to their every command immediately, and flying was more like being in prison than ever before.

After a few months of this, the airlines realized that this attitude and treatment of their passengers would probably drive the passengers away. So I saw the needle swing all the way to the other side. On a flight a few months after being threatened with arrest for not buckling my seatbelt immediately (and not having great hearing, and being a bit tired at 2AM) -- I was in the first class/business class cabin on a flight to New York. The captain came out, thanked all of us for flying United, and introduced himself by name to all of us and shook everyone's hand. That was a bit much. I didn't appreciate being threatened with arrest, but on the other hand, I have no need or desire to shake the captain's hand. I wonder why the airlines can't just do things with moderation and good common sense.

On to my present complaint: why does United send you these $25 paper discount certificates when these paper things cause nothing but trouble and wasted time? Here's the deal, and I've tried enough to use these that I am an expert. As a frequent flyer or a user of one of their airline's credit cards, you get a paper discount coupon for $25. However, you can only use this coupon if you call in and reserve your flight with an agent on the phone. And if you book a flight through an agent, then they charge you a $15 fee for using a live person rather than the web. On top of this, you have to either mail your certificate in, or hand the certificate over in person to a ticketing agent, which costs another $10. Voila! Your $25 certificate has just cost you a huge hassle and saved you absolutely nothing. If you mail the certificate in, you have to spend a great deal of time getting the instructions just right, and you run the risk of losing your seat and even your flight if the certificate is mishandled, late, or lost in the mail.

My advice -- tear these things up as soon as you get them. They will cause you nothing but aggravation. I have never, EVER been able to use one of these things without realizing that I was a fool to even try.

United seemed to have solved this problem. I forget how I got this (probably by getting hosed by the airline at some point), but I have an electronic certificate number good for $50 off now. Here are the instructions:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx is your electronic certificate number.
To use your e-certificate, go to united.com and enter your origin and destination, along with your travel dates. Next, click on "More Search Options," enter your e-certificate number under the "Electronic certificate or Promotion code" box and then click on "Search." All flights selected must be designated with a green star to receive this discount. Select your flights and your discount will be calculated automatically. Ticketing and travel must be completed by 6/30/2008(mm/dd/yyyy).

Here's the problem. I've now booked two flights through United for the next three months. On a trip to Maui, the e-certificate could not be used. On a trip to Orlando, the only flights that had the green star were $200 to $500 more expensive than other flights. Another great example of how airlines these days are pleasing their customers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

miscellaneous product recommendations

Net10 and Tracfone phones rock, especially if you don't talk over 200 minutes per month on your cell phone -- and you won't pay all those extra taxes and surcharges that drive your cell phone bill from $60 per month to $66 per month. GrandCentral rocks and lets you answer and receive calls at any numbers you tell it to ring; so when someone calls, you can answer either your cell or home or office line, as they all ring. Skype rocks; pay $30 annually and make all the outgoing calls you want for free to the US and Canada.

Autopage 420 car alarms give two-way remote alarms so you know up to a mile away if your car is being broken into. That way you can run to your car and get shot by the thief.

Those nice-looking Apple Cinema displays that my friends were drooling over a couple of years ago proved to have lots of problems; the HP 24" LCD that I ended up buying instead of an Apple is just as good in my opinion (I used both over a period of six months) and was less expensive. I am up to my fourth Powerbook since they came out with the present Titanium/Aluminum design and they have been completely reliable.

If you are green or thrifty, then using anything other than rechargeable NiMh batteries is ridiculous. They hold a charge for a long time now and have more power than alkalines.

If you want to get email addresses for your small business, group, family, whatever, in the form "xxx@commandoes.com" -- such as norb@norbertwu.com, office@norbertwu.com -- it used to be a bit difficult, and now it is easy. Google Apps will do it for you. I moved my entire office's emails to Google Apps Mail, and it works just the same as when I had to pay a web hosting service to administer my emails. Far less problems so far; Google's spam blocking is better, and I have no instances where mail just disappears and I do not receive it (a huge problem with my other service, which just junked emails with invalid return address like "noreply@xxx.com"). I can access my emails using a standard email program like Outlook or Apple Mail, or use Google's web-baseed interface. I forward all emails to another Gmail account so have an archive of all past emails.

If you invest, then Bank of America is not a bad second place for an account. If you have $100K in assets in an investment account, you get a free American Express Accolades card, which supposedly lets you get into all kinds of airport lounges and has other benefits. If you have $25K in banking accounts (be sure these are not accounts that sweep funds into an investment account), then you are a Premier customer and get a Premier banking officer. This allows you to get 30 free stock trades per month. Also, BofA's investment arm has many mutual funds that are NTF (no transaction fee) such as SLASX and T. Rowe Price funds -- mutual funds that I was interested in, but had transaction charges through my main brokerage.

As a BofA Premier client, all banking fees are waived -- I never pay any account fees, monthly minimum fees, wire transfer fees, etc. But you do need to keep a $25K minimum in a CD, checking, and/or savings account.

Airlines love to anger their customers

Here's something that the airlines do that seems to have the sole purpose of angering the customer. I am a frequent flyer with United Airlines and try to fly them as much as possible. I've generally had good experiences with them, although every frequent traveler has horror stories. Mine might be the time on my way to Japan in November 2001 when a male flight attendant came by with a flashlight to make sure our seatbelts were fastened. I was watching a movie, it was late, and frankly I did not want to be bothered. He shined his light on me, and I did not hear him at first. When I finally understood what he wanted, I grumbled under my breath and put on the dang seatbelt. He leaned over and said in my ear "If you want to get arrested, just keep it up." Now, I admit that this was in the months after 9-11. It was interesting to watch the flight crews' reaction in those days. If you flew in the first few months after 9-11, the flight crews treated every passenger like a criminal. They threatened you with arrest if you did not listen to their every command immediately, and flying was more like being in prison than ever before.

After a few months of this, the airlines realized that this attitude and treatment of their passengers would probably drive the passengers away. So I saw the needle swing all the way to the other side. On a flight a few months after being threatened with arrest for not buckling my seatbelt immediately (and not having great hearing, and being a bit tired at 2AM) -- I was in the first class/business class cabin on a flight to New York. The captain came out, thanked all of us for flying United, and introduced himself by name to all of us and shook everyone's hand. That was a bit much. I didn't appreciate being threatened with arrest, but on the other hand, I have no need or desire to shake the captain's hand. I wonder why the airlines can't just do things with moderation and good common sense.

On to my present complaint: why does United send you these $25 paper discount certificates when these paper things cause nothing but trouble and wasted time? Here's the deal, and I've tried enough to use these that I am an expert. As a frequent flyer or a user of one of their airline's credit cards, you get a paper discount coupon for $25. However, you can only use this coupon if you call in and reserve your flight with an agent on the phone. And if you book a flight through an agent, then they charge you a $15 fee for using a live person rather than the web. On top of this, you have to either mail your certificate in, or hand the certificate over in person to a ticketing agent, which costs another $10. Voila! Your $25 certificate has just cost you a huge hassle and saved you absolutely nothing. If you mail the certificate in, you have to spend a great deal of time getting the instructions just right, and you run the risk of losing your seat and even your flight if the certificate is mishandled, late, or lost in the mail.

My advice -- tear these things up as soon as you get them. They will cause you nothing but aggravation. I have never, EVER been able to use one of these things without realizing that I was a fool to even try.

United seemed to have solved this problem. I forget how I got this (probably by getting hosed by the airline at some point), but I have an electronic certificate number good for $50 off now. Here are the instructions:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx is your electronic certificate number.
To use your e-certificate, go to united.com and enter your origin and destination, along with your travel dates. Next, click on "More Search Options," enter your e-certificate number under the "Electronic certificate or Promotion code" box and then click on "Search." All flights selected must be designated with a green star to receive this discount. Select your flights and your discount will be calculated automatically. Ticketing and travel must be completed by 6/30/2008(mm/dd/yyyy).

Here's the problem. I've now booked two flights through United for the next three months. On a trip to Maui, the e-certificate could not be used. On a trip to Orlando, the only flights that had the green star were $200 to $500 more expensive than other flights. Another great example of how airlines these days are pleasing their customers.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Extra charges at Hilton Hotels not appreciated

Hilton Hotels are fine, offer a reliable place to stay, but they sure do tack on the extra charges. I guess most people don¹t care, but I do. I decided to go without paying the extra $5 or $10 for internet access at the Seattle Airport Hilton last night. When I got to my room, I was able to get the wifi signal from the Holiday Inn which looks like it is a good half-mile away!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Insuring Your Camera Gear

Insuring Your Camera Gear
A Partial Guide
by Norbert Wu

Second Update, August 23, 2015:
For the first time in ten years, I had to make a claim for flooded camera gear.  Short story: Rand Insurance, the agent for Chubb Insurance, came through for me big-time.  I've heard for years that Chubb Insurance was among the best insurance companies that anyone could hope for, particularly folks in my business of photography and filmmaking.  My experience with them has been nothing but great.

Here's a summary of what happened.  I was flying a DJI Phantom quadcopter, with a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition camera mounted on it.  For some reason, the quadcopter lost power (or lost a propellor) and fell into Puget Sound, 20 feet away from me, in 12 feet of salt water.  It was not a good feeling.  I have not lost or flooded a camera in many years.

Like all accidents, a series of small mistakes led to a big one -- the drowning of my camera and quadcopter.  I was in a rush to film my nephews who were kayaking in Puget Sound, so even though the Phantom told me that it had not collected enough GPS satellites to return home if battery power became critically low, I ignored the warning.  I had flown this drone a few hours and was over my careful beginner stage of flying, and into the more dangerous zone where I actually felt more confident of my ability to steer the drone.  I had flown the drone earlier in the day with no problems.

I ended up having a great time flying the drone over my nephews.  The first-person-view (FPV) gear that I had installed on the drone was working OK, and so I let the drone get too high.  When a drone gets too far away, it is near- impossible to see the direction it is going.  The only way to see is to lean on the controls and attempt to see how the drone responds.  I had a few adrenaline-releasing seconds where the drone got much too close to my neighbor's huge cedar trees.  I got the drone away from the trees, but as I brought it home, the drone suddenly vibrated a bit and then dropped straight into the water in front of me.  Ouch!  I either ran out of battery power (which I don't think was the reason) or a propeller fell off the drone.  When I recovered the drone the next day at low tide, one of the props was missing, which leads me to suspect the latter reason for the failure.

 I gave Rand Insurance a call.  Rand is the agent that issues the North America Nature Photographer's Association (NANPA) insurance policy.  It's a great camera equipment insurance policy, and I've had it for perhaps 20 years.  My experience could not have been better, and the following describes some of the issues that I raise in my article on photography insurance below. 

I periodically send Rand a list of my gear along with the value of that gear.  For instance, my DJI Phantom was listed at $600, which is the price that I purchased it for.  When the Chubb Insurance representative talked to me, she asked me to send in quotes for the equivalent gear.   My Phantom model was no longer made, so I sent in a quote for the model that was currently available.  This model sold for $900.  Because Rand/Chubb provides replacement value for listed gear, they paid me $900 to replace my $600 quadcopter.  This way I could buy the equivalent model of drone for my loss.  Needless to say, this is impressive -- and what you should look for in an insurance policy.  In other words, let's say this is a car insurance policy and you've insured your brand new 2015 Honda minivan which you purchased  for $30,000.  The minivan is somehow damaged beyond repair.  You cannot find another 2015 Honda minivan in the same condition, so you send your insurance agent a quote for the closest equivalent Honda minivan that you can find -- a 2016 model that will cost $35,000.  Your insurance company does the right thing by you and sends you a check for $35,000 so you can replace your damaged vehicle with another vehicle that is the closest replacement that you can find.  I have to say that this is just superb, awesome service.  Thanks, Rand and Chubb. 


A friend recently recommended Divers' Alert Network EQUIPMENT INSURANCE PLAN to me.  I decided to give this insurance a pass.  Among the things that I found objectionable with this plan were the following clauses:

First, the rate for this insurance, from my calculations, is about 3.5%.  In other words, if you insure $10,000 worth of gear, then the premium will cost $350 per year.  There is a minimum but it is difficult to ascertain from their website, which simply asks you to enter the value of your gear and then comes back with their premium cost. 

(Rand/Chubb's insurance is lower, at 2.45% annually on the value of the gear insured.  )


This clause is a bit unfair: The premiums are fully earned, meaning there will be NO REFUNDS if the policy is cancelled before the Insurance Certificate expires or if there is a reduction in coverage due to sale or loss of an item. 

(Rand/Chubb's policy allows me to remove or add items to my insured list at any time.  They will even send a refund check if my total after removing items results in a lower total amount being insured.  )

And beware of this clause from Divers' Alert Network EQUIPMENT INSURANCE PLAN: 

We DO NOT provide coverage for items that are lost underwater while you are diving, that fall off the back of the boat, or are swept overboard. 
OK, I can live with this, and I am glad that this omission is clearly stated. 

I found this last clause to be very objectionable, and to be hidden in the fine print:

$100 unless claim is for water damage. In the case of a water damage claim, the deductible will be the greater of 10% of the claim or $250.
 This clause, frankly, stinks.  Let's say you flood a camera housing with a $3000 Canon or Nikon camera in it, and a $1000 lens.  You are able to save the camera housing, but the $4000 in camera gear is a loss.  If you have this insurance policy, you will get back (hopefully) $4000 minus the deductible, which will be the greater of $250 or 10% of the value of the loss, which in this case will be $400.  Therefore, you will get back $3600 from this insurance company at most -- and I bet you will get less. 

(I don't want to repeat myself, but the NANPA/Rand/Chubb policy will send you a check so that you can truly replace your camera gear -- even if that amount is MORE than declared on your policy.  They do have a $250 deductible). 

I'd like to say that I am just a "regular" customer of Rand Insurance.  I have not been paid in any way, shape, or form for the above recommendations. 




Update, June 17, 2015:
This is one of the most popular articles in my blog.  My blog has had over 124,000 pageviews in its  history, and this post has had numerous comments and over 3800 pageviews.  Thanks for reading my blog!

I've recently had to do renew my insurance policies, and to seek out new coverages for changes in my life.  I've discovered more than ever that a good insurance agent can help you cut through all the jargon and misconceptions to find you a good product.  Some of the agents mentioned in this article are still around, but some of them are now gone.  Please be aware that this post is almost six years old, and that some of the companies and policies have changed.

I've most recently been impressed (and have been impressed in the past) by the service and professionalism of two insurance agencies that I regularly work with.  They are:

Athos Insurance Services
P.O. Box 61102
Pasadena, California 91116
contact: Katherine Wong
Office: 626-716-9800
Mobile (text): 626-379-6280
service@athosinsurance.com
www.insurentertainment.com
Athos Insurance can issue policies for camera and video gear, production insurance, and other insurance needs.  They have an online platform for specialty programs. 

Rand Insurance
50 Locust Avenue
New Canaan, CT 06840
phone number: 203-966-2677
fax number: 203-966-7355
email: nanpa@randinsurance.com
Rand Insurance issues an insurance policy for members of the North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA).  


Insuring Your Camera Gear
I didn't use to like insurance companies. I didn't like the way that they could raise your rates whenever they felt like it, I don’t like the way they could cancel your policy whenever they felt like it, and I didn’t like the way that they seemed to be able to weasel their way out of claims by quoting fine print which no normal person has the time or expertise to read. So I must include a disclaimer with this article: use the information in this article only in a general sense. Insurance companies and policies change frequently. It is your responsibility to read and understand your specific policy. This article cannot possibly substitute for a careful reading of an insurance policy and the advice of a good insurance agent, lawyer, and accountant.
I like my insurance agents very much, however. I like my agents because they are honest, reliable, and professional. They are patient with my questions, give me honest answers in simple language rather than jargon, and have helped me find insurance for my film productions. Without a good insurance agent, I could never have gotten my first film production off the ground.

What to Look For:
If I am insuring my cameras, I want them to be protected against all risks, including any kind of theft and damage, worldwide. If I lose a camera, I want the insurance policy to replace the loss so I can buy another camera that is of equal or greater value. For instance, if I lose a Canon EOS-1 camera, I want my insurance policy to pay enough so I can buy another brand-new EOS-1 camera. This is called replacement value. The alternative, actual cash value, will only pay you the value of your EOS-1 camera minus the depreciation value. If you lose your five-year-old EOS-1 camera, the insurance company may well only pay you a cash value of $500 (what they say the depreciated value of your five-year-old camera is) minus the deductible. The deductible is simply an amount ($250 or $500 are common amounts) which is applied to a loss and deducted from the payment you are to receive. In our above example, with a $500 deductible and a loss valued at $500, you would receive nothing for your loss. The greater the deductible, the less your insurance should cost.
Perhaps the most important items to look for in an insurance policy are exclusions. Exclusions are situations in which your insurance does not cover your gear. For instance, one photographer recently had his gear stolen from a rental car. His insurance company refused to pay, stating that the policy excluded theft from a rental vehicle! The more exclusions in a policy, the less likely it is to cover you when you need it.
When you sign up for insurance, you will need to make a list of your gear which includes the serial numbers, the date purchased, the price paid, and the present-day value of the gear. In the event of a loss, you will have to provide a proof of purchase, such as a receipt or the page from the camera manual. At that point, the difference between a replacement or cash value policy becomes very important. Some companies actually call a stated-value policy a replacement policy, which is a misnomer. A stated-value policy will only pay you the value that you have listed and paid for. In fact, most “replacement” policies are actually stated-value policies, which seems fair to me. For instance, if you listed the value of your EOS-1 camera as $1500, and you have been charged an annual fee of 2.5% to insure that camera, it seems only fair that the insurance company will pay you $1500 for that camera if it is lost.
In summary, the main things that I look for in an insurance policy are all risk, worldwide, replacement or stated value, low deductible, and few exclusions. Any situations in which the gear is not covered lowers the value to you of the insurance policy.

Floaters:
If you are not a professional photographer and you do not use your cameras commercially, you can insure your personal camera gear on your homeowner’s policy under a “floater policy.” Some insurance companies have floater policies for renter’s insurance. A floater policy allows you to insure your gear by paying an additional amount per $100 worth of gear that you are insuring. It is a “listed” policy; that is, gear is not insured unless you have specifically listed it on the policy. You can also list jewelry, computers, and other gear on this policy as long as you do not use the gear for business or commercial purposes. Be careful that the floater policies cover use of your gear worldwide and against damage. Some policies only cover loss of the gear while in your home! For instance, if a camera is stolen out of your car, a homeowner’s floater policy may not cover it.

Commercial Policies:
If, however, you use your gear for business, you will need to look for another policy. Many companies offer an “Inland Marine Policy.” These policies are not popular with insurance agents, since they are so far-reaching. However, with persistence and the right agent, you will be able to find one of these policies. The Hartford Inland Marine Policy is a good one. It is an all-risk, worldwide, stated-value policy that can cover any type of camera gear. Hartford’s rates are very reasonable, but they do increase substantially if you make a claim. One photographer’s rates went from 1.41% to 2.5% of his stated value ($250 deductible) immediately after he made a claim for gear stolen from an airport.
If your insurance agent cannot, or is unwilling, to set you up with the Hartford Inland Marine Policy, try an insurance broker. I found my agent through the Yellow Pages; he handled policies for many different companies, and he eventually was able to set me up with a Hartford Inland Marine Policy after a bit of searching. He stated that Hartford was reluctant to issue these policies since they were so broad.
If you are a member of a photographer’s association, then you may be able to benefit from the association’s insurance package. For instance, American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) members have the option of purchasing commercial insurance from ASMP’s insurance partner, Taylor & Taylor. However, as a nature photographer, I have found the rates from most association companies to be more expensive than I need. The problem is that these companies may include other sorts of mandatory types of insurance for photographers who own or use studios--which I, as a nature photographer, have no need for. Such types of insurance include liability, office equipment, lost or damaged film, or employee liability. For whatever reason, I found Taylor & Taylor’s policy to cost nearly double what other companies offered. Taylor & Taylor’s representatives were also the rudest and least customer-service-oriented among the companies I called; I had to call them three times to get answers to my questions, and they never once called me back despite promising several times.
I was also sorely disappointed in the National Press Photographer Association’s insurance partner, Gilbert McGill Insurance, who offers an Inland-Marine professional camera equipment floater through St. Paul Fire & Marine. This policy only covers equipment losses in the US and Canada! The deductible is a high $1000 for theft and $500 for all losses other than theft; and the insurance premium is higher than other policies which offer far broader coverage and lower deductibles.

Kudos goes to the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) who offer insurance policies which offer the lowest rates surveyed. PPA’s insurance partner is Alfred P. Wohlers Company. They offer a plan with a low $100 deductible and among the lowest rates among the companies surveyed. The downside is that you have to pay for PPA membership, which mean you must pay the annual $225 membership dues and have to put up with the magazines and junk mail directed to PPA’s members, who have traditionally been wedding photographers.

I wish I could recommend APA's insurance, but I can't.  I insured my stills and video gear with APA's insurance partner for four years, until it came to my attention that their policy did not cover video or motion picture gear -- only still photography gear!  I had insured my video gear with these guys for three years and paid $1500 for the privilege!  Needless to say, I never got a refund for the fact that I had been insuring gear that they never covered -- and never bothered telling me.  Things may have changed there.  At the time of this writing, APA’s insurance partner is Fireman’s Fund, which offers a $500 deductible, reasonable rates, and other insurance such as $1 million liability location, $100,000 fire and legal , $3000 portfolio, and $5000 property of others.
After reviewing many different companies, I’ve gone with the camera insurance offered through the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA). Their insurance agency is Rand Insurance, and the policy is offered by Chubb Insurance. The contact information is below.

Questions to Ask:
After researching nearly ten different insurance companies and policies, I developed the following list of questions to ask.

1. All risk, underwater? Is the policy an all risk, all perils policy? I use the gear professionally as an underwater and wildlife photographer. Will my gear be covered if it is flooded, lost, or damaged underwater? Will it cover my camera if it is flooded underwater from my mistake? From causes other than my mistake?
Some answers that I received were enlightening. For instance, the representative at Taylor and Taylor mentioned that my gear would not be covered from flooding if the flooding was caused by lack of maintenance. In this case, she stated, I should just drop the camera in deep water and report it as a loss. The representative at Hoffberger Insurance stated that they simply do not cover underwater gear.

2. All types of gear? Will the policy cover my professional still camera, video, and motion picture gear? APA's policy would not cover my video and motion picture gear.

3. Worldwide? Will the policy cover my gear if used in my home, office, and all countries in the world to which I travel?

4. Replacement value? Will the policy cover my gear for replacement value, agreed value, stated value, or actual cash value (which takes depreciation into account)? There seem to be different definitions of replacement value. Will replacement value pay more for an item that it was listed for?

5. What is the deductible?

6. Covered while being transported? The gear will need to be covered under all circumstances and locations in which it is being used, carried, transported, or delivered. Are there any circumstances in which gear might not be covered if it is being transported by a courier service, while flying as checked baggage, or carried in a taxi, plane, or boat? Will the policy cover my gear if it is stolen out of a rental car, my car, or someone else’s car? Are there any exclusions, such as travel in non-commercial vehicles such as private planes and boats, aerial or watercraft photography, theft from unattended vehicles? What if I put my bag down at the airport and it is stolen?
APA’s insurance had a strange exception, apparently because it was an inland marine policy: gear being carried in a boat in the ocean would not be covered if you were simply traveling on the boat. If, however, you were working on the boat as a photographer, then your gear would be covered. Does this policy have any such exceptions?

7. In case of burglary from a car, will coverage require signs of forcible entry? It’s easy for a burglar to open a car with no sign of forcible entry. If your insurance company requires signs of forcible entry, then you are out of luck if a thief has opened your car with a door bar tool.
The representative of APA’s insurance, Jim Aquilina, first stated that their insurance would cover theft from a vehicle even if there was no sign of forcible entry. Later, however, he stated that the company has recently put an exclusion, requiring a sign of forcible entry.

8. Does the policy have a glass-breakage clause? My camera lenses are composed of glass, so I would want to strike any glass-breakage clause.
None of the companies surveyed had this clause.

9. Are loans of my equipment to friends covered? What if I rent my gear to other parties?
Most companies did not cover my gear if it was rented out to other parties. Hartford covered gear which was loaned to a friend, unless the friend stole the gear dishonestly. For instance, if I loaned my gear to a friend and the gear was damaged, it would be covered. If I loaned my gear to a friend and he steals it, this is considered fraud and is not covered. APA’s insurance does not cover loans of equipment to friends unless they are a legal partner or spouse.

10. Are loans of gear to me covered? What if I rent gear from a store, or borrow gear from a camera manufacturer?
Most companies require you to purchase a set amount of insurance to cover gear that you rent or borrow from other parties.

11. Please let me know of any situations in which the gear would NOT be covered.
Most companies send you a written policy in which all exclusions are listed.

No one likes insurance or paying insurance. However, it is a necessary evil. Hopefully this article will help you compare and find the insurance to fit your needs. Remember to read the fine print, to purchase only the coverage that you need, and to consult with your agent, attorney, and accountant before making a final decision. The right decision -- and the right agent -- will give you peace of mind that is hard to find.

Glossary: Actual cash value: will not pay to replace the cameras completely, but will pay the cost of camera minus depreciation.
Agreed value: will pay only what is listed on my schedule. I need to submit a list of my gear and the replacement cost value each year. If this is not updated each year, then the insurance company will pay only what is listed on my sheet.
Replacement value: The best, and what you should try for, will replace your camera gear with like kind and quality. For instance, if I buy a Nikon N90s at $1000 and it later costs $1500 to replace the N90s or get an equivalent camera, then the insurance company will pay $1500 rather than $1000.
Stated-value basis: not as good as replacement cost. This seems to pay only up to what is listed on a schedule.


For more information:
APA/Fireman’s Fund: (at the time of this writing, their policy did NOT cover video or motion picture gear, only still photography gear!)
Jim Aquilina
Tom Pickard Company
820 Pacific Coast Highway
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
phone 800-726-3701, fax 800-318-9840,
or phone 310-379-7788, fax 310-379-8946

NANPA:
www.nanpa.org

Rand Insurance
Rand Insurance
50 Locust Avenue
New Canaan, CT 06840
phone number: 203-966-2677
fax number: 203-966-7355
email: nanpa@randinsurance.com

PPA Insurance:
Wohlers and Company
800-323-2106

Coolers for Traveling

> Subject: Coolers for traveling
>
> Glad to hear that the airlines still accept coolers as
> check-in luggage. Any ball park idea how much the 100-
> gallon cooler weights whenloaded?

I, and many professionals, use the larger Coleman and Igloo coolers. I jokingly state that these coolers offer the highest volume to weight ratio of any container that offers the necessary stiffness and rigidity to protect your gear. I’ve been traveling with these for years. I have never been able to tie knots, so I traveled with two or three of these coolers in the early years by taping them up with duct tape. However, after 9/11, I had to devise a method by which TSA could easily and quickly open up the coolers. I stole an idea from my friends Howard Hall and Bob Cranston (something I do routinely) and have one eyebolt bolted into each end of the cooler. The eyebolt goes through the cooler, and there are washers on both sides of the eyebolt. I then bought long aluminum bars from Orchard Supply Hardware, had them bent 90 degrees so that I ended up with a “U” shaped bar that fits snugly over the top of the cooler. A hole in each end of the bar allows the bar to fit over the eyebolts. I then put locks in the eyebolts to keep the bar over the cooler, but now, I just use hitch pins so that TSA can get into the coolers easily.

These coolers weigh and cost very little compared to conventional camera cases, I use the coolers in 100 gallon sizes for checked baggage. I store my tripods, dive gear, underwater housings, some camera gear, and clothes in these. One advantage of coolers for diving gear and underwater cameras is that you can just fill them up with fresh water for rinsing, then drain from the bottom after your trip. I have traveled with these for 20 years now, and have never had a problem with an airline not accepting them. They just barely fit under ( or perhaps just barely exceed) the standard airline dimensions for checked baggage. Any cooler larger than 100 gallon (like the huge ones at Costco) might be too big for airlines.

My favorite Pelican case is the 1620 with padded dividers. This is a large, deep case that carries just about all my still camera gear for any shoot. The extra deep case has two tiers of modular padded dividers. I keep one of these cases by the door of my office, so that I am ready to travel at a moment’s notice. On an assignment with little notice, I just snap the case shut, roll it out the door into my van, and know that I have everything I need for a stills shoot.


I pack my coolers so that they weigh no more than 70 lb when traveling overseas. This is because airlines that fly to/from an international destination and to/from the US are required to allow two bags at 70 lb each at no additional charge.

When you fly within the US, however, the rules have changed. I know United Airlines’ policy the best. They used to allow the above. Now they allow two free bags at 50 lb each. Anything from 51 lb to 100 lb costs $25 per bag. I therefore bring a copy of United’s baggage rules (from their website) and try to pack my bags to 100 pounds. This is not difficult since I often bring copies of my books on my trips and talks to sell or give away, and the dang books weigh 8 lb each. I get charged $25 per bag. This is my personal revenge on the airlines for surreptitiously changing the domestic baggage allowance from two bags at 70 lbs, to two bags at 50 lb, and saying that they were doing this in order to save their passengers money! Don’t you get tired of companies lying like this?

Back when United announced this and several other changes, I wrote a bunch of colleagues asking them to write to United to protest this change. United had proposed several other changes, and had backed down after receiving barrages of protest from their customers. I asked my friends and fellow photographers to write United about their upcoming baggage policy. Almost all of them were too lazy to send a letter, and a few of them wrote me, saying “Forget it, Norb. United is hurting, and they won’t change their policies.” These guys would rather write me saying “forget it, give up” than write the airline saying “please don’t change your policy.” That’s when I realized that most people, at least photographers, would rather whine and complain among themselves than take the time and trouble to write a letter. I’d also say that most photographers would rather whine and complain about how hard it is to make a living licensing the use of photographs than will actually take a stand on the business of photography with a client.

How Skype works, Internet plans

> What's the deal with Skype? How does it work? Does it work well?

Skype is great. Here is how I use it.

I have a Mac laptop. It has a microphone and headphone jack built in. I went onto Skype's website, downloaded the Mac software, and paid the $15-$30 for the unlimited calling to anywhere in the US plan. I was all set. I can call any number in the US, be it cell, Skype, or landline, and it is free. I can be sitting in Singapore at an airport lounge with a wireless Internet connection, fire up Skype, plug in my ipod earbuds, and talk into my MacBook Pro to anyone in the US for free. I don't have a Skype-in number or any of that stuff. Just the Skype software on my laptop and the annual "unlimited calls to anywhere in the US plan". When I am home, I have a Plantronics USB headset that I use for making calls. The headset has a mic. But you can get great quality by using any laptop that has a microphone for you to talk into, and a headphone jack so you can hear the conversation. You can use any headphones at all -- like those you would use in listening to an ipod or stereo. The laptop or computer just has to have Skype software installed along with an Internet connection.

Skype quality is generally excellent. In fact, I used a landline and MCI card to call Poland last week to yell at an editor who had not paid. She could not hear me, so I called her back using Skype and it was clear as a bell. She told me to stop yelling at her.

> > Is there a good cheap phone system (Skype?)
> > What's the best way to do this and still get quality?

So here's my phone system. I use a phone card that I bought from Costco for my international calls, which I can use to make calls from Indonesia to the US, or from the US to Indonesia, if I need to. I rarely use it these days, but it is there for the occasional call. I have a landline with AT&T, basic service at $11 per month. The long-distance on this landline is with a company called TTI, which used to be Costco's long-distance provider. It's about $.05 per minute in the US and gives good international rates also. With the advent of Skype and cell phones, our long-distance bill on our landlines (three of them!) is about $1.50 per month.

I have a cell phone, which I will soon change to a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan, either T-Mobile, Tracfone, or Net10. Did you know that most of these pay-as-you-go plans have rates as low as $0.10 per minute if you buy enough minutes at one time?

I signed up for a free service called GrandCentral. It gives me one phone number. Anyone calling that one phone number can reach my cell, home, office, whatever numbers I want. So it is going to be my "permanent" phone number and I only have to give the one phone out. Voicemails to my GrandCentral phone number are delivered to me by email and I can listen to them on my email or web browser.

One of the reasons I am keeping my landlines rather than discontinuing them is because I still send faxes once in a while and have a machine at both the home and the office. Lastly, if I keep my landlines, I can get DSL service through AT&T for very cheap. If I get DSL service through AT&T, I can sign up for their Freedomlink wifi service which costs only $2 per month, and lets me log into wifi hotspots in various places like Seattle and Denver airport, McDonalds, UPS Stores, etc.

> > Anyway, that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing because I want to cut my
> > phone/internet bill. Is there a good, cheap high-speed internet
> provider?

I am a frugal bastard and hate paying much. In the past, I was able to switch services every six months to a year and pay about $20 per month for internet access. I'd sign up for six months of cable internet access through Comcast at $20 per month for six months. They'd give me a free cable modem and a $75 rebate. When the rate went up to $42.95 at the end of six months, I'd cancel the service and switch to AT&T (SBC) DSL service for a year, ranging from $12.99 to $19.99 per month. They'd give me a free modem. After the rate went up after a year, I'd go back to Comcast. I think I may have gotten my internet service for basically free after selling all the modems on Ebay.

Oh, I kept basic Comcast TV service ($15 per month) at my house which allowed me to get that $20 intro rate. And all cable TV now have to put high-def signals on their services, so I am renting a Motorola box at $5 per month at home to get several stations in HD for free. This is truly awesome as I get ESPN and Discovery Channel in high-def for free.

AT&T has given up on making you commit to year-long contracts and special intro rates. I am just sticking with their $19.99 DSL plan and it works fine for me at the office. At home, I've gone with a slightly higher-speed plan at $25 per month.

And if you get a Google Mail address, you don't have to use email addresses from Comcast or SBC. Your email address remains free and the same no matter what your internet provider is.

Ridicule me for my frugality if you wish. I hate being screwed by the utilities and feel like I am winning in my small way

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Skype is great, easy to use

I like Skype so much, and found it so very easy to set up and use, that I am recommending it to lots of folks.

Basically, all you need is a headset with microphone and Skype software, and an internet connection.

There are tons of headsets out there. You can even use standard stereo headphones and the mike built into a MacBook Pro. I am using a Plantronics headset recommended by Eric Cheng which is great. $40 at Amazon.

Plantronics DSP-400 Digitally-Enhanced USB Foldable Stereo Headset and Software

You then download Skype software and follow the instructions. Easy. I signed up for the unlimited plan to call any numbers in the US and Canada for $15 per year. I can call out to anyone, any phone number, and no longer worry about long-distance charges. I believe that the rate was going to double very soon.

I did not sign up for any other stuff like the ability for people to call me, etc.

Since signing up, I've called home and other places in the US -- for free after the initial $15 annual charge -- from Singapore, England, and other places where I've had a wireless Internet connection. People think that I'm a bit strange talking into my laptop, but it works great!

Monday, January 1, 2007

First product recommendations

I live in a property that has two houses -- one main house (basically a cottage), and one guest house that I use as an office. My wife has a small office in the main house, and for years now, she's had to put up with the wireless internet connection there. I've been using a Linksys wireless-B router (B because of its greater range), and she has had a variety of older Macs in her office. Right now she has an older iBook that does not have a wireless card installed. I've had her using a D-Link wireless Ethernet bridge for two years now, but that died. The main house and the guest house are about 100 feet apart.

I had squirreled away Walter Mossberg's excellent article from the Wall Street Journal that recommends the newish Powerline adapters to get an Internet signal around homes. He recommends Netgear XE104 Powerline adapters. I bought a couple of these from one of my favorite computer-supply online suppliers (newegg.com) and sure enough, these Netgear Powerline adapters solved the problem. My wife now has a fast, reliable Internet connection as opposed to the stunningly slow wireless connection that we used to have. This was a stunningly easy way to set up another Internet connection in a separate room. The only problem I had was that these were fairly expensive, at $60 per unit -- and you need at least two units.

A few weeks later, I noticed that Fry's in the Bay Area had some Airlink Powerline adapters for sale for $25 each. I bought two and installed them in my parents' house. My mother now has a consistent and reliable Internet connection, too. The Airlink Powerline adapters were just as easy to install as the Netgear ones, and they cost less than half the price!