Category: Uncategorized

Well, I’m trying out to see what it’s like firing up my own little servers, instead of paying extra for a managed VPS that isn’t as fast as I’d like. So far, there is a big learning curve. Droplets and snapshots aren’t as user-friend as I’d like.


DigitalOcean Notes


To Create a New Server

  1. Install new droplet
  • Centos 7
  • IPv6
  • Monitoring
  • With SSH key (id_rsa)


  1. Reset root password to get the root password (if none emailed, seems not!)
    • Login via SSH, you’ll have to change to a new password
    • Easiest with Terminal because you can copy/paste passwords
  1. Install Vesta:
# Connect to your server as root via SSH

ssh root@your.server

# Download installation script

curl -O
  1. Run Vesta Installer to get LAMP, email, etc.
    • Vesta Installer using default settings ( ):
    • Fill in the hostname which is the droplet name, e.g. “centos-512mb-sfo”
    • Fill in email
    • Fill desired admin password for Vesta
    • Sample command created by the Vesta website:
bash --nginx yes --apache yes --phpfpm no --vsftpd yes --proftpd no --exim yes --dovecot yes --spamassassin yes --clamav yes --named yes --iptables yes --fail2ban yes --mysql yes --postgresql no --remi yes --quota no --hostname MYSERVERHOSTNAMEHERE --email MYEMAILHERE@MOI.COM--password MYPASSWORDHERE
  • Look for results after this runs:
Congratulations, you have just successfully installed Vesta Control Panel

    username: admin

    password: MYPASSWORDHERE

Make a Snapshot


Make a snapshot of a server setup so you don’t have to build from scratch.


  1. Power down the droplet from command line:

Login to your Droplet as root and execute the “shutdown -h now”(or “poweroff”?) command. This will shut down your operating system, flush any pending changes to the disk, and then terminate power to your server.

  1. When the droplet shows as “off”, make a snapshot
  2. When finished, turn the droplet back on if you wish.


Domain Names

  • Set your DNS servers:


Add User with the new domain name

  • Use the “admin” user for a single-user server (?)
  • Best to wait for DNS to propagate!
  • Add a new user for the new domain
  • Login as the new user (directly from Vesta, there is a link to login as the user)
  • Create a new domain under the “Web” menu
    • Advanced: add SSL support using Lets Encrypt! Might fail if DNS isn’t live yet.


Finally! I’ve been wishing I could scan my sheets of negatives into high-quality contact sheets. Sure, with a $1000+ scanner you can do it…but that never seemed worth it.

Well, I now have a $170 Epson V600, and “The Light Panel” by Porta-Trace. Lay one on the other, and you can make a fantastic — and I mean, incredible — high-quality contact sheet in a minute.

Believe me, a 1200 dpi contact sheet is amazing. Yowza!

On the one hand, I’m enjoying the Olympus E-P2. The image quality is beautiful; it is like using a grainer film than my EOS 5D. Just as one can choose Tri-X over TMAX, I sometimes want to use the E-P2 instead of the 5D to get that grain.

However, I’m feeling more and more frustrated with the questionable user interface of the camera! The biggest problem is that when I use a Leica lens, it is hard to switch to the “zoomed” focus. They could simply have allowed the function key to be a quick “zoom” key, but they didn’t. Instead, you have to set the viewing mode to the “zoom” mode, then press a hard-to-feel center button on the back. If, by any chance, you want to see any information on the screen — aperture, for example! — you have to switch out of the zoom mode! It’s ridiculous!

I still can’t justify the cost of a Leica M9, however. So, until Olympus fixes the designs, I’m stuck.

After spending two nights with the young men at the Pine Grove Conservation Camp, a training and rehabilitation institution of the California Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), I received this message from the press liaison: “The main guy who approved your stay at Pine Grove told me that in his 34 years in the agency, no one has EVER done that before.  In the past, the choices would have been 1) no, 2) hell no and 3) what is it about no that you don’t understand.”

While the approval was unusual, what is stranger is that no other journalists have sought to stay there. Frankly, I’m baffled — the young men were very nice, understanding, and open. I never felt threatened, even though the guard suggested I avoid getting boxed in. Speaking realistically, there are not many fights there. Gang affiliation exists but is kept down (compared to “the institution”, the main lockdown facilities).

I recorded interviews with a number of the men. Some of the stories are brutal — beatings, shootings, stabbings — but I’ve heard the same from soldiers and cops. Context is everything, and the context of the camp is not conducive to violence toward a visitor. Besides, a visiting journalist is a source of amusement, an entertainment, a novelty. As long as I’m not threatening, and I remain a novelty, I think that not only will I not be attacked, I’ll be defended in case I were attacked.

The Station Fire was very, very frustrating. The public information officers (PIOs) were nice, helpful, all-around good people. They let me stay at the fire camp, they geared me up, and then they made sure I wouldn’t get near anything exciting. Especially after I, and an Aussie camera team, managed to shadow a Hotshot crew during a night burn while our PIO scrambled through the dark, thinking his journos were being burned alive in the flames.

It turns out that the incident team I was working with believes that once a journalist gets their help, he is now their charge. More importantly, he’s now their legal liability, and it isn’t worth their while to let him get hurt. They were afraid of being sued. Therefore, they did not want me, nor any other journalist they took in, anywhere near anything that might get him or her hurt.


So, while I got some great stuff from the night fire, the rest of the trip was a wash. Sure, there are some good images, but I never saw action again.

I trying to get to the Station Fire, near Los Angeles. My tummy says I should be there, but I know it’s not a great idea to show up completely unannounced. It’s best to stay at fire camp, to be able to work freely with the team at the camp. I don’t want to be a random journalist on the scene — it’s too well covered for that to be useful.

So, I’m waiting for the PIO to reach the Incident Team 3 folks, to confirm I’m OK. If I get the go ahead, well, it’s a long drive to LA from here.

I’ve learned a few lessons about photographing fire by now. This is the second time I’ve followed a big fire — the first was the Basin Complex Fire — and I’m starting to get the hang of the rhythms of wildfire and firefighting. This time, I spent a week on the La Brea Fire in the Las Padres National Forest. Here’s what I learned:

  • Wildland firefighters work during the heat of the day, for the most part. That is, they get up before dawn, eat, then show up on the line after the morning golden light. Often, they’ll return before the evening golden light. So, you’re stuck shooting with bright, flat light that sucks. However, if you can get below the plume, the smoke will filter the sun into a soft, reddish light that works great.
  • You have to work with Hotshot crews for a few hours, at least, before they’ll let you shoot portraits. The problem is, they are super-tough, so you’d better be ready to carry a lot of water over rough terrain, and bear with bad light, to get anything from them. Nice guys, however.
  • You can shoot the fire fast, or slow — it’s a different animal either way. Fast gives fantastic shapes, slow gives painting. Something not to forget when you’re there.
  • Consider a split filter. I wish I’d had one.
  • Work through the PIOs. They have the power to get rid of you as a danger to their people, and they will. I didn’t feel limited by them, and the more I learn about fire, the happier I am to have people watching out for me.

Engine Crew


Frankly, it’s a constant struggle to focus on one thing at a time. I have too many ideas. It’s always been like that, I suppose.
I have a list current projects sitting on my desk, followed by a list of great, new ideas, including:

  • Cats
  • Ferry boats
  • Forensic Victim Identification (war/disaster)
  • The Evidence of War Project
  • The Roboagent filing system
  • Frontline-Photos gallery
  • Wrongful Prosecutions
  • Making photo prints using alternative processes
  • Silkscreen interpretations of photos
  • A business plan for life!

I fear that unless I choose three, and no more, that none will ever be finished.


Questions? Comments? Write me.


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© Copyright 2014 David I. Gross