Here’s why I’ve fallen behind on this week’s blogging

July 19, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 19, 2014

I’ve fallen behind on my blogging this week! Here’s an explanation.

It all starts with a woman I will call Lady X. We dated for two years or so, and although we broke up a few years back, we still remain in touch. Some weeks back, we made tentative plans to meet up in her hometown of Greensboro, N.C.

At some point after our breakup, Lady X had some kind of computer malfunction in which she lost a great many of her photos. Those included pictures of a wonderful overseas trip that the two of us took together. When we discussed meeting up, Lady X asked if I could supply her with my digital copies of these photographs. I said, of course, that I’d be happy to do so — and soon enough, that promise slipped through the steel trap that is not my mind.

Earlier this month, Lady X sent me a postcard inviting me to come to her house the afternoon of July 17. Then, on the evening of July 16, I rather suddenly remembered that I’d done exactly nothing to make copies of the photographs.

When I got home shortly before midnight on the night of the 16th, I opened up my laptop and launched iPhoto, Apple’s standard-issue photo management program, which I use.

Which I use sporadically, that is. My laptop, a 13-inch MacBook Pro, is nearly five years old, and its had periods of extreme balkiness. (A few months back, I rebuilt its hard drive, and it’s working much better now, thank you.) I’d found iPhoto to be one of my computer’s worst offenders: It frequently crashed, as often as not forcing me to redo photo labeling that had taken me hours. Considering that I didn’t do a lot with pictures, my default preference eventually became ignoring, rather than cataloguing, my photographs. So when I launched iPhoto on the 16th, I did so with no small trepidation.

And my reservations were (not so) promptly rewarded: I think the program crashed once or twice even before I could start working with it. After struggling for a while, I went to bed rather late.

On Thursday morning, just as I was starting my drive to Greensboro, I got a call from Lady X. Her daughter, who had just returned from a weeks-long trip to Nicaragua, was feeling ill. Lady X begged off our meeting so she could take her child to the doctor. Naturally, I assented.

That afternoon, I bicycled over to a favorite Durham coffee shop of mine with plans to spend a few hours blogging. Unfortunately, the shop’s wireless network was not connecting to the Internet. I asked the barista to reset the router, but it had no effect that I could tell.

With an internal sigh, I turned to iPhoto — and found that something peculiar had occurred.

After a restart or two, iPhoto had seemed to stabilize. I was able to do stuff with it without suffering recurring interminable waits. And then…I fell into a sinkhole.

For some reason — I don’t recall exactly why; perhaps it was simply that I’d been cut off from using the Internet on my computer — I became obsessed with iPhoto’s face-identification feature. This aspect of the program (Apple simply calls it Faces) allows iPhoto to put invisible boxes around faces; once the user begins to put names to faces, the software can suggest which person might be in a given photo.

I’m not sure when Apple introduced facial-recognition subroutines to iPhoto, but it was some time after I began using it to manage my photography collection. As of this moment, iPhoto stores more than 22,000 images; my Faces menu has 196 individuals contained in 3,188 photographs. On Thursday, before I fell into this hole, iPhoto had recognized more than 9,000 faces that it had not been able to positively identify.

The number of known but not IDed faces is now down to — let me check — 6,227. So over the course of about two days, I’ve knocked off something on the order of 3,000 faces.

“Knocking off” means labeling these faces or, in some cases, unlabeling faux faces. iPhoto is far from perfect; it has erroneously identified wrinkled clothing, scattered leaves, automobile hubcaps, a bottle of pills, parts of a basketball backboard, doorknobs, building facades, tree branches, images (real or simulated) of the moon and other planetoids, and images of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise, among other things, as being people’s faces. It takes time to weed out all of these false positives.

Another problem with Faces is crowd shots. Pictures of Stanford players (especially basketball players) competing, images of Stanford athletes and Major League Baseball teams celebrating, shots of cityscapes — all of these contain faces of people whom I do not know and will never be able to identify. Unless I X them all out — that is, click on the small box that eliminates the digital bracket set forth by iPhoto — they will pop up again and again, as iPhoto suggests that they may be me, or a character from a television show, or any number of family members.

Having obsessive-compulsive tendencies as I do, well… Let’s just say that I’m still trying to whittle down that backlog of unidentified faces. And, yeah — I kind of fell behind on my blogging…


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