Recently I recommended that you check out Google Photos if you have not done so already. Like Gmail, it’s a way to store huge quantities of digital material and leave its management to someone else. (I promise, later we’ll get into the privacy tradeoffs involved.) And much more than Gmail, it offers big-data tools that can arrange and transform your information/photos in ways difficult or impossible to do by yourself.
For instance: I mentioned that Google Photos had, on its own, merged three smart-phone snapshots of a scene at Oxford into one panorama view. Several people wrote in to say: Let’s see the originals! So here goes.
First, in its full-frame entirety, a smartphone snapshot of one side of the entry quad at The Queen’s College, Oxford.
Then two almost-identical shots of the other side, both in full frame. First this:
The point is that without my doing anything more than saving all three shots to a Google drive, the system recognized them as overlapping parts of a whole and stitched them together into a high-rez, level-horizon, panorama version, looking like this (and at larger scale here):
Even when zooming in on the composite shot as far as possible, I still can’t find a pixellated boundary where the shots were brought together.
We all say in our blase way: Yeah yeah there’s increasing power of big-data systems. At least for me, seeing how it worked on my own information dramatized these effects. To be clear, this was with three quick, casual phone-shots taken over a few-second span. The result isn’t anything fancy, but it’s different from what I could have done myself.
And, as I say, we’ll get to the surveillance-state ramifications soon.
Actually, why not now. Here’s one reader response:
In the vein of the glass being neither half-full nor half-empty, but having a leak, that [big-data] magic means just as much that a computer can figure-out where you have been and when based on the photos you take, making it that much easier for a human being with access to that computer to know where you have gone and when.
The photo taker providing in essence CCTV of their movements. At least though unlike CCTV (and of course all that magical facial recognition) if the photo taker stops taking/posting the photos the intelligence stream stops.
Two quick updates on themes I’ve mentioned over the years.
Hit: Google Photos. You may well already have started using this service — some 100 million people have done so since its debut early this year. If you haven’t, by all means check it out. It is the closest thing I’ve had to the feeling of magic in online life in a very long while.
This review a few months ago, by Casey Newton in The Verge, gives you the main idea. The title, “How Google solved our photo backup nightmare,” covers one main feature. Just as Gmail long ago became the place where it was easiest and most efficient to store, arrange, retrieve, and otherwise handle electronic messages, Google Photos finally seem as if it can be the answer for the ever-mounting volume of digital images. Yes, I’m aware that Google is making use of the vast raw data users entrust to it. Newton’s piece, and another in Vergeby Ryan Gantz, explain why they think (as I do) that the tradeoff is worthwhile.
Beyond the storage-dump aspect is the application of big-data in ways that are sometimes creepy but more often useful and even astonishing. This past summer I took a few camera-phone snapshots at The Queen’s College in Oxford, where my wife and I were married long ago. The next time I logged into Google Photos, it had, unbidden, aligned and assembled the patches into the composite panorama you see above, or here. Pictures you take in the modern geo-tagging age it can of course match to locations. But based on images alone it has gone through and grouped old photos by location — giving me, for instance, a collection of pictures taken in Duluth, Minnesota in 2002, or another from Shanghai a few years later.
As Gantz says:
The service delights by offering me presents. As photos upload, Google Photos is processing old pictures I’ve forgotten about, including images that I’ve assumed were unremarkable or superfluous, and assembling them into collages, animations, and experiences that I wasn’t aware I wanted. “Assistant” offers me its creations and politely asks if I want to dismiss them or add them to my library. Like an opening of Timehop, these little creations can be surprising and lovely.
It’s hard to appreciate this feature until you experience it. I keep eagerly checking Google Photos notifications on my phone, excited about what Assistant has crafted from my digital trail. I find animations of my children playing on the grass, a collage of my wife giggling, a trip to Austin rendered as a slide show.
Let me emphasize the “hard to appreciate until you’ve seen it” point. For instance, here is a GIF animation of a visit to the Southern Tier brewery near Chautauqua in August, which Google Photos auto-created from a set of phone snapshots.
Judge for yourself, but certainly give it a try.
Miss: Livescribe Pen. I’ll try to make this concise, because I’m writing to amend the record rather than to beat up on anyone.
Starting six years ago, I have in this space frequently sung the praises of the Livescribe pen. When it appeared, Livescribe was another seemingly magical step forward: it matched notes you made in a special notebook, with audio recordings it was making at the same time. Later on, you could simply click on the notes you’d made — during an interview, at a lecture, in a language lesson — and hear that exact part of the recording played back.
The system indeed worked like magic — when it worked. But over the years, I have come to mistrust successive Livescribe models because in the real world, for me, they simply failed too often.
A pen would suddenly and unobtrusively turn itself off during an interview, so that when it was over I saw that I had captured the first 10 minutes of discussion but not the next hour. The first time this happened, I thought it was bad luck. By the fourth time, I’d lost faith. Other sessions recorded all the way through — but then proved to be corrupted and unreadable. With the plain old cheapo Olympus and Sony digital recorders I’d used before, I lacked the fancy features but had never lost information. After another data loss about a year ago, I (regretfully) stopped using Livescribe and switched back to the humble pocket recorders.
My friends at Livescribe tell me that my problems represent an unfortunate outlier experience. Maybe so. But many of my journalist friends say that they’ve had problems like mine.
The Livescribe company was recently taken over by a Swedish firm. I wish everyone there the best, and I wish for a reliable version of this pen. If you’re using one, especially if you tried it on my suggestion, I hope that it’s holding up well for you. But having repeatedly gone on record saying that I used it, I wanted to close the loop by explaining why I don’t any more.
Totally Under Control delivers a damning—and essential—report card on the White House’s mismanagement of the pandemic.
Given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, it may seem senseless to make a two-hour film that looks back on how the coronavirus ran rampant in the U.S. And yet, Totally Under Control—from the Oscar-winning writer-director Alex Gibney and his co-directors, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger—not only documents the chaos of 2020 with clear-eyed precision, but also successfully argues for its own existence.
Filmed in secret over five months, Totally Under Control (streaming on Hulu tomorrow) uses news footage and interviews with experts and government whistleblowers to show how the administration missed each opportunity to either stop the virus from arriving in the U.S. or prevent its spread. The filmmakers present these events in rapid, blow-by-blow succession, lending the doc an urgency that contrasts with the languid federal response to the pandemic. The result is a film that—unlike 76 Days, the moving and intimate documentary on the lockdown in Wuhan, China, made without talking heads—feels shocking to watch in retrospect for its crisp frankness. Viewers may have grown numb to the constant churn of distressing news and learned to stomach the administration’s failure to contain the virus. But Totally Under Control refuses to look away, and being reminded of how many warnings went unheeded is unnerving.
Where the desperation of late-stage meritocracy is so strong, you can smell it
Photo illustrations by Pelle Cass
Updated at 10:03 a.m. ET on October 19, 2020.
To make the images that appear in this story, the photographer Pelle Cass locked his camera onto a tripod for the duration of an event, capturing up to 1,000 photographs from one spot. The images were then layered and compiled into a single digital file to create a kind of time-lapse still photo.
Image above: Cornell versus Dartmouth, women’s lacrosse, October 2019
On paper, Sloane, a buoyant, chatty, stay-at-home mom from Fairfield County, Connecticut, seems almost unbelievably well prepared to shepherd her three daughters through the roiling world of competitive youth sports. She played tennis and ran track in high school and has an advanced degree in behavioral medicine. She wrote her master’s thesis on the connection between increased aerobic activity and attention span. She is also versed in statistics, which comes in handy when she’s analyzing her eldest daughter’s junior-squash rating—and whiteboarding the consequences if she doesn’t step up her game. “She needs at least a 5.0 rating, or she’s going to Ohio State,” Sloane told me.
Since 2018, I’ve conducted roughly 50 focus groups with Trump voters to understand the shifting dynamics within the Republican Party.
President Donald Trump is losing to former Vice President Joe Biden by more than 10 percentage points in both the Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight national polling averages. This historically large margin suggests that something amazing has happened: Even in our hyperpolarized political environment, a meaningful number of voters have changed their minds about Trump.
Equally amazing: The majority of 2016 Trump voters—despite a mismanaged pandemic, widespread economic fallout, a racial crisis exacerbated by divisive rhetoric, and a debate meltdown—plan to back Trump a second time.
What makes one voter who supported Trump in 2016 decide to support Biden? And what makes another voter—even one who thinks things are going badly—stick around?
She told me she would never want a child like my daughter.
I am originally from Germany. Two years ago, my daughter got married and my twin brother and his family came over to celebrate with us.
My sister-in-law has come for visits many times without my brother, and I’ve taken her all over to shop and visit places.
When she was here for my daughter’s wedding, we started talking about children. I have a second daughter with some mild developmental delays. I asked her why they didn’t have a second child. She answered very bluntly that she didn’t want a child “like my second child.” She actually said her name. I was so taken aback by this comment that I didn’t say anything in response.
My brother wasn’t well while he was here, and later found out he had bladder cancer. So between my daughter’s wedding and my brother not being well, I didn’t want to raise how I was feeling and create a problem.
The polls are grim for President Donald Trump. His campaign faces a big and worsening money disadvantage. His closing arguments appeal only to the most hyper-partisan Republicans.
Many have worried about the transition after a Trump electoral defeat. Will Trump leave office quietly and peacefully? But there are other, less dramatic dangers to ponder, too—dangers that we would do well to anticipate and guard against.
Funding the government
The resolution funding the federal government expires December 11. If it is not renewed, the U.S. government will shut down, as it did for 35 days in December 2018 and January 2019, the longest shutdown in U.S. history. That shutdown badly hurt the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter of 2018.
If Joe Biden prevails, his basement will rest alongside William McKinley’s front porch in the annals. In his subterranean retreat, Biden not only sat still while his opponent spectacularly self-destructed, but also underwent a metamorphosis. He entered it a cautious pragmatist, yearning for a reversion to the time before Donald Trump; he left convinced of his chance to become a latter-day Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Over the spring and summer, Biden inverted the historic template of the Democratic nominee. According to time-honored political logic, a candidate poses as a bleeding heart in the primary, only to retrace his or her steps back to the center in the general. During his time in his basement, by contrast, Biden’s ambitions for the presidency began to acquire a grandiosity that his intramural battle with Bernie Sanders hardly anticipated.
People of faith should embody moral and intellectual integrity.
In public, Donald Trump has spoken in glowing terms about his evangelical supporters, calling them“warriors on the frontiers defending American freedom,” people who are “incredible” and “faithful,” a bulwark against assorted moral evils.
But behind the scenes, as TheAtlantic’sMcKay Coppins recently reported, “many of Trump’s comments about religion are marked by cynicism and contempt, according to people who have worked for him. Former aides told me they’ve heard Trump ridicule conservative religious leaders, dismiss various faith groups with cartoonish stereotypes, and deride certain rites and doctrines held sacred by many of the Americans who constitute his base.”
Trump “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse recently told his constituents.
This week’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations make clear that the U.S. is once again sinking deeper into the pandemic.
After a month of warning signs, this week’s data make it clear: The third surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is under way. Outbreaks have been worsening in many states for more than a month, and new COVID-19 cases jumped 18 percent this week, bringing the seven-day average to more than 51,000 cases a day. Though testing rose by 8 percent nationally, that’s not enough of an increase to explain the steep rise in cases. Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations, which had previously been creeping upward slowly, jumped more than 14 percent from a week earlier.
Since last Wednesday, states reported 4,796 COVID-19 deaths, an increase of about 3 percent over the previous week. Since the start of the pandemic we have typically seen reported deaths lag behind reported cases by three to four weeks, although reporting delays seem to have worsened in some states, including Florida and Texas.
“Never before have there been vaccine trials that have been followed so closely from inception to onset to conduct,” Dan Barouch, a vaccine researcher at Harvard and collaborator on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, says. Over the next few months, the companies behind the leading vaccine candidates will start releasing the first data from large clinical trials. Most likely, they will not be unalloyed good news or bad news. Keeping expectations measured will require understanding when a vaccine clears just one of many hurdles—it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must be good enough.
This list should have something for everyone, no matter your fear-tolerance level.
Horror means something different to everyone. One of my most traumatic movie memories remains the execution of a cartoon shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a comedy made for children. I’ve also yawned through many an R-rated slasher flick, untroubled as the death and viscera piled up. So in curating a list of horror films to watch this month, I tried to pull from every corner of the genre, bringing in supernatural mind-trips, knowing satires, spectacular gore-fests, and quiet dramas. Though many viewers are automatically put off by horror, so many underseen masterpieces are worth discovering, all within various comfort zones.
I ranked these 25 films according to how scary I think they are, starting with titles that are mildly unsettling and ramping up to those I’d deem intensely disturbing. But scariness is in the eye of the beholder—sometimes it’s not depictions of violence that frighten people, but the emotional tenor of a story, the resonance of the themes, or the power of certain visuals. Still, there should be something for everyone here, whether you’re into vampires, werewolves, serial killers, cannibals, witches, or bug-monsters, or if you’re more in the mood for existential dread, paranoia, grief, or the pitiless fear of the unknown.