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.
Trump’s continuing attacks on John McCain reveal a worrisome state of mind.
Donald Trump is not well. Over the weekend, he continued his weird obsession with a dead war hero. This time, his attacks on John McCain came two days after the anniversary of McCain’s release from a North Vietnamese prison camp. He tweeted this:
Spreading the fake and totally discredited Dossier “is unfortunately a very dark stain against John McCain.” Ken Starr, Former Independent Counsel. He had far worse “stains” than this, including thumbs down on repeal and replace after years of campaigning to repeal and replace!
So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) “last in his class” (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election. He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!
Donald Cline must have thought no one would ever know. Then DNA testing came along.
Updated at 5:23 p.m. ET on March 18, 2019.
The first Facebookmessage arrived when Heather Woock was packing for vacation, in August 2017. It was from a stranger claiming to be her half sibling. She assumed the message was some kind of scam; her parents had never told her she might have siblings. But the message contained one detail that spooked her. The sender mentioned a doctor, Donald Cline. Woock knew that name; her mother had gone to Cline for fertility treatments before she was born. Had this person somehow gotten her mother’s medical history?
Her mom said not to worry. So Woock, who is 33 and lives just outside Indianapolis, flew to the West Coast for her vacation. She got a couple more messages from other supposed half siblings while she was away. Their persistence was strange. But then her phone broke, and she spent the next week and a half outdoors in Seattle and Vancouver, blissfully disconnected.
Unwritten rules underlie all of elite-university life—and students who don’t come from a wealthy background have a hard time navigating them.
Last Tuesday, the Justice Department charged 50 people with involvement in an elaborate scheme to purchase spots in some of the country’s top schools. The tactics described in the indictment were complex and multipronged, requiring multiple steps of deception and bribery by parents and their co-conspirators to secure their children’s admission to the schools of their choice. The plot purportedly included faking learning disabilities, using Photoshopped images to make it seem as if students played sports that they did not actually play, and pretending that students were of different ethnicities in an effort to exploit affirmative-action programs. The alleged scheme was led by a man named William Singer, who called his business venture a “side door” into college. On Tuesday, Singer pleaded guilty to all charges.
His tweetstorm over the last 72 hours suggests voters can expect many more Twitter tirades as legal and political pressures mount.
Long before he got into politics, Donald Trump relished the power and reach of his Twitter feed. And not long after he took office aides recognized the damage that unvetted tweets could inflict, with the president using them to set policy, settle scores, and steer the national conversation.
Worried about misfires, aides have implored him to use social media more sparingly. At times, they’ve given Trump menus of pre-vetted tweets from which to choose. And they’ve held what some describe as interventions in the White House residence, with friends and family encouraging him to stop tweeting and praising him on days he’s shown restraint.
The push-and-pull has played out behind the scenes for the past two years. But if the last 72 hours have shown anything, it’s that staff still hasn’t figured out how to corral his social-media habit, and that as legal and political pressures mount, Trump is likely to turn more to Twitter to vent displeasure and discredit foes.
For the parents charged in a new FBI investigation, crime was a cheaper and simpler way to get their kids into elite schools than the typical advantages wealthy applicants receive.
A coast-to-coast FBI probe alleges that a network of celebrities, business executives, and other powerful figures is at the center of a massive bribery scheme to secure admission into some of the country’s most elite colleges, according to court documents unsealed earlier today.
Among the defendants are nearly three dozen parents whom federal prosecutors are charging with conspiracy and other crimes for allegedly using hefty sums of money to get their children into schools such as Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California. Specifically, the newly unsealed court documents contend that these high-rolling parents—some of them public figures such as the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as Loughlin’s husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli—paid hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars per child to a fixer who would then use that money to allegedly bribe certain college officials or other conspirators to help secure the child’s admission.
Her relationship shows all the typical signs of emotional manipulation and physical harm, but she refuses to admit that there’s a problem.
My best friend is currently in a romantic and sexual relationship with a 50-year-old professor at our university. I'm extremely worried, since I suspect the professor is emotionally manipulating her so he can sexually exploit her.
Over the summer, my friend started working as a nanny for the professor and his wife. After three days on the job, he told her that he "fell in love with her at first sight" and suggested that she was his soulmate. Since this confession, they've been dating and having sex. I was disgusted by this, but refrained from criticizing the relationship, since I thought it could lead to the end of our friendship and also figured the relationship would be short-lived given the age difference.
As the Democratic Party shifts leftward, can primary voters look past the candidate’s fiscal responsibility?
Beto O’Rourke has been doing a lot of apologizing since entering the race for the Democratic presidential nomination just days ago. Among other things, the former Texas congressman has expressed regret for having made light of his negligent parenting, for the extent to which he had benefited from “white privilege,” and for having penned a gruesome murder story as a teenager. Given the mood of the Democratic Party’s activist base, however, I suspect all these will be considered venial sins in comparison to the fact that he once flirted with entitlement reform.
A long-overdue excavation of the book that Hitler called his “bible,” and the man who wrote it
Robert Bowers wantedeveryone to know why he did it.
“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” he posted on the social-media network Gab shortly before allegedly entering the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27 and gunning down 11 worshippers. He “wanted all Jews to die,” he declared while he was being treated for his wounds. Invoking the specter of white Americans facing “genocide,” he singled out HIAS, a Jewish American refugee-support group, and accused it of bringing “invaders in that kill our people.” Then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announcing that Bowers would face federal charges, was unequivocal in his condemnation: “These alleged crimes are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation.”
Months after firing the Guardians of the Galaxy director over past offensive tweets, Disney reversed its decision.
When Disney fired James Gunn last July, it seemed like an object lesson of that ever-relevant and oft-repeated internet maxim: Never tweet. Gunn, the director of Marvel’s popular Guardians of the Galaxy movies, had joined Twitter in 2008 when it was a little-scrutinized sounding board for half-baked jokes and unprintable thoughts. He had also long worked in the transgressive world of Troma Entertainment, a genre-movie company that specializes in churning out cheap, self-aware trash. As a result, Gunn’s Twitter feed was littered with tasteless, offensive material—all of it years old. When several right-wing online figures unearthed some of the worst tweets and began circulating them, Disney quickly cut ties with the filmmaker.
His “Medicare for all” plan is the best known—and the most politically impractical.
Whether they’re running for president or just hoping to hold on to their seats, Democratic lawmakers face growing pressure to endorse one of Bernie Sanders’s signature causes. “Doc, they keep coming—pressing me to sign onto Medicare for all,” a somewhat hesitant and confused congressman told me recently. “Should I?”
“It all depends what you mean by ‘Medicare for all,’” I said. He was hoping for a better answer than I had. About 70 percent of Americans say they support the idea—under which Medicare, the federal program that now provides health coverage for about 60 million seniors and disabled individuals, would expand to cover millions more people.
Yet Medicare for all is a messy concept. At least four different approaches to health reform could truthfully carry the Medicare for all label. Sanders’s plan is the best known, but it’s also the most politically impractical. It ignores the brutal history of repeated defeats for all Democratic health-reform proposals that try to abolish private health insurers.