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.
Feeling out of step with the mores of contemporary life, members of a conservative-Catholic group have built a thriving community in rural Kansas. Could their flight from mainstream society be a harbinger for the nation?
Half an hour down the highway from Topeka, Kansas, not far from the geographic center of the United States, sits the town of St. Marys. Like many towns in the region, it is small, quiet, and conservative. Unlike many towns in the region, it is growing. As waves of young people have abandoned the Great Plains in search of economic opportunity, St. Marys has managed to attract families from across the nation. The newcomers have made the radical choice to uproot their lives in pursuit of an ideological sanctuary, a place where they can raise their children according to values no longer common in mainstream America.
American conservatives who find themselves identifying with Putin’s regime refuse to see the country for what it actually is.
Sherwood Eddy was a prominent American missionary as well as that now rare thing, a Christian socialist. In the 1920s and ’30s, he made more than a dozen trips to the Soviet Union. He was not blind to the problems of the U.S.S.R., but he also found much to like. In place of squabbling, corrupt democratic politicians, he wrote in one of his books on the country, “Stalin rules … by his sagacity, his honesty, his rugged courage, his indomitable will and titanic energy.” Instead of the greed he found so pervasive in America, Russians seemed to him to be working for the joy of working.
Above all, though, he thought he had found in Russia something that his own individualistic society lacked: a “unified philosophy of life.” In Russia, he wrote, “all life is focused in a central purpose. It is directed to a single high end and energized by such powerful and glowing motivation that life seems to have supreme significance.”
If the debate about structural racism is highly complicated, the moral truth about the anti-Semitic shooting is nevertheless straightforward.
Four people were murdered on Tuesday, and two assailants killed, in an anti-Semitic attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey. It was one of the deadliest attacks against Jews on American soil in the history of the United States; if the perpetrators had succeeded in detonating a pipe bomb they had built, the carnage could have been even worse. And yet the shooting attracted remarkably little attention at first and even now barely seems to be penetrating the national conscience.
Perhaps that’s because, in the House of Representatives, the impeachment articles against President Donald Trump are nearing a vote. Or because William Barr, the attorney general, has launched a set of broadsides against the FBI. Or perhaps the relative silence about the Jersey City massacre is due to the fact that it does not fit a neat political narrative.
How retailers hide the costs of delivery—and why we’re such suckers for their ploys
It was a pair of feather earrings that helped Ann Miceli get out from underneath strangers’ cars. For years, Miceli had worked as an auto mechanic and picked up shifts in her spare time at Indianapolis restaurants. One day, she came across those earrings, and “it kind of sparked something.” Miceli bought a pair, and then some supplies to make her own. She listed some of her creations in a shop on Etsy and named it PrettyVagrant.
That was in 2011. In the intervening years, Miceli has sold nearly 30,000 of her handmade earrings and feather hair extensions, all of which she assembles by hand at home. After a couple of years, Miceli quit her job as a mechanic. Etsy “has given me the opportunity to work from home and watch my grandkids,” she told me. Everything was humming along nicely until last summer, when the site began implementing a new search algorithm that gives priority to sellers who guarantee free shipping. Those who charged even a few dollars, like Miceli, were removed from their spots on the first page of search results. In August, Miceli’s revenue was down 40 percent from the previous year—a huge dip that she blames on the free-shipping finagling.
Women put up with a lot at the office. At least grant us elastic waistbands.
I don’t remember what specific combo of frustration and busyness led me to wear leggings to the office one day recently, but I do remember it felt magical. With nothing but a stretchy band and Nulu(™) fabric holding me in, I felt freer, like I was dancing through my duties, rather than trudging through them encased in polyester and wool. My computer seemed to run more quickly; my sources were more responsive; the PR people were less angry.
Normally, I only wear leggings in the culturally appropriate setting of Clarendon, the Washington, D.C., suburb where I live. Whenever I see adult humans out and about, they are wearing leggings. Their sweat has been wicked away. Their barre-weary haunches have been compressed by elite performance mesh. Leisurely, but athletic: This is how Clarendonians live.
A deadly shooting at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey is the latest manifestation of anti-Semitic violence that doesn’t fit in a neat, ideological box.
Jews have once again been murdered, and their children will have to live with the knowledge of that violence. This is the thought that has been haunting Rabbi David Niederman, a leader of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community: How will he and others explain that two shooters apparently targeted a kosher grocery store run by members of his community in Jersey City, New Jersey, yesterday? “How long,” Niederman asked at a press conference hosted by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today, “are these children going to live with their scars?”
In recent months, America has faced nearly nonstop reports of anti-Semitism in all forms. A swastika scrawled on the outside of a synagogue. A string of assaults against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. Jewish students pushed out of progressive circles on campuses because of their presumed views on Israel. Slurs shouted at Jews out shopping during a measles outbreak. Especially in the realm of politics, fear is extremely close to the surface: Any statement or action from the Trump administration related to Jews immediately conjures intense backlash from progressives, whether or not it’s based on facts.
The viruses that Bondy-Denomy studies at the University of California at San Francisco don’t bother humans. Known as phages, they infect and kill bacteria instead. Bacteria can defend themselves against these assaults. They can recognize the genes of the phages that threaten them, and deploy scissorlike enzymes to slice up those genes and disable the viruses. This defense system is known as CRISPR. Billions of years before humans discovered it and used it as a tool for editing DNA, bacteria were using CRISPR to fight off phages.
But phages have their own countermeasures. In 2012, Bondy-Denomy discovered that some of these viruses are resistant to CRISPR, because they have proteins that stick to those scissorlike enzymes and blunt them. A bacterium can mount its CRISPR defense, but ultimately the virus can still force itself in and triumph. This suggested that bacteria and phages are likely locked in an arms race. The former evolve new kinds of scissor enzymes, and the latter evolve new ways of disabling them. Intrigued, Bondy-Denomy started searching for more CRISPR-resistant phages.
As a diamond dealer in the new film Uncut Gems, the actor defies his image and gives his best performance yet.
Uncut Gems begins in the bowels of an Ethiopian diamond mine, a hellish, unforgiving environment where miners’ fingers have literally been worked to the bone. The camera lingers on those wounds, and the cries of the injured men, before zooming in on the ugly oblong treasure they’ve unearthed: a gnarled rock studded with black opals that dazzles on closer look. As the camera closes in, the sparkly image morphs into the depths of the mine and then into an actual human bowel—the footage of a colonoscopy being undergone by the opals’ future owner, Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler). That’s the Uncut Gems experience: horrifying, transfixing, and ultimately, to use Tony Kushner’s immortal phrasing, intestinal.
Five years ago, the flight vanished into the Indian Ocean. Officials on land know more about why than they dare to say.
1. The Disappearance
At 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. Fariq Hamid, the first officer, was flying the airplane. He was 27 years old. This was a training flight for him, the last one; he would soon be fully certified. His trainer was the pilot in command, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who at 53 was one of the most senior captains at Malaysia Airlines. In Malaysian style, he was known by his first name, Zaharie. He was married and had three adult children. He lived in a gated development. He owned two houses. In his first house he had installed an elaborate Microsoft flight simulator.
And Democrats’ newly announced support for President Trump’s trade deal isn’t helping.
In theory, progressives should be happy right now. After years of hesitation and deliberation, House Democrats are finally going to impeach Donald Trump, a man many liberals regard as the most dangerous president to ever occupy the Oval Office.
But as the House moves closer to approving two articles of impeachment against him—both concerning the president’s interactions with Ukraine—progressive activists and organizers have felt deflated instead. They had been advocating for Democrats to levy a much broader set of charges to paint a thorough portrait of the president’s wrongdoing, not the discreet list the House Judiciary Committee revealed on Tuesday. Making matters worse, they told me, House Democratic leaders’ near-simultaneous announcement of their support for Trump’s new trade deal diluted the significance of the moment, giving Trump and Republicans a key win on a day that should have been focused entirely on Democrats’ denunciation of the president.