Saturday, December 12, 2009

Who Is That?

A million down, 18,841 to go.

I'm working on a kind of fun but very time consuming project at home, a consequence of changing computers a few weeks ago. I had to download Picasa 3 again, and start over nearly from scratch on the program's primary function: cataloging every image file on every hard drive it can find, as well as on your Picasa web albums.

The most interesting but troublesome Picasa 3 does, if you let it and help it along, is catalog and tag every face it can find in all those photos, coordinating these identifications with your Picasa web albums (where Blogger images are stored) and even your Google contacts list. Did I mention this is a Google product? Anyway, it seems to me a worthwhile thing to do, because it automates the tagging process quite a bit, making it easier to find pictures of specific people. It also can be a memory jogger. You may know now who that co-worker is that you snapped at the Christmas party in 2005, but will you remember his name five years and three jobs later? How about the actor who played the albino guy in that one episode of Doctor Who? Or the kids in your second grade class photo? If you track the answer down now, that face is identified forever.

Do I know you?

The program sorts all the people into albums as it goes, a process that can take days if you have (as I do) multiple copies stored on various drives of practically every digital photo you've ever taken. It's fun and kind of amazing to see the variety of faces in the unidentified group, the actor from desktop wallpaper or that DVD I photographed surrounded by people I vaguely recognize from church, or else don't remember photographing at all.

But I've never met any of these people!

Some are vague blurs or too dark to bother with (half of these are unedited files), but most of the faces look like interesting people having a good time, judging from all those smiles. Doubleclick on a stranger and she might turn out to be a face in a crowd at Disneyland, or a kid in the same first communion ceremony as my godson. More disquieting are the faces I know but can't recall the names instantly, whether they starred in Harry Potter movies or were in some of my classes from first grade through high school.

Also potentially troubling are the sheer numbers of files it finds of each photographic subject, including many copies of the same basic image due to unedited files, backups and pictures of pictures. I somehow have more photos of myself (838) than anyone else. #2, I believe, is David Tennant, with 502 images and counting. My beloved husband, who doesn't like me to post his photo, has 159 images. But I have more pictures of Barbie's sister Skipper (94) than of my brother Steve (20). To be fair, though, I see Skipper far more often. There are several Skippers in our den, and Steve has only been to Arizona once.

In some ways the software is very smart about this facial recognition stuff. Somehow it usually gets Ringo Starr and Leonard Nimoy right in photos taken years or even decades apart. Other times, though, it can be completely idiotic, misinterpreting a railing or a pattern of dots as a face. Jolly Rogers, troll dolls, the picture on the mouse pad in the picture of your office, the actor on the spine of the video box on the shelf behind your husband...all these and more are fair game to Picasa. "Who is this person?" it wants to know. "Add a name." Sometimes it makes a wild guess, and the results can be hilarious. Some examples I've found:

Also David Tennant and a guy from church!
  • David Tennant, a black guy with dreads and at least one woman identified as my bald, white, male character Fayubi
  • My male high school social studies teacher as my Aunt Flora
  • Reverend Seth Polley as Wendy Darling (Peter Pan's friend, as seen on the dark ride)
  • Emmet Smith (from a magazine cover) as Mattel's Barbie.
There were even odder examples, confusing me, David Tennant, Barack Obama and others with each other; but I don't quite remember the specifics. There were a lot of them.

I'm well on my way though the project now; the scanning is finished and I only have 18,458 unnamed people left. Yes, the number went up since I wrote the opening paragraph of this entry, due to finding several blurry strangers identified as Scott Bakula or a Mavarin drawing. But I'm getting there.

Next time: the Weekend Assignment!



barrettmanor said...

Emmett Smith as Barbie? Oh, dear. I just lost it.

fdtate said...

I did this a while back, but I didn't try to identify every single face that it found -- and it found a bunch of them. I mostly stuck to identifying family members and close friends.

I thought it did a pretty good job of figuring out who most of the people were after I identified them in a few pics, but it did hit a few glitches. It especially had a hard time if the person was wearing sunglasses, grew some facial hair, or was cheek to cheek with another person.

Still it was a long process, but it was worth it in making it easy to find all the pictures that contain a certain person.