Thursday, January 29, 2009

Faces in the crowd

Apple just release iPhoto, its standard photo library, and I can testify that the line wasn’t out the door; the mad rush these days are for handheld devices not the programs that get their contents. The nose pierced clerk who slimness resembled that of an iPhone reassured me that I was the first to get one, She had the bubbly charm of the phone - elegance but brimming self awareness on the boundary of narcism. I while I think she too would handle mutli touch well, as I looked around the store I realized that she is younger than the mac which just turned 25.

The fear that I, even older than the Apple ][ , was exasperated when I went home to use iPhoto for the first time. One of its two main features (the other geo tagging) is that it has face recognition. The program goes through your existing photo library and tries to sort the faces it finds into certain individuals.

There is a theory of animation that it is good that pictures are cartoonish - almost real and we get bothered that it isn’t right, but as an abstraction we are quite fine in knowing that it is a representation - and iPhoto’s face recognition has that creepy almost human feel to it. Using it I could help wonder what iPhoto was thinking as it wandered through my pictures - really he should go to more places than Hawaii? Does he really need to exercise that much? He keeps putting his arm around different girls but they keep looking away? I like to think that iPhoto shares my Woody Allen neurosis.

It certainly was good up to a point - my father gray with glasses was identified correctly in almost every photograph - but the errors were far more fascinating. iPhoto was determined that the larger version of myself was the exact same person as the larger version of my brother; Fat Arthur and Fat Edward were really the same desperately our of shape individuals. it was able to separate the thinner versions of ourselves, but I think it took a small joy in grouping our larger selves. (Somehow I hear it muttering “he should have used a wider angle lens” underneath its electronic breath in the same kind of chirping that R2D2 used when greeting Jabba the hut).

You can click on an individual photograph to say whether it is or is not the person iPhoto thinks it is, and the process becomes a wandering through your history as diets, exercise regimens, gray hair, and pot bellies ebb and flow while the program constructs the platonic you. I had the misfortune of buying a new camera during a rather heavy period and there is an awkwardness in going through all of these photos that reminded me of my college reunion and the pack of high end sorority girls who came back as well.

I was still a math/computer science major on my return which is far better professionally than it is socially. They had such beautiful faces then and even now the remaining hints of prettiness were enough for iPhoto to classify them. But I realize that I enjoy far more the collection of friends that I kept over the years and watching us go through bike rides, weddings, baby showers, and new years parties offset my own self characterization, I felt as I kept wandering through the screens that I was watching us not so much age as live.

In the end I think we are the sum of the smiles we share. And it only cost me $79.00 to have this sorted out.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


The Roman God Janus had faces on both sides of his head, a precursor to a current flight commercial and investment bankers everywhere. He did managed to get a month named after which was much better than most of his colleagues in part because while Janus must have been a disaster at heading a soccer ball the notion that years start equally by looking forwards and backwards is appealing.

The psychological start of our current year came closer to the Chinese date than the Roman one when a man raised in Hawaii by grandparents of a different pigment repeated faithfully (though at the time not accurately) the oath of the president of the united states. He has spent the last few dates unwinding the various edicts of his predecessor, a man who will be remembered more for the rubble of New York, New Orleans and Baghdad than any achievement he claimed. These edicts are mostly the low hanging fruit of common sense policy - we should give accurate medical advice, we should not torture, we can’t imprison without evidence - that while their return is warmly greeted, it is more amazing how long the bad ideas lasted.

Barack Obama will, of course, have to push into more difficult areas - medical coverage, troop withdrawal, budget management - where any answer will alienate some, but the world now is hopeful that a second age of reason will guide through these choices.

But if to invoke Janus again while one thin visionary is taking over as president another president of a small company in cupertino is taking a leave of absence. Steve Jobs is a hero of mine in the same sort of flawed way that Barry Bonds is. He defined and then redefined modern aesthetic. There are some organizations that seek to lower quality to improve replacement sales (I am looking at you Detroit), but very few that can consistently this that just work better.

I have spent a good portion of last year returning to programming on macintoshes. I fear that I have become conversationally boring sometimes base that I have read so much on only one topic. I do want to return to writing more about runs, about how while I am spending my time moving forward, I, too, need to turn my head and look backwards. It is after all January.