Sunday, July 21, 2013

Playing with Pictures

I originally posted the following on my now extinguished Woodpress blog in
August 2011, and used the story in my Fall 2011 AI class as an example of problem solving that we'd eventually like computers to do.


During a driving tour of the Midwest in July that Pat and I made in our new Honda Fit, I was continually posting pictures on Facebook in a vacation album. Less than midway through I exhausted the 200 picture limit per album and was tempted to start new albums, one for each day or two, but a 200 picture limit is plenty I thought, and I liked the idea of using the constraint to prune out all but my favorites and pictures that were not thematically redundant; I also constrained myself to keep those already receiving a thumbs up or comment, etc.  After the trip I was invited onto Google+ by Russ and Mary Lou, and Google (Picasa) has no album limit that I can tell, so there are 750+ pictures there!  ( ) Talk about a lack of discipline.

A very cool functionality is that I can locate these pictures on Google maps, using any of the modalities – maps, satellite view, street view, or Earth.  In locations with sufficient resolution I could place the photo right on the spot I was standing when I took the picture, though in some cases there appears to be some drift from the location I placed it when I look back. There didn’t appear to be a way to specify orientation of the photo – what direction I was facing when I took it, but I am guessing someone will do that in the near future. In any case, it’s very cool.

Since I was placing the pictures a couple of weeks after the trip, there were different heuristics I used to place them – sometimes it was straightforward – a particular highway junction, or something otherwise named like a school or a cemetery or a mountain peak on Google maps. The order in which pictures were taken offered some constraints, since having located one picture narrowed the possible locations for the next, but frankly, I have a good memory for such things as events and sequences. In one case though, even with some known restricted area stemming from sequencing information, I was trying to locate a picture in the tiny town of Scribner, Nebraska, but I saw no way to identify the precise location of a picture I had taken of an old church or the like, with a steeple (attached below). I was in the satellite view, maximum resolution, struggling to see some identifying visual cues, but the steeple itself was impossible to make out from a direct overhead view, …, and then I saw the SHADOW of the steeple in the satellite image !!! Amazing!! I’m attaching that image to this note. That was just neat.

I had so much fun that I created a couple of other albums on Picasa. One of these was from my trip to Copenhagen in 2009, while at NSF ( ; I had taken a redeye from Dulles in DC to Copenhagen, arriving about 7 or 8 AM the day BEFORE the conference would start in a port city some ways away. I never sleep on planes, not even redeye flights, so I was pretty trashed when I arrived, but how often do you I go to Copenhagen! (OK, I’d been there is 2008 as well). So before taking the train to the Helsingor, I walked around Copenhagen. Even though it had been more than two years previously, I remembered the sequence well and was able to place the pictures in the same way I had for our recent vacation, including confirming the exact location of a picture of a statue from its shadow! Statue and shadow attached.

What was even more striking in this case than our recent vacation was the affect of reliving that walk as I placed the pictures – I saw the images; remembered roughly the walking sequence, using cues from Google views to fill in a few gaps and otherwise reduce uncertainties. A good friend had died not long before that trip, and that had been on my mind during the stroll of Copenhagen, and a hint of that emotion in the form of reflection came back.

I had so much fun doing the picture placement that I’m trying to think about how to formalize the activity as a project for my artificial intelligence class this coming semester. There is also a good human-computer interface problem here – in many cases I could only approximately place the pictures (e.g., highway shots on our driving vacation) and representing the variable uncertainty associated with physical location would be desirable.

I am writing this note on a whim – I watched the last installment of Ken Burns’ National Parks, and was remembering my Boy Scout days of backpacking through places like Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite and Mt Whitney in Sequoia National Park. I’ve got some great stories of the Colorado river trip and bears raiding our campground in Yosemite, but I think my favorite trip was Kings Canyon, which probably started outside Mammoth, but in any case, we hiked among some incredible lakes, most above timberline: Thousand islands, Emerald, Ruby, Garnet and Shadow lakes. There is nothing like hiking above timberline along a ridge when a wind hits your back -- really an amazing feeling.

My crispest memories are probably of Garnet Lake – it was amazing when I was a boy scout, and I returned in graduate school with friends Rogers and Pete. In any case, I looked for some pictures on the Web and found these: . And many others of course. Scroll down – there are some very nice pictures here and I remember more than a few scenes – I could point out the little island in Garnet Lake I swam too and almost died (joking, sort of) – it was freezing! The places we cooked and washed. And I can probably place some of the pictures on the trail map.

This recent play with pictures suggests some possibilities with immersion into virtual worlds – the technology is pretty primitive now, but because its piggy backing on memory of real experience, the affect is quite powerful.

Scribner Steeple (above)
Scribner Google Map image, with shadow! (below)

Copenhagen Statue (above)
Copenhagen Google Map image, with shadow! (below)

1 comment:

  1. Very informative and well written post! Quite interesting and nice topic chosen for the post.

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