Protect Photos

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Protect Those Digital Memories. The goal of this article is to offer some photo and video preservation tips. With new photographic memories almost exclusively being created in digital formats these days, it’s important to properly manage these important files so that you, and future generations, are able to enjoy your cherished digital memories instead of lamenting their loss.

Step 1

The first step is to pull together your digital photo and video files. If you are like most people, these files are probably not very well organized. This can make building the knowledge base of what you have and where it is located a daunting task. However, it will be time well spent as this represents the first step in the process toward claiming your title as “ruler” of your digital media.

Along with digital photos, you probably have hard copy photos. These may be stored in closets, loose in a box, or organized in photo albums. I would suggest that you scan these photos to convert them to a digital format. The benefits of digital are many, with easy sharing among friends and family and the ability to effortlessly make backup copies among two of the most significant. Scanning can be accomplished with inexpensive home scanners or you can send your photos to a third-party service provider.

It is not uncommon for your digital media to be spread across different types of physical media including VHS, 8mm, and CD to name a few. It is a good idea to buy a storage device and start pooling copies of the originals in one place. There are services that will convert older media types to current media. If you are technically savvy, you can take advantage of one of the many utilities available that will perform the job for you. The goal is to gather your new digital media pool onto one computer or storage device. If your computer does not have enough capacity, another option is to employ USB disk drives with 1 to 2 terabyte (TB) capacity (equal to 1,000 to 2,000 gigabytes). These are readily available for approximately $100 from online retailers.

Step 2

Once your digital photos and videos are all identified, scanned and assembled in one location, it’s time to select one digital format for photos and another for video. There are really two decisions to be made regarding the format of choice – the logical format and the physical format. The logical format chosen could, for example, be JPEG for digital photos and AVI for digital video. By standardizing the logical format you can also standardize the tools required for managing that media. The choice of logical format should be reviewed every five years or so to ensure that the format is still current and valid.

The physical format really comes down to two choices – hard drives or optical media. Magnetic media (such as digital cartridges or cassettes) for the consumer market has virtually disappeared as an option, which presents a classic example of the need to periodically migrate data from older physical media formats to newer formats. Optical media has a longer lifespan, but has much smaller storage capacities. Hard drives have large capacity, but because they contain moving parts, they are subject to mechanical failure over time. My recommendation is to use hard drives and back them up regularly to another local drive and to an offsite location.

Step 3

Once your media is determined, the next step is to apply some organization to the photos and video files. It’s not imperative that your photos be organized, although it makes finding specific photos for special events like a birthday, important anniversary, or even for a funeral presentation infinitely easier and less time-consuming.

My recommendation is to use a tool that applies face recognition technology to index photos (and video) by the people included in the photos/videos. It’s also helpful if the software enables you to organize by event, place and keywords, although the most useful index that you will use time and time again, is by person. Possible utilities you can use for this step include: Fotobounce, Picasa and iPhoto.

Step 4

It is important that you have reliable backups of your media. At a minimum, you want to ensure your photo/video library is able to survive the following possible events:

  • Power failure – Power disruptions can cause corruption of data on hard disk storage devices. Battery backup devices are extremely affordable and help maintain clean and continuous power to your computer and storage units.
  • Human error – Nobody’s perfect. This is particularly applicable when it comes to using computers. Human error accounts for a significant percentage of data loss. Because of this, it’s smart to have a second copy of your data at all times. Make copies of your data before and after major changes. If you can store everything on a 1 TB storage device, buy a second one and keep a backup copy on that device.
  • Theft, Fire, or Flood – Natural disasters can also impact the integrity of your media files. To protect against these calamities, send a copy of your data to an offsite location. This can be at a friend’s home, a backup facility, or an Internet-based backup service. Many inexpensive services exist, especially affordable when you consider the value of your data. If you choose an Internet service, keep in mind that the initial backup may take awhile. But, subsequent backups are usually completed in significantly less time.

Step 5

As you add new photos and video, be sure to store them in your storage pool. Index the photos on a regular basis and make sure everything is backed up regularly as part of your digital photo/video preservation process.

By following these steps you can enjoy your digital family memories throughout your lifetime and for generations to come.

Author: Ray Ganong, President, Applied Recognition Inc.

Posted in History, Photos

A Face Could Launch a Thousand Tags

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Face Recognition Data – should you be concerned? Face recognition has been a hot topic lately with some wide-ranging concerns being expressed about personal privacy. Before we can properly analyze and discuss the potential exposure face recognition poses to our precious privacy, let’s review how face recognition works.

A digital image consists of pixels (dots) of color information. The more pixels in a digital image, the higher the resolution of the image. Camera resolutions are marketed in megapixels. Most cameras today have at least 10 megapixel resolution, which is a lot of pixels. Higher resolution means an image will likely look better. The reason I say “likely” is that a high-resolution image will still, unfortunately, not correct bad photography. Low lighting, poor focus and bad perspective will not be fixed with an expensive camera! Having said that, the same image taken with both a low-resolution and high-resolution camera will appear sharper on screen and in print from the high-resolution camera.

Ok, so we have all these pixels at our fingertips. Now, there are two steps to face recognition. Step one is to actually find a face on the image. This is called face detection. Digital cameras have been using face detection technology for a couple of years. It helps you focus on the people in the photo (as opposed to an item in the background, which can really spoil a nice photo opportunity!). Face detection involves the analysis of the pixels of an image, looking for areas of the image that could potentially contain a face. Some systems look for the eyes, nose and mouth, while others look for skin color. Still other systems combine a number of these factors together to identify areas of the image that could possibly be a face. Current systems have become very accurate and don’t often make mistakes, however there is still going to be an error rate of between 1 and 10 percent depending on the method.

Faces can be identified in regions of the image as small as 20 x 20 pixels, but those faces will be grainy and the subsequent recognition results will not be very good. What this means is that, with a high-resolution photo, a system can detect small faces in the background of the image and actually produce some meaningful recognition results.

Another significant factor in accuracy is whether the person is facing the camera and whether the image contains a full or partial profile of the face. If the system can only see half the face then only half the information is available for recognition purposes. Some systems use a mirror approach to recreate the other half of the face to enable a proper face signature to be created.

Okay, now we have some faces identified within the images. Using various algorithms beyond the scope of this article, the software will develop what is known as the “face signature” for each of the detected faces. The signature can be a single number or a sequence of numbers and is stored in a database, along with a pointer that relates to the specific face region detected within that image. Note that the signatures generated are not perfect. Face pose, lighting conditions, color settings, and focus variations make it a non-perfect science.

The system continues through every face on that image, and then every other digital image that you make available to the system. When completed, the system has this database containing your images, faces and signatures.

Now, step two begins – the face recognition step. Initially, no faces are “known” in your database. The system “knows” a person only when you identify that a specific face and signature belongs to that person. This is accomplished via a process called tagging. The “known” signature can now be compared with all of the other unknown faces in the database. There are mathematical ways to compare the signature of one face to another. These formulas come up with a “likelihood” number that shows how close an unknown face is to a known face. If that “likelihood” number is high enough then the face becomes a suggested match for that person. There is always a “best match” of one face to any other face in the system. It may not be correct, but based on the way the system works and how the data is provided, it is the system’s “best guess”.

How is this information used? Here are just a few examples:

  • With your own digital photo images, the face recognition data is used to help you tag your photos faster.
  • Law enforcement officials use face recognition to quickly match photos of suspects with photos of known criminals.
  • Casinos use face recognition to identify undesirables who enter the casino, and to identify people with gambling problems who are registered with special casino-sponsored support programs.

In the case of your own digital images, if you didn’t use a software tool, the alternative would be to view each photo and attach a name to each face one at a time. While it’s true that your brain does this type of analysis very quickly, the problem with the brain is that the input system (your eyes) is slow when you are tasked with scanning thousands of pictures. After a few hours of this type of work, the typical person requires a rest, change of scenery, or other interruption. And it’s an undeniable fact that “human computer” accuracy falls off in direct relationship to boredom with the task. Needless to say, this is EXTREMELY time consuming and tedious work unless you employ face recognition technology to speed the process.

Once your photos are tagged, your ability to quickly access the photos and share them with friends and family becomes much better. As a result, you can spend more time enjoying your photos versus managing them. Let’s face it, without this sort of tool, very few people ever get around to actively organizing and managing their ever-growing collection of digital photos.

So the $64,000 question is, “should you be concerned if public websites are using face recognition methods to find your face in other photos?”

Face recognition is a valuable tool for your own personal use on your own computer, but we believe there are potential abuses of your privacy if a public website or social network starts collecting and processing face recognition data.

Here’s a quick example. A friend uploads an embarrassing photo of you at a party via a popular social broadcasting service. This photo becomes publicly available on that service, although there is no name attached to the photo. Let’s assume a popular social network you belong to has your face signature data. Another friend sees the photo and decides to upload it to the social network. As the social network scans its system for new photos, it notices this photo and scans it, looking for known faces that are in that friend’s network. Voila! Your face is found and you are automatically tagged in the photo, which may be public on the friend’s social network profile. If so, that photo is now available for the world to see – and it has your name on it.

That scenario is fairly mundane compared to the application of this data for not-so-friendly purposes. In a nutshell, should you be concerned about the application of face recognition data on public networks? When you consider the long-term implication of third-parties “tagging” photos with your name where they are on public display, possibly without your knowledge and out of your control, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

In order to protect yourself, be aware of all the security and privacy settings on the social networks you participate in, and be diligent about monitoring the public photos containing your mug that are made available to the public via the Interweb. Just as technological advances, such as online banking and shopping have made it easier to conduct day-to-day tasks, so too has face recognition. However, with the increase in online banking and shopping, there has also been a rise in identity theft incidents. Likewise, automated face recognition tagging will generate privacy concerns for many. Monitoring the online presence of photos containing your image will become no different than monitoring your credit rating to protect your financial standing – only now you’ll also be trying to protect your reputation and character. And THAT is something to be concerned about.

Author: Ray Ganong, President, Applied Recognition Inc.

Posted in Face Recognition, Privacy, Sharing

Fun with Tagging

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One of the great features of Fotobounce is the ability to quickly tag the people in your photos. And the benefit of tagging all your photos with the people in them is simple – ease of access. So when you need all the photos of a specific person or a group of people you will be able to have them at your fingertips immediately.

We try to make the task of tagging as fun as possible, but it still going to require some effort. There are two main styles of tagging; a) tag people using the photo viewer and b) tag people by going through unidentified face thumbnails. Both are effective and you may want to tag both ways to see which method you like better. For the full article click on the link below:

Suggested Methods for Tagging People

Posted in Face Recognition, Photos, Tagging

Family History

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The importance of preserving your family history. Every family possesses its unique story. Often, a family’s history becomes lost or forgotten as each generation passes away – and may never have been documented. Preserving family history can be a daunting task to be sure; however, with the proliferation of the Internet and multi-media, it’s never been easier to fill in the missing pieces of your family’s past.

This article provides some guidelines for collecting and organizing a family history using multiple types of media. What you may find most challenging isn’t the task itself, but setting aside the time to sit down with your elderly relatives to chronicle their recollections. Even the smallest amount of effort – an hour over coffee, for example – will generate some meaningful results that will keep you motivated to continue and expand the project.

I’ll begin with a link to an excellent article (you can also download the article in PDF and Word from this link) that provides a framework for discussion and a questionnaire template. These tools will be especially helpful in guiding your discussion as you glean information from your family members about the past. The link is here: Family History Questionnaire. Of course, there are other questionnaires available. This is just one example that I found particularly thorough.

This brings me to my journey to further develop the story of my family. Unfortunately, I was too young to discuss the history of the family with my grandparents before they passed away. Luckily, I had spent time with my father over the years, recording his narration of some of our family movies that were on Super 8′s. My father has since passed on and the result of my efforts is invaluable to me today, most especially when I watch these movies and listen to his voice recount these special memories.

Telling Your Family Story with Multi-Media

It is my father who actually gave me the idea to do this. He had interviewed his mother about her memories of growing up on farms in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada. He preserved these recollections on audio tape. In 1970, my father also resurrected an old family tree and brought it up to date. As this was well before people had immediate access to data from the Internet, you can imagine the amount of effort involved in putting together this family tree. It took seven years of determined persistence before he had a finished product but the value of his efforts to our family is invaluable.

In our own small way, my sister and I have continued his work with video interviews of our mother, aunt and uncle. We used a relatively short questionnaire to guide our conversations, but the link mentioned above has a very good questionnaire that you can utilize. These discussions yielded some familiar stories laced with some new details, as well as quite a bit of humor and yes, some thoughtful reflections.

There are many audio recording tools these days. At the time of our recordings, my sister and I found a simple video camera to be our best option. Nowadays, if you have an iPhone or Android phone, they have built-in recording tools. There are also free audio editors to splice them together. If you don’t feel that adventurous, go “old school” and record the history in hand-written form or on the computer.

Another way to complement the written history is to gather together photos from your parents, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives. Scan them into your computer or send them away to several reputable scanning firms who will digitize the photos for you and return them conveniently on a DVD. You will then have to attach dates to the individual photos, since you won’t have a built-in camera date for the scanned photos. The exact day isn’t important. Having the month and year attached to the photo will help significantly.

You could further have your relatives narrate their memories about the photos. A little tip…If you narrate separately from the photos, using a smartphone for example, be sure to number each photo and then mention the number before talking about it. This is extremely helpful since it will provide a reference point to sync up the audio file.

I hope this article inspires you to book a coffee date with your mother, grandfather or other elder relatives today as you get started recording your family history. The point is to start small, work incrementally, always have fun, and take advantage of today’s technology to record the stories that are housed in the memory banks of your eldest family members. I assure you that your efforts will be cherished for generations to come.

Author: Ray Ganong, President, Applied Recognition Inc.

Posted in Family, History, Photos

Sharing Tips

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Share and share alike? Not when it comes to sharing photos! The goal of this article is to stimulate some thinking about why and how you share your digital photos. As has been seen numerous times in the U.S. political arena, your photo-sharing decisions can critically affect your career, your friendships, and your family relationships. If you exercise particularly poor judgment, you might even risk being permanently snubbed from any or all of the above. In the following paragraphs we examine the different types of photos and considerations for sharing them.

A key question to ask yourself is, “would your mother appreciate or enjoy the photo?” This is a good barometer for determining whether a photo should be shared at all! A second question is, “would your employer take issue with this photo?” If the answer to the first is NO, or the answer to the second is YES, it’s a safe bet that your interests as far as maintaining positive family relations and remaining gainfully employed are best served keeping this photo as private as possible. This particular photo may be best kept in your private library and not shared at all. If you feel it is necessary to share, then you could email the photo to a select group of friends. The cautionary note is that you need a high level of trust in these friends that they will not put the photos out on the public web-waves. Again, how often do we have to see examples of people getting into big trouble because they let the wrong photo make its way into the public domain (again, think U.S. politicians…). You would hate to lose a good friend, family relationship or your job over a silly photo.

Another question to consider is whether the photos include people or are they artistic in nature, such as a “sunset over beach” photo. Artistic shots lend themselves more readily to a wide public forum, unless of course you are worried about people stealing your shots for other purposes. It is important to review the terms and conditions for sharing photos when uploading to public sites. You’ll want to be aware of how they handle ownership and copyright. When you upload photos to some sites, you forego any rights you have to the photo. In some cases you explicitly give them the right to use the photo for their own purposes.

Another factor to be considered in this age of online photo-sharing, is whether or not your “people” shots should include name tags on the faces? Generally, the answer would be yes. If you are sharing the photos privately with friends and family, it is more enjoyable for them to be able to see the names of subjects in the photo (or at least have the option to see the names). Tags are also helpful for automating the organization of your photos with certain photo management software applications.

Another consideration is photo resolution. How important is the resolution of the shared photo? If the photo is a “throw away” and you want to share quickly, a low-resolution copy is good enough. There are a number of relatively new mobile photo-sharing services available for this type of quick-sharing task. If you are sharing via email, you will definitely want to lower the resolution, since email systems typically limit the size of attachments. If your goal is to share you photo, yet maintain its high resolution – very important if the recipient would like to use that photo for quality output like a poster, larger prints, glossy photo books, etc. – you will want to use software such as Fotobounce that allows for peer-to-peer transfers of full-resolution photos. There are also some “paid” photo-sharing services that allow you to upload high-resolution photos. The type of photos you find on large social networks have typically been reduced in resolution and would not serve any purpose other than viewing on the mobile or desktop computer screen.

This leads us to another important photo-sharing consideration. Do you plan on keeping the photo(s)? If the photo has short- or long-term importance, you need to put the photo into a desktop photo organizer such as Fotobounce, iPhoto or Picasa. It is important to index important photos as quickly as possible into an album and add any special captions or tags. We strongly suggest that you use the face recognition feature of these software tools to assign “tags.” Your photo library becomes infinitely more enjoyable and entertaining when you can immediately locate photos of individuals and/or groups of people using these tags.

Do you want friends and family to have their own copy of the photo? This serves two purposes: 1. they will have their own full-resolution copy and; 2. it will act as a backup for your photos – especially important if you have not been practicing proper computer etiquette and taking regular backups of your computer’s data. Fotobounce allows you to push or pull photos to and from your friends and family members.

Finally, will you be viewing the photos on a desktop computer, tablet or mobile device? If you are viewing photos remotely, you have several options. You can upload photos to a public website where they are potentially exposed to unintended viewers, or you can sync your mobile device with the photos and carry them around, or you can use Fotobounce Viewer to securely browse your photos remotely. The Fotobounce Viewer connects to your desktop Fotobounce library via bank-level encryption to enable secure remote browsing from various mobile devices.

One of the key reasons we take photos in the first place, is to capture a moment we want to remember and share with others. We certainly aren’t promoting that you stop connecting with friends and family through photo sharing, we are encouraging you to do so wisely and we hope we’ve provided some helpful information as you navigate these tricky photo-sharing waters. At the least, perhaps we’ve helped you steer clear of potential reputation and relationship-damaging photo faux pas.

Author: Ray Ganong, President, Applied Recognition Inc.

Posted in Photos, Privacy, Sharing