Don’t I Know You?

By Louise Ure

I bought a new computer and upgraded my mobile phone a couple of weeks ago. It was beyond due time. I still had the first generation iPhone and my Mac only had 4 GB of space left on it, even though I’d trimmed down all the unnecessary apps and videos and documents. I was traveling down the fast lane in first gear.

Because Bruce had been my previous “tech specialist,” the purchase required hired help. Enter Mitch: my Personal Technology Consultant and new hero. He transferred all the data from one computer to another, set up a secure WiFi network plus one for my guests, cleaned out the old computer so I could give it to my sister, and even recoded my TV remote controls so that I didn’t have to use one for the volume and another to change channels. “We’ve got some time while it’s transferring,” he said once the Firewire was connected. “Got anything else you want me to do?” (I wish I’d known then that he was an ex-chef from Brennan’s in New Orleans. I would have come up with an entirely different list of what to do.)

“Yeah.” I started hauling out every electronic gadget and peripheral in the house. Bruce’s last six cell phones, four back-up hard drives, an ancient Global Village modem — still somehow plugged into a socket! — a rat’s nest of AC adapters and wires, even a Sony Video 8 player that should by now have its own wing at the Smithsonian.

He quickly sorted the mess into piles. “I’ll recycle this for you … I can sell this for you on ebay … you’ll need a spare one of these just in case …”

When all the sorting was done, I still had three spare iPhones with no SIMs cards. “What do I do with these? Sell them on eBay? Give them to a women’s shelter?”

“Sure,” he replied, “or you can leave one in the car as an iPod, use another beside the bed as an alarm clock, put one in your travel bag as a travel alarm. Hell, you can use it as photo-slideshow drink coaster if you want to. It’d be a great conversation piece.”

Brilliant. The guy’s a genius.

After he left, I started playing around with the new computer. Of course, with updated hardware comes the opportunity for updated software and I got my first chance to play with the latest version of iPhoto.

You can organize the photos by event, of course, based on the recorded date and time that the photo was taken. Or by place, if you imported the photos from a GPS enabled camera.

Or you could create folders based on who was in the photo. This is where it got creepy. The new iPhoto software uses face recognition technology to ID and sort through all the photos in your library.

You start by identifying one face in a photo by name. “Bruce,” I marked under one recent portrait of him. The app then shows every other picture it thinks “Bruce” is in. “Is this Bruce?” it asks coyly. “Is this Bruce?” “Is this Bruce?”

Maybe Apple felt like being inclusive that day. The iPhoto inquiries ran the gamut from twelve pictures of Bruce to a photo of Willy Nelson on stage and one of Kris Kristofferson with a beer in his hand. The list included one old boyfriend of mine, whose decades-old photo I’d uploaded to the computer a couple of years ago because the original was in such bad shape (hmmm … I’d never seen the resemblance before). But it also asked “Is this Bruce?” over one out-of-focus shot of a Golden Retriever. (I won’t even go into the iPhoto option to “Add Missing Face” if the subject is photographed from the back or with their face turned. It’s just too, too sad. I’d be adding Bruce’s missing face all over the place.)

But, if this is the state of the vaunted face recognition technology we’re using at airports and high-target mass gatherings to fight against terrorism, then we’re shit out of luck. If TSA has the same success I did, they’ll be arresting an Irish Wolfhound instead of an terrorist.

But as poorly as the technology worked for me, I kind of like the idea of an aid to face recognition. As a person who forgets faces as easily as names, it would have come in handy that time that I couldn’t identify my own cousin at a signing. And I could use a portable version of this app at the next Bouchercon. Haven’t seen you for two years and you dyed your hair? You lost forty pounds and now bear no resemblance to that author photo on the book jacket I’ve been looking at since 2005? No problem. I’ve got my face recognition iPhone 4 right here.

How about you guys? Any electronic joys or travails in your life? And how good are you at recognizing those faces from year to year?

38 thoughts on “Don’t I Know You?

  1. GretchenJones

    The only problem is the lengths you'd have to go to in order to have the person you're trying to remember let you scan their face so you can figure out who they are (without them figuring out what you're doing). Then the mud on your face when you ask, "Aren't you Bob's golden retriever?"

  2. JD Rhoades

    Our old TV crapped out a couple months ago, so we scraped the money together for a new HD LCD. High def is one of those things I said for years "Ah, who needs it", but within days,I got to the point where if a show isn't in HD, I'm unhappy :-).

    Now, of course, we need a Blu-ray player…it never ends.

  3. billie

    Oh my gosh – all I can think of is getting a Personal Household Assistant (one capable of small repairs and basic maintenance tasks).

    We are woefully behind the times when it comes to cell phones. Two several year old flip phones and two teens who have none at all.

  4. Debbie

    What's worse – feeling psychotic because you're laughing at your computer screen and nobody is there, or the more elementary fact that you're worried that there is nobody there and you're laughing (not that I'm calling you nobody)? Please let me pretend that I at least know you (and I've studied your picture and it in no way resembles a golden retriever or dog of any kind(! Thanks for the morning laugh.
    As for face recognition, I'm blind and to be completely honest, everytime I go out in public I get nervous that I won't know who I'm talking to (our voices aren't nearly as unique as we'd like to think). Don't tell her this, but I wouldn't recognize my own mom at a signing.

  5. toni mcgee causey

    I'm terrible at faces/name recognition, and was incredibly relieved a while back when Tess but a name to the condition and described it–at least I wasn't just addled. (Well, you know, I am addled, but there were other excuses, too.)

    I have both PCs (for work software that isn't supported by mac) and my Macs, and hands down, love the Mac so much more. The PCs are new and Windows 7 is at least a lot less buggy than previous versions, but they still have issues with everything simply integrating and… well, hell, I could go on for hours, as I have had to fix too many things on the PCs since they were set up and a grand total of nothing on the Mac.

    I, too, crack up at the iPhoto face recognition program. It once identified my cat as my neighbor. (hmmm, come to think of it, their eyes are sort of the same color)

  6. Louise Ure

    Gretchen, I think I'll start every conversation from now on with, "Aren' you Bob's golden retriever?" It will surely guarantee a laugh and they'll know not to expect much from me from then on.

    JD, I'm with you. I was a disbeliever in the whole HD hoopla. Until I saw the light.

    Yeah, Billie. I'd like a Personal Household Assistant, too. One who would cook, carry, and fix things. We could solve the whole job crisis in one felll swoop with those hires.

  7. Louise Ure

    Debbie, you're already a super computer — a living, breathing Face Recognition machine.

    Toni, my neighbor is a cat. At least she walks like one.

  8. Judy Wirzberger

    Lord love a duck. I dread the day when I have to have my grandchildren wear name tage. It's coming sooner than I think. I remember names, about half an hour after the person leaves.
    I went up to a person I hadn't seen in ages and said "Hi, Judy Wirzberger." So she wouldn't have to stumble to remember who I was. She responded. "No, I'm Judy Blandon." At least she remembered her own name. God forbid I have to write Judy Wirzberger on my palm one day.

    My son's an electrical engineer – I take everything to him. God love him.

  9. Grace Louise

    I have finally made friends with my laptop and its time for a new one. Still haven't used all the features on my i-pod and I heard rumblings someone is thinking of buying me a Kindle for Christmas. Loved your post, so funny. Laughing at modern technology is so rewarding.

  10. Lorena

    Any more I'm better at faces than names…which sort of defeats the purpose of recognition, don't you think? A relevant example…bounced from the blog to the "about us" on this site and realized a book I recently enjoyed VERY much was actually written by, well, the author of the post. Duh. Used to be, I remembered not only faces, but the name of every author I'd ever read, every musician I'd ever listened to, every man I'd ever dated (okay, so maybe that one whose name I have but face I can't recall just wasn't that memorable…it's not necessarily MY fault!).

    I tend to use my tech gadgets until they wear out before replacing them, which results in a steep, but blessedly infrequent learning curve ๐Ÿ™‚ I figure as long as I can do what I need to do, no rush to get more toys to do it with. And HD anything just freaks me out. As does the current trend toward 3D — which I'm sure I wouldn't mind if they didn't insist on throwing things at you just to make a point!

    Oh, and the book? LOVED Liars Anonymous, Louise.

  11. Allison Davis

    I am planning my three month sabbatical for next year and looking at "devices" to use while I travel — and taking my Dad to France next month for his 80th and want to take something to write on. My work laptop is just too big — I lug it everywhere and never use it on the airplane…even though it is relatively light adn small for a laptop, still too big for airplane trays. I have been looking at netbooks as that would fit in my purse. I am also thinking about a Kindle as between the two, that would get rid of a lot of luggage on trips — books and manuscripts. I have an old makeshift desk top at home and just use work computers and blackberries. Haven't graduated to real tech of my own. It may be time. The shopping of it is fun. I am always leary of changing technology though, such a learning curve to get used to it. And I still don't have a TV.

    I still want Mitch's number…could use the advice. He sounds like a dream.

  12. Louise Ure

    Grace, I'd love to hear where you come out on the Kindle versus iPad controversy. It seems, if you're looking for both a new laptop and a reader, then the iPad might answer all your prayers.

    Lorena, you are too cute. And you better not use my author photo here at Murderati as any kind of barometer. I've got a different pair of glasses now, I'm down 40 pounds, and my latest haircut makes me look like Elena Kagan.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, this post made me feel tired and inadequate. Haven't buckled to the iPhone pressure yet – there's really only one person I talk to on the phone for any length of time and I've trained everyone else to e mail by pretending I don't have text capability.

    I…. can't… learn…. another….gadget…..

  14. Louise Ure

    Allison, see my advice above regarding the iPad. Could be the answer. And didn't Pari come up with some incredibly light weight netbook she was raving about earlier?

    Good heavens, Alex, I don't use the iPhone as a PHONE! It's a horrid telephone. But oh, what a dream for everything else.

  15. PK the Bookeemonster

    I just adapted to texting this year. I got the new Blackberry Curve in April. Fell in love though I don't really have many people with whom to text but I like being able to check the news while at work and not use the State computer. A month later I killed it in the washer. They really don't like to be washed and I didn't know "the rice" trick. So now I've got another Blackberry via eBay, not as new, not as flashy but do-able. The time zone in the phone I received was set for Tiajuana so I'm hoping some drug lord doesn't come looking for it some day.

  16. Dudley Forster

    Toni โ€“ I have to use PCs too, kind of hard to avoid as an IT consultant, but while they pay the bills, most of the time, if I could, Iโ€™d get rid of all of mine and go Mac.

    I love my iPhone. Most tech heads are all gaga over the Droid OS, but I refuse to use a phone that should run an antivirus program. People who donโ€™t like the iPhone as a phone are usually pissed off at AT&T, whose coverage can stink in larger urban areas. Here their converge is the same as Verizonโ€™s.

    Even though lawyers are the larva form of politicians, Iโ€™d never have made it because I am awful with names. I am much better at faces, but this doesnโ€™t help if I run into a person I recognize, but canโ€™t remember his name and my wife is with me. There is that moment when I am expected to do introduce her, my brain goes into flight or fight and all I can think to say is, โ€œthese mashed potatoes are so creamy,โ€ my families favorite awkward moment movie quote.

    Billie โ€“ Two teenagers without cell phones. How is that possible, I thought they grew them as an appendage before their thirteenth birthday?

  17. Louise Ure

    PK, I haven't put my phone in the washer yet … but I must know, what is this "rice trick" of which you speak?

    Dudley, my complaint about the iPhone as a phone is more of a complaint against all flat-front phones, They just don't cup the ear the way the old ones did. Of course, I most often use it with a blue tooth headset, so it's probably a moot point. And your "out" when your wife is there and you can't remember the other guy's name? Face him directly and say, "You remember my wife, Becky, don't you?" Now he's the one in charge of introducing himself.

  18. lil Gluckstern

    I'm a Luddite, just don't need anything more than my trusty Mac, and my cell. Love the apps on the mac, but it will do much more than what I need. However, I wrote to the email address on your website, Louise, to tell you much I liked Liars Anonymous, and how powerful I thought it was, and the letter was returned as a failed delivery. Was this a fluke? Anyway, I love reading about other people's adventures with technology. This was fun.

  19. pari noskin taichert

    Adventures with technology . . .
    Louise,
    I think I was at your home when you got that first iphone. I remember you reading the manual and fiddling around with it. I was fascinated then and remain so. But have I entered that world? Not yet. Still have a pay-as-you-go cheapo-deepo phone and that's it for most of the mobility.

    Have an HP netbook that I ADORE. It's the machine I write my fiction on. LOVE it! The eeeee PC ended up not working out as much for me b/c I didn't get along with its operating system over the long haul.

    BTW: I cracked up with your comments about the face recognition. Somehow with all of my sensitivity about privacy, I like the idea of that kind of epic fail. Of course, if you scanned in my face, I'd be scared to find out what animals I'd resemble.

  20. Judy Wirzberger

    I think I want to live next door to PK. I learn the most interesting things. Rice. Who woulda thunk!

  21. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Louise

    This is too funny – but raises some serious questions:

    FOUR iPHONES?!? Are they SO unreliable that you've been through four of them? I mean, didn't the iPhone just come out, like last year or something? Sheesh.

    And where do I get a Mitch? Sounds like I desperately need one…

    As for face recognition software, they were trialing it in some London boroughs linked to the CCTV cameras (because the Brits are the most-spied-upon nation on the planet) and discovered that, without human intervention, they failed to recognise a single criminal face, even when it was known that the criminals lived in those boroughs and were out wandering about. Ho hum.

    I still have what is now an aging touchscreen Xda phone, which has navigation on it (much used) and gets pretty good cell reception even in crappy areas. I understand it also has a camera on it, but I have several of those, so I've never tried it. I did once use it to listen to the radio, though. And the only reason I'm going to have to change it soon is because the socket is so outmoded that I struggled to buy a new in-car charger for it.

    Has anybody got the Cracked Screen App for their iPhone, by the way. In understand they're very popular?

  22. mary lynn

    Love the blog, Louise. It seems there was a switch thrown when I turned 60 that caused names and faces stored in my brain to jumble–some even disappeared altogether. sigh I don't think your Pet Geek can fix that, can he?

    Two old women were playing Canasta one Tuesday afternoon, as they had for years. One suddenly stopped, wrinkled her brow, looked at her friend and said, "I know your face. I know we've been friends forever, but I can't remember your name. Please forgive me and tell me what your name is."

    The friend paused for a minute, took a deep breath and replied, "Can I get back to you on that?"

  23. Allison Davis

    I looked briefly at the iPad but maybe the others can tell me what they thing. I didn't think it was good for word processing and I wanted something I could easily carry and throw a thumb drive in to work on manuscripts, especially on some of my longer airplane rides. The iPad;s keyboard isn't amendable to someone like me who types about 120 words a minute if I have a good keyboard. I'd go cra on something that would let me fly…anyone have some experience on the iPad?

  24. Louise Ure

    Zoe, those 4 iPhones are from upgrading cheaply when the new ones come out. Really, we're not that plugged in. And I had to go check out the Cracked Screen app. Too funny.

    Mary Lynn, that's a really bad old joke. But worth repeating.

  25. billie

    WRT two teenagers without cell phones…. they would take them if I gave them, but the deal is they'd have to do enough hours of chores to pay for the phones and the monthly fees – given that option, they choose to do without!

  26. Louise Ure

    Billie, you're a good mom.

    Mary Lynn, new joke: husband walks into the kitchen and tells his wife five flies. "Three were male and two were female.

    "How do you tell the sex of a fly?"

    "Three were on the beer can and two were on the telephone."

  27. Eika

    Recognizing faces is fine, but I have difficulty matching them up with names. I can name everyone in my group of friends at college (which includes 'people I hang out with' and 'people THEY hang out with' in a big mash), and I can recognize them all on sight. Name them? Maybe half. And I've had two years to learn how. Which is kindof a failure, but as long as they don't know, I'm okay.

    I am in a sad state for technology. My cell phone can't even take pictures, and my computer's soon going the way of the dinosaur. However, at work, we recently got a flyswatter.

    It looks like a tennis racket with an on-off switch and a warning light, it feels like a static shock if you touch the webbed part, and it is for flies what the electric chair is for humans. Though the managers got a bit testy after we all gathered around it to watch one, which had gotten stuck in the webbing, start to smoke. Apparently that's not good for a fast food restaurant.

  28. Cornelia Read

    I'm now having a great time picturing Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson playing around with the new iPhoto and each being asked "Are you Bruce?"

    Wonderful post, sweet Louise.

  29. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm terrible, terrible, terrible at recognizing faces. I'm convinced I've got one of those weird diseases they talk about in "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat."
    I need a face-recognition "shadow" standing at my side for every event to tell me who is who.

  30. Louise Ure

    Eika, I've Got to see the flyswatter in action.

    Ms. C, I've met both men in my mid-spent youth and they would have been pleased to be mistaken for Bruce.

    Stephen, I'd be your shadow but I'm no good at it!

  31. JT Ellison

    Louise. Darling. I love that you've undertaken the task of upgrading everything. And Mitch sounds like a dream. The facial recognition of Bruce, God. Every post you give me something to think about. You are really my hero.

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