December 2009


I don’t really use iPhoto. Its casual-user focus makes it poorly suited to what I want in a photo-management app, and it’s not particularly useful as a general-purpose image catalog tool, either.

There’s some interesting technology in it, however, including Faces, which attempts to detect and recognize human faces in photos, allowing you to (potentially) organize your pictures by who’s in them. It’s not integrated into the app very well yet, and there are some odd bugs, but it turns out to be surprisingly accurate and useful.

Since I was home sick yesterday and not up to much else, I imported a collection of 1,421 scanned photos of attractive young women and told it to look for faces. On the first pass, it found faces in about 80% of the pictures, and only a few of those were false positives (jewelry, plaids, etc). A second recognition pass got it up above 90%, out of a total of 95% that really did have at least one human face. Most of its failures involved faces that were tilted at roughly 45 degree angles, as well as profiles and low-contrast images. It did surprisingly well at finding low-resolution faces, and even did a fair job of auto-naming them correctly, once I had a good sample size.

[Bug note: There are a few images that I simply cannot manually add a face to, and I don’t know why. I draw out the rectangle, add a name, hit Done, and it deletes my work. It thinks there’s something there, because it will offer them as options in the “person X might be in this picture” section, but it never accepts the face.]

It takes a little while to figure out a decent workflow for adding names to pictures, but it does work. If you select a few good matches for each major face, the name-guesser will perform a lot better, and save you a lot of manual selection. I’d like to see it offer the top three choices instead of just the best one, and the UI needs some work (especially in keyboard navigation consistency and false-positive handling), but it works, and in normal usage, most people won’t be tagging a thousand images at once.

As far as integration goes, the names you tag a picture with aren’t keywords, don’t show up in the Get Info page, can’t be searched via Spotlight, can’t be displayed or printed as captions, can’t be used to sort, etc, etc. There’s a Faces-specific browser, and you can click the Names button on a full-sized image to view all the tagged Faces present, but that’s it. It’s not useful as a general “person X is in photo Y” tagging system yet.

[Update: I was just reminded of another missing feature that I really want: a “faceless” rule for Smart Albums, so I can say “all pictures from Album X that have no faces in them”. After 80% of the 1400+ images in my album had names, I only wanted to sort through the ones that didn’t, and the only way I could find to do it was to create a smart album Y as “pictures from Album X that have faces, none of which are unnamed”, manually copy its contents to another non-smart album Z, then define a new smart album as “pictures from X that aren’t in Z”, and remember to keep Z up to date. (the app won’t let me say “pictures from X that aren’t in Y”)]

Now for the amusing picture. This is what happens when all of the faces you’ve identified come from professionally shot photos of young Japanese women in full makeup:


Dear Youtube users,

Please stop upscaling VHS-quality video and labeling it “HD”.

Faces, collected

So after all that work identifying H!P women in pictures, what does it look like in iPhoto?

(large JPEG below the fold)


This never happened at my school...

Now this is how to motivate students!

  1. Female foreign-language teachers
  2. naked
  3. together
  4. in a classroom
  5. during school hours

The reader poll asks about the appropriate punishment (setting aside that whole “is it true?” issue…), offering fired, suspended, warned, or “no punishment”. They left out the most obvious choice, “tell-all book deal, followed by appearances in men’s magazines and on late-night talk shows”.

French/Spanish relations

Faces, precipitated

As I said earlier, the Faces feature isn’t terribly well-integrated into iPhoto. It’s a standalone piece of metadata that has no collection to the app’s events, places, folders, or keywords. It’s even stored separately, in a pair of SQLite databases that have no real connection to anything else; they can even be deleted without affecting the rest of your database.

At a user level, the key issue is that Faces aren’t people. You can’t use it to tag “Bob’s wipeout on the slopes”, “Mary dressed up as Darth Maul”, “Jean hiding from the camera”, or dozens of other scenarios in which the relevant person isn’t clearly showing their normal face. You could select a random portion of the picture and claim it’s a Face, but it will lower the recognition accuracy, and may not work anyway.

I’m sure a future version of the app will integrate it better, perhaps allowing you to mark out areas of a picture that contain a specific person but shouldn’t be used for face recognition, but for now, you end up with two sets of pictures, faced and faceless, only one of which is easy to browse.

The other set does have its charms, though…


Thought for the day...

I’m quite fond of the work of South Korean singer Younha. My interest started when someone brought one of her songs in for our Japanese reading class, but I eventually went on to pick up her Korean albums as well (which were much cheaper than their Japanese equivalents). This morning, I was listening to some tracks from Peace Love & Ice Cream, and found myself thinking:

"I can't wait until she releases these in Japanese, so I can understand the lyrics."

(amusingly, the title track is a cover of a song recorded in English by Dutch artist Sandy Dane; I think they even used the same backing track (Sandy Dane, Younha), although the lyrics are apparently quite different)

Hello!Project Telepathy Project

Risako: “I made it quite clear that we were wearing black tonight. Your disobedience is most disappointing.”

Momoko: “Please allow me to punish her next, Mistress.”

Saki: “That cow would never have caught me if this drapery wasn’t so heavy.”


Yeah, they're in it for the science, I can tell

Yesterday, a massive, peaceful protest of 100,000 people – the largest demonstration for climate justice in world history – was met with a heavy-handed response by the Danish police.

Emphasis mine. 100,000 concerned activists can’t be wrong, say the folks at

If the reporting is more honest than the science, it does sound like these assclowns were badly mistreated, but perhaps a few of them will reevaluate their religious beliefs after being “forced to sit in rows for hours, as the temperatures dipped below freezing”.

Tim Minchin beats

The intro is a bit slow, but the actual poem is worth the investment.

(updated with a link that still works, and omits the intro)

Idiomatic translation

After some of my earlier searches, I’m not surprised that Amazon Japan occasionally recommends porn novels to me. Today’s top dirty book has an interesting title, 一発やりがい.

Ippatsu Yarigai

一発 means “one shot”, either literally, like one (1) bullet, or more generally, like a knockout punch; やりがい means “(s.t.) is worth doing”. In context, the phrase would seem to map cleanly to:

"I'd hit that"


Found a picture online and want to figure out where it really came from, so you can see it full-sized, without captions and site banners and censorship and loltext? TinEye to the rescue. It hasn’t been able to track down every picture I’ve fed it, but it also hasn’t had a false positive yet.

Duelling Avatars

Back-to-back short reviews over at Marginal Revolution, from Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok.

The gist of this and other reviews is that it’s exactly what the trailers promised: gorgeous graphics demos strung together by a weak, derivative story that hits you over the head with a whopping big moral sledgehammer.

Subtle clues

The main focus of the mildly-NSFW and likely-staged photo isn’t particularly subtle, but I had to stop and think for a moment about how I immediately knew that it was taken in a Japanese book store.

After the fact, it’s easy to find all sorts of supporting evidence, but the original pattern-matching process was unconscious and instant.

Boy meets girl

Or, more precisely, boy band meets girl band. They had me at Sooyoung stretching in tight sweats…

Dear Apple,

Thanks for enabling two-finger trackpad zoom on the desktop in Snow Leopard. One accidental swipe and my carefully-arranged icons are all over the place, with no undo and no way to turn off the feature without disabling it system-wide. Gosh, how clever of you. “It probably won an award.”

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”