Today Google came out with a new app called PhotoScan that will scan your old photo collection. Like just everyone, I have stashes of shoeboxes inherited from parents full of pictures. Some were scanned in a scanner, back when I had one that was compatible with a computer. More recently, I’ve used scanning apps like Readdle’s Scanner Pro and Scanbot. These de-skew the photographs of the photos that your phone takes but the resolution’s is not always the best and there can be some glare from overhead lights, especially when you’re working with a glossy original pictures.
Google’s approach cleverly stitches together multiple photos. It uses a process much like their 360-degree photo app: you start with a overview photo. Once taken, you see four circles hovering to the sides of the picture. Move the camera to each and it takes more pictures. Once you’ve gone over all four circles, Google stitches these five photos together in such a way that there’s no perspective distortion.
What’s remarkable is the speed. I scanned 15 photos in while also making dinner for the kids. The dimensions of all looked good and the resolution looks about as good as the original. These are good results for something so easy.
May 20th was Bike To Work week, which I rode for the third time in recent years. This year I rode 32.1 miles, from 5:53 to 9:00 a.m., for a total time of 3:07 hours and speed of 10.3mph.
I had a phone with Google Maps directions strapped to my handlebar but didn’t need it much as I’ve learned most of the route by now. Every time it feels less outlandish to do this ride, to the point where I might just spontaneously do it again this summer if I find myself awake early. This year I got an early start, never stopped for snacks, and only occasionally stopped for pictures, which together brought me in far earlier than I’ve managed before.
Ready to leave, 5:53am, mile 0 of 32.
Mile 10/32. This tenth of the ride is a mostly forgotten 18 century country road.
This is a very half-hearted bike lane.
The longest part of my route is also one of my favorites: a railroad avenue along the old Reading line going through cute old towns.
Mile 22/32: the oldHaddon Heights train station.
On the Ben Franklin bridge: almost there!
Passing by work a little before 9 a.m.
At work: time for a shower!
The route (minus the blocks right around my house for privacy):
Here’s another installation of mom stories, originally written for a longer obituary than the one running in today’s paper.
A single parent, she earned an associates degree at Rider College in Trenton and worked as a secretary at a number of Philadelphia-area based, include Women’s Medical College and the Presbyterian Board of Publications. In the mid-1960s she became an executive secretary at the newly-formed Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company. An office feminist, she liked recounting the story of the day in the 1970s when the women of the office united to break the dress code by all wearing pant suits. A senior vice president was on the phone when she walked into his office and is said to have told his caller “My secretary just walked in wearing pants.… and she looks terrific!”
When Colonial Penn later started an in-house computer programmer training program, she signed up immediately and started a second career. She approached programs as puzzles and was especially proud of her ability to take other programmers’ poorly-written code and turn it into efficient, bug-free software.
In the early 1990s, she moved into her own apartment in Jenkintown, Pa. She reclaimed a shortened form of her maiden name and swapped “Betsy” for “Liz.” During this time she became a committed attender at Abington Friends Meeting. As clerk of its peace and justice committee, she worked to build the consensus needed for the meeting to produce a landmark statement on reproductive rights. As soon as it was passed she said, “next up, a minute on same-sex marriage!” In the late 90s, that was still controversial even with LGBTQ circles and I imagine that even the progressive folks at Abington were dreading the thought she might put this on the agenda!
In her late 60s, she bought her first house, in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood. She loved fixing it up and babysitting her grandchildren. She never made any strong connections with any of the nearby Quaker Meetings only attending worship sporadically after the move. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2010, she took the news with dignity. She moved into an independent living apartment in Atco, N.J. and continued an active lifestyle as long as possible.
My mother died a few days ago. While I’m overwhelmed with the messages of prayers and condolences, at least at some level it feels like cheating to accept them too fully. This isn’t a new condition. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.
A little over five years ago my mother was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the testing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared scenario for aging. Growing up, we had befriended an active elderly neighbor who had gently died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Goldsmith had come to her in a dream the next night to congratulate herself, saying “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years afterwards, my mother convinced herself that she would go in a similarly elegant way.
My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a possibility when she scheduled that doctor’s visit. The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to us family. I had been joking for years that my mom seemed to have only twenty stories that she kept on rotation. After she read a study that crossword puzzles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obsessive crossword puzzler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had bravely bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeatedly, that she would be leaving it “in a box.” Caulking trim, replacing windows, and troubleshooting a mud room leak that defied a dozen contractors became her occupation, along with volunteering and watching grandkids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.
When she called to tell me the diagnosis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doctor was putting her on Aricept. A quick Google search confirmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doctor later that afternoon helped map out the road ahead.
Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been disappearing from us for a long while. Regular outings became less frequent till we couldn’t even take her out to a nearby restaurant for her birthday. As words disappeared and speech began faltering, I’d show her recent kid photos on my phone and tell stories to fill the emptying space. Eventually she stopped showing interest even in this. On my last regular visit with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun taking pictures. Mom kept pointing out at the phone’s display as if it were a mirror. But conversation was too disjointed and after a few minutes, my kids started wandering in ever widening circles looking for interesting buttons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.
In the past few weeks her forgetfulness has extended to eating and swallowing. Intervention would only buy a little more time until she forgot how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.
On my last few visits she was mostly sleeping. She’s was calm, preternaturally calm. Lying on her back, pale and peaceful, she looked as if she might already be a body resting in a casket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if barely. I felt awkward just sitting there. Some people are good in these kinds of situations, but I self-consciously struggle. With little chance of interaction, I struck on the idea of reading from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on countless nights as a child. “Up into the cherry tree, who should climb but little me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pictured the cherry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be together.
The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For reasons that go deep into biography, she was a wonderfully friendly person who didn’t have a lot of close friends anymore. It seems peculiar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so people notice your departure. But then maybe that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eighties. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of quiet ripples with which we entered.
The seasons’s first violent thunderstorm came through South Jersey and knocked out power and cell phone service for hundreds of thousands. Just how bad is it? News reports say dozens of Wawa convenience stores are closed. It might be two or three more days until our power is restored.
2015 looks like it’s shaping up to be the year that online cloud photo services all take a giant leapt forward. Just in the last few months alone, I’ve gone and dug up my ten-plus year photo archive from a rarely accessed backup drive (some 72 GB of files) and uploaded it to three different photo services.
First it was Dropbox, whose Carousel app promised to change everything. For $10/month, I can have all of the digitized photos I’ve ever taken all together. It changed how I access past events. Back in the day I might have taken 20 pictures and posted 2 to Flickr. The other 18 were for all intents inaccessible to me — on the backup drive that sits in a dusty drawer in my desk. Now I could look up some event on my public Flickr, remember the date, then head to Dropbox/Carousel to look through everything I took that day — all on my phone. Sometimes I’d even share the whole roll from that event to folks who were there.
But this was a two-step process. Flickr itself had boosted its storage space last year but it wasn’t until recently that they revealed a new Camera Roll and uploader that made this all work more seamlessly. So all my photos again went up there. Now I didn’t have to juggle between two apps.
Last week, Google finally (finally!) broke its photos from Google+ and the remnants of Picasa to give them their own home. It’s even more fabulous than Flickr and Dropbox, in that its search is so good as to feel like magic. People, places, and image subjects all can be accessed with the search speed that Google is known for. And this service is free and uploads old videos.
I’m constantly surprised how just how emotionally powerful an old photo or video can be (I waxed lyrically about this in Nostalgia Comes Early, written just before our last family vacation). This weekend I found a short clip from 2003 of my wife carrying our newborn in a backpack and citing how many times he had woken us up the night before. At the end she joked that she could guilt trip him in years to come by showing this video to him. Now the clip is something I can find, load, and play in a few seconds right from my ever-present phone.
So what I’ve noticed is this quick access to unshared photos is changing the nature of my cellphone photo-taking. I’m taking pictures that I never intend to share but that give me an establishing shot for a particular event: signs, driveway entrances, maps. Now that I have unlimited storage and a camera always within reach, I can use it as a quick log of even the most quotidian life events (MG Siegler recently wrote about The Power of the Screenshot, which is another way that quick and ubiquitous photo access is changing how and what we save.) With GPS coordinates and precise times, it’s especially useful. But the most profound effect is not the activity logging, but still the emotions release unlocking all-but-lost memories: remembering long-ago day trips and visits with old friends.