Tag Archives: storage

Robots organize your photos, so you can procrastinate

If you’re like many people, you have thousands of photos on your phone, long forgotten after you’ve posted a few on Instagram or Facebook.

They don’t have to stay forgotten. Apple and Google are both applying a form of artificial intelligence called “machine learning” to organize your pictures and video _ and along the way, help you rediscover last year’s vacation, dinner with close friends and a casual summer outing to the park.

Apple’s tools are part of last month’s iOS 10 system update for iPhones and iPads. The Google Photos app for Apple and Android devices has a digital assistant to automatically organize these memories _ and Google signaled last week that it will only get smarter. And on Wednesday, Google introduced additional features for rediscovery.

Here’s a look at how they take you down memory lane:

APPLE’S MEMORIES

Apple’s new Memories feature automatically generates video highlights around a theme, such as a trip or birthday party. Individual photos and snippets from video are chosen for you, as is the music, though you can change it to reflect a different mood.

This isn’t just a slideshow. There’s slow zooming and panning, reminiscent of Ken Burns historical documentaries. Some of the photos also come to life, at least on newer iPhones that automatically take three seconds of video with every photo.

When you’re ready to share, the app creates a standard movie file _ so it works on Windows and Android devices, too.

For me, Apple’s app created a “Florida to Illinois” package for a three-week trip in January and one for a day trip to Philadelphia last November. But Apple goes beyond date and location. Apple created a “Together” package for shots with family over the past two years. It also created an “At The Beach” package with beach photos since 2013. Other scenic themes could include mountains, lakes and sunsets.

Apple offers up to three new Memories a day. You can create more based on photos you add to an album and generate new automated ones by scrolling down to “Related.” You can also add or delete images within Memories _ in my experience, a few included mundane screenshots I had to get rid of.

Nothing will ever replace the human touch. But let’s face it, even though I keep meaning to organize my photos, I never find the time. The machine-generated selections aren’t necessarily ones I’d choose myself, but with a small amount of tweaking, they’re presentable and will tide me over until I get around to catching up manually … someday.

 

GOOGLE’S ASSISTANT

Google Photos has been at this longer and offers more types of packages. With collages, Google combines smaller versions of several shots into one layout . Animations combine a bunch of photos taken in succession so that they resemble as a moving image . Unlike typical “GIF” animation files, Google applies its magic to align successive shots, so buildings and bridges look steady _ without the shake common with handheld video. Google also offers albums and video highlights, though without the Ken Burns effect.

Google’s Assistant generates much of this for you automatically. You can edit auto-generated albums and video highlights, but not collages or animation _ although you can create your own from scratch. (That does defeat the purpose of letting the robots do the work, though.)

Sharing is easy and doesn’t require recipients to have Google Photos.

The results vary in quality. I tend to take several shots of the same subject, just in case some are blurry. Yet I get collages and animations out of those repetitive shots. The albums and video highlights I got are grouped by location and date, though Google says it will be doing more with themes , such as following a kid growing up.

Most of my computer-generated creations are animations and collages. As with Apple, Google’s choices aren’t necessarily ones I’d make, if only I had the time. But some are good enough that I look forward to alerts for new ones to check out.

I also enjoyed a feature called “Rediscover this day.” Google will automatically create collages from shots taken on a day, say, two years ago. On Wednesday, Google said it will apply that to people, too, so you’ll get collages of you with a specific friend or family member.

 

SEARCHING

Apple and Google are both getting better at image recognition. Apple’s version tends to be more conservative. While Apple found four photos in a search for fireworks, Google found dozens. Google also found more photos with hats, though one was actually a strange hairdo and a few were of a headband. Then again, Apple thought an illustration of a hut was a hat.

Google is also bolder with face recognition. Its technology is smart enough to recognize the same child at 2 months and 6 years, while Apple often separates the same child into multiple identities (you can merge them, and things will be fine after that).

Google has an edge over Apple in part because it taps its powerful servers to process photos. Apple leaves all the machine thinking to your device as a privacy measure. But Apple says it also favors being right more than complete to reduce the work people need to do to fix things. Being wrong can also have consequences: Google had to apologize last year after its software got too aggressive and mistakenly labeled two black people as gorillas.

 

STORAGE

To free up space, both services will automatically clear photos from your phone after uploading them to the internet, once you activate the option. You still have a lower-resolution version on the device and can get the sharper image anytime, as long as you’re online.

Google Photos offers unlimited online storage of photos at up to 16 megapixels and videos at 1080p high definition _ good enough for most people. It will compress larger photos, or you can store the original and have it count toward your Google Drive limit, which starts at 15 gigabytes for free. Apple’s iCloud Photo Library requires paying once you exceed 5 gigabytes, which is enough for a few thousand photos.

 

On the Web

Apple Memories video from January trip.

Google animation of fountains.

Google collage.

Nuclear waste entombed after leak in New Mexico

Hundreds of containers of waste have been entombed at the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico now that workers have closed off storage areas affected by a radiation leak, officials said this week.

After months of work, crews finished sealing the last of two bunkers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant late last week. The milestone was announced by state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn as he updated lawmakers gathered in Santa Fe on recovery efforts at the plant, which has been closed since the February 2014 leak.

Flynn described the closure of the area known as Panel 6 and one room within Panel 7 as a major accomplishment.

Inside the two areas were 422 containers packed with radioactive waste similar to the one that ruptured last year and caused the leak. The containers appear stable, but officials say they still include an incompatible mix of nitrate salts and organic cat litter used for absorbing moisture.

“We, along with the Department of Energy, believe that they needed to permanently close these panels as soon as possible in order to prevent against any additional releases,” Flynn told the lawmakers.

The state initially set a deadline for completing the work by the start of 2015, but closure of the panels was delayed in part by the investigation into the leak.

Workers used salt mined from another area of the repository, chain link, brattice cloth and steel bulkheads to close off the storage areas. They also installed air monitors.

“This is an unprecedented issue we’ve had to confront,” Flynn said. “There were certainly some problems early on, but I think we’re really starting to turn a corner now and we’re beginning to see some meaningful progress at the facility itself.”

The repository remains closed and federal officials have said it could take years and more than a half-billion dollars to resume full operations.

The Energy Department and the contractor that runs the repository aim to resume limited operations by this time next year, but Flynn told lawmakers he expects it will take longer.

WIPP’s closure has delayed cleanup of legacy waste like contaminated gloves, tools and clothing from decades of bomb-making across the federal government’s nuclear complex. In its 15 years of operation, the nuclear dump received shipments from more than 20 sites as part of the Energy Department’s multibillion-dollar-a-year cleanup program.

Investigators determined the container that ruptured and forced the closure was packed inappropriately at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

Flynn said there’s no longer any margin of error and the corrective actions called for by the state and federal investigators should prevent another mishap.

Flynn also outlined for lawmakers a $73.2 million settlement reached last month with the DOE. Nearly half of that will go toward improving transportation routes for hauling waste to the repository.