Today I was supposed to post the last of my Family Six Pack mini series. But I never got round to it and it is all the fault of those people at Google. The subject of the last in the family history series was my Auntie Miriam and I knew I had a photograph of her somewhere. I had scanned it many years ago and it was somewhere amongst the two and a half thousand images that are tucked away in files on my hard-drive. I would like to be the kind of person who labels and tags each image when it is added to the collection, but I have never been that organised. The only way to find my errant Aunt was to search through each folder manually and even using the multi-image display format on Picasa, this is still a lengthy undertaking.
As I opened Picasa I noticed that there was a new version now available Picasa 3.5 and I downloaded it to see if there were any major improvements. To my surprise I discovered that there had been a significant development - facial recognition had been added to the programme. This is a magnificent gizmo : you simply identify a face by giving it a name tag and the programme will then search through all your image files and using facial recognition software - doing clever things like measuring the critical distances between eyes, nose and mouth - it will present you with a list of all other images containing the same face. Most it can spot without much doubt but where there is a doubt it will give you the option of either accepting the match or rejecting it.
What is really very clever about the system is its ability to recognise faces over considerable periods of time. Once I identified the GLW in a recent picture of her it managed to rightly match this up with images of her when she was just 17 and 18 years old. It is not a particularly fast system : it has taken about six or seven hours to work its way through my collection of images, but it is quite fascinating to watch it as it works its way through. Occasionally it will do sweet things like matching father with son or mother with daughter which can bring a lump to the throat. And at the end of the day you are presented with a stack of images which - as in the example above - can be a bit overwhelming.
I have spent the day fascinated watching it trawl through my life sorting people out into neat piles. All thoughts of the piece on Auntie Miriam have had to be put off until next week. But when I do get around to writing it up, I will not be short of images to illustrate it with.
If you haven't already got Picasa you can download the programme - free of charge - from the Google website.