Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The "Big Data" of Vacation Photographs

Looking for answers in Paris
Before my wife left for a weekend with her folks, she gave me only one around-the-house to-do: process the pictures from our 2012 European vacation so we can finally print images from our sans-toddler trip to Switzerland and Paris.

Last July I blogged about my failure to synchronize dates and times across the multiple devices used to capture our memories. This is a non-trivial problem and one that I fear I will repeat. But as I clicked through my photographs today, I started thinking about storage, big data, and myriad things I am paid to think about during the week.
My wife dancing in the clouds on Mt. Rigi
[Before I go on, let me recognize this as a set of true "first world" problems. Woe is me, with my DSLR and trips to Europe!]

Today's photographic technologies are remarkable in terms of speed, cost, and flexibility. While the latest and greatest (non-professional) Digital Single-Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera might cost hundreds, the cost per photograph is basically $0.00. Back in college, when I didn't have a real camera, I bought disposables -- let's say they were $10 in today's dollars, plus $15 for prints -- and you didn't know until you went back to CVS whether any of the pictures had come out. Today, you have instant feedback and you it doesn't cost you anything for continuous shooting since you can just delete the failed images. Couple this fact with the parallel reality that we are armed with a camera 24x7 (our phones, irrespective of brand, have fantastic cameras compared to those crappy disposables). So what happens? An explosion of images.

Let's use my trip as an example. AFTER massaging the photographs, deleting the true duds and the complete duplicates, my eleven-day trip resulted in 1370 photographs. The folder takes up 16GB. There are original photos, staged copies from the devices, extra copies Picasa saves while I'm editing, exported (smaller) images for Facebook... Think about this data volume and where it will go -- first it sits on my PC, which is backed up to at least one location. Then it sits on a cloud service, which is backed up to at least one location and probably more than once. Then many of the photos get independently posted to Facebook. And Twitter. And the ones taken on the iPhone are in the Apple Cloud. My single trip might be consuming a terabyte of storage when all is said and done! 

Yet half these photos should be deleted. Some are redundant with previous trips (how many photos of the Eiffel Tower undercarriage does one really need?). Others are close enough to each other to be redundant, but I just can't bring myself to delete them... And some just aren't that interesting (as if I remember who is depicted in that statue in that random park...)

Adding insult to injury, the meta data is garbage. First, because of the issue with the date/time; second, because location data only exists on the iPhone and not always accurate because I was on and off airplane mode; finally, because modified versions (crops, color boost, lighting) can overwrite key metadata elements.
Worth its weight in gigabytes, the Eiffel Tower at night...
But all that said, I took some great pictures of a spectacular place during a brilliant trip with an amazing girl. In the end, that's what justifies it all!


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