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Current Events

Old Film, Transformed

Two cities, each on the other side of the world, captured on old film which has been digitized, colorized, and upscaled using neural networks to 4k and 60 frames/second.

Tokyo 1913 – 1915
New York City 1911

Some of the technical details about what Denis Shiryaev, a YouTuber known for restoring vintage videos does to achieve his magic:

4k upscale – Each frame can be upscaled using specifically-targeted data that perfectly aligns with your footage. Our neural network will “redraw” the missing data and increase the frame resolution 4x or more.

FPS boosting – A neural network trained via slow-mo movies will artificially generate additional frames for your footage. Even 14 fps films can easily be boosted to 60 fps.

Denis also ran his algorithms across the famous Trip down Market Street film (recorded just days before the 1906 earthquake). As he narrates, over the course of half a month, he upscaled the origianl and transformed it into a 50,000 frame, 380 gb file, using the algorithms to fill in information that was not captured in the original.

More examples of his work and services at https://neural.love/

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Skipper

My great-grandfather, Erlon H. Parker, flew bi-planes for the United States in World War I. As a Memorial Day project, I decided to pull on a few threads to see what else I could find about the man known in my family as “Skipper.”

The photo up top is Skipper in the cockpit of a biplane. Back then, planes were wood-framed and covered with canvas. When they first started flying they didn’t know how to synchronize machine guns with the prop so there was a danger of shooting the propeller off. Until they could work out the synchronization, the solution was too wrap the prop with bands of steel. Randomly ricocheted bullets was the solution which gives you an idea of how they did things in the early days.

Before that pilots went up with pistols which sounds quaintly like the Wild West. Other options included deploying a grappling hook on the end of some rope and try and cross your enemy’s path and tear up the their plane like some Afghan fighting kite.

This is what my great-grandfather signed up for.

Erlon Parker’s Italian pilot’s license (the Italian official misspelled his name and got the wrong state)

Once the United States entered the war, the Army and Navy raced each other to see which service would get to Europe first. The Navy implemented a recruiting program to enlist men for aviation duty. 100 men were chosen, two from each state. Skipper, signing up from Maine, joined as a member of 1st Naval Aeronautic Detachment in Pensacola, Florida which eventually was winnowed down to 20 enlisted pilots.

On a family Zoom call, I learned that the fledgling unit left for Europe before any uniforms could be designed and made for them. Once they landed in France, (fun fact, they sailed to Europe on the USS Jupiter, the first aircraft carrier in the US Navy) they were instructed to go to a tailor and get a uniform made for themselves. Apparently everyone interpreted what a uniform of a naval airman should look like so the resulting uniforms were not very, um, uniform.

The group needed instruction as they had little practice flying. The French pilots agreed to train them but, because of the language barrier, they had to be creative.

From Origins of Naval Patrol Aviation, 1911 – 1920s

One can only imagine how dodgy these early planes were. Nicknamed “flying eggcrates” there wasn’t much holding them together. These early engines were not very reliable some only good for 4-hours flying time. There was no radio so each plane went up with a carrier pigeon which was used to send home coordinates for a search party should they go down. There were also other uses for homing pigeons.

Skipper had other uses for pigeons (clipped from his obituary)

Skipper flew seaplanes (“flying boats”) that patrolled out over the ocean looking for enemy ships and submarines. They mostly would go out on reconnaissance but they also had some light bombs (basically hand grenades) that they could pitch over the side if they wanted to cause trouble.

HS-1 Seaplane

I also learned from Skipper’s obituary that his squadron was credited with sinking two German submarines but that all he ever shot down were, “two seagulls.”

After the war, Skipper joined a fellow war pilot, Eddy Rickenbacker, as one of the first commercial pilots with Eastern Airlines where he flew the Ford Tri-motor “Tin Goose” on the route between Newark, NJ and Washington, DC. Captain Pete Parker, as he became known, became the Chief pilot with Eastern and flew the first flight out of North Beach, Long Island which is now known as La Guardia.

The Eastern Airlines Tin Goose

I have seen Captain Parker’s flight log at my parent’s house which records regular flights between Newark and Havana on a DC-3 back in the 1930’s. My great-grandmother used to tell of the time when they were passengers on a DC-3 going through choppy air. Everyone was getting ill from getting bounced around so Skipper asked his wife to excuse him and went up to the cockpit and politely asked if he could take over for a bit. The plane soon smoothed itself out to the delight of everyone on-board.

This photo was taken in 1940, I think this was a DC-3

Skipper died before I was born but his stories and spirit last be on in my family. He is also the reason my middle name is Parker. I thank him for his service and hope you enjoyed this little celebration of his amazing life.

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It can happen again

A couple of weeks ago, I took the family to see Then They Came for Me, an exhibit about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during the Second World War. The exhibit, at San Francisco’s Presidio, has been extended through August and I highly recommend it. The use of the courts to remove civil liberties and justify racism (let’s call it what it was) is an ugly chapter in American history. Lessons learned then are more relevant than ever in today’s political environment of bombastic pronouncements and unnecessary walls.

Most know about the forced removal of 120,000 Americans from California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington during World War II but did you also know,

  • Most families were given only a few days to clear out or give away everything they owned. Lifelong businesses were shutdown and sold off for pennies on the dollar. Houses were sold off, basically repossessed. You were only allowed a single suitcase and it wasn’t clear where you were going.
  • Until the actual camps were built, families had to make do in the horse stalls at local racetracks. Of course it stunk, was cold, and there was no privacy.
  • The “Internment” camps were a nice way of putting it. They were basically concentration camps, surrounded by razor wire and machine gun towers. The shacks were simple tar-paper sheds which provided almost no insulation from the freezing temperature in the Winter and baked in the desert sun during the Summer.
  • There were many acts of passive resistance in the face of extreme institutional injustice. This was 20 years before the civil rights movement.
  • Award-winning photographers Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange were hired by the War Department to document the round-up and show it in a favorable light. Photos that depicted machine gun towers or protests were censored. It didn’t go as planned and we have them to thank for their record of this time.
Jap “hunting licenses” and a page for Life Magazine on how to identify a Jap
Our guide, Don Tamaki

We were lucky to have a guide the day we visited. Not just any guide but Donald Tamaki, one of the lawyers who worked on the team that cleared Fred Korematsu from the landmark Korematsu v. United States case.

In the video clip above, Don talks about how his team uncovered evidence of a cover-up. There was no evidence of any shore-to-ship radio messages, the threat of Japanese spies was unfounded, made up. 120,000 people were ripped out of their communities for no reason. Farms, businesses, and homes were sold off and people were told to suspect their neighbors for no reason.

In the end, the Supreme Court took the military & intelligence at their word and went along with their demand for an exclusion zone and incarceration of all those of Japanese decent within it. Once the courts stop questioning the other branches of government, in this case Congress and the President, the balance that keeps dictators and tyrants in check is lost.

While the current Chief Justice Roberts has said Korematsu v United States ‘has no place in law under the Constitution’ the law still exists, The Supreme Court has not reversed its original decision so the law that gives the president power to round up people based on race in times of national security is still on the books. As the dissenting justice in the original ruling writes, such a flawed law “lies about like a loaded weapon.”

A military order, however unconstitutional, is not apt to last longer than the military emergency. Even during that period, a succeeding commander may revoke it all. But once a judicial opinion rationalizes such an order to show that it conforms to the Constitution, or rather rationalizes the Constitution to show that the Constitution sanctions such an order, the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition imbeds that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes.

Korematsu v. United States, Dissent, Justice Jackson

It can happen again.

Related: California and Sanctuary Cities

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How we met

Izumi and I have told this story countless times so it’s ironic that I have never posted anything about it here, this place where I post stories to share. When people ask either of us, “So how did you two meet?” This is that story.

When I was living in Tokyo I worked at a Japanese company, Kyodo. My division was with a joint-venture Kyodo had with Dow Jones called Kyodo Tsushin. We sold financial news and market data to banks and financial firms. I was with a group that served Western financial firms so in our group there were some native English speakers as well as Japanese that spoke excellent English.

One evening our group went out for drinks and I struck up a conversation with Izumi who had recently joined our team. I was struck with how she had no trace of an accent and asked her where she learned English.

“Oh, I was born in Brooklyn and went to Montessori school there. English was actually my first language but my parents moved back to Japan when I was seven so I grew up in Japan.”

Thinking that was quite specific but also surprised because her experience matched my circumstances. I mentioned that I too was born in Brooklyn and I too went to Montessori school. We also discovered we were both discovered that we were both about the same age but left it at that.

The next day Izumi came in to tell me that there was a good chance we went to the same nursery school in Brooklyn. She told me that she went home and told her mother that she had “met a Mr. Kennedy who also went to Montessori school in Brooklyn” and her mom immediately asked, “Do you mean Ian? Did he have curly hair?” Izumi’s mom remembered my name, after all those years!

A couple of days later Izumi brought in an old, faded photo of me at her house for her birthday party.

Check out the clip-on ties!

Floored to see this old photo, I then went to visit my parents who live in Japan now and went thru the shoe box that is our family photo album and found this photo of Izumi, at the same birthday party, from a different camera.

White stockings were all the rage in the 70s.

Our two parents knew each other in Brooklyn.

The Japanese have a phrase called “the red thread” ( 赤い糸) which is like this invisible thread that was strung between us, over all these years since we’ve been apart. Within a year of the photos taken above Izumi and her parents moved back to Japan where she grew up and I stayed on the East Coast and grew up there. It was only after 25 years that we came together again, halfway around the world from Brooklyn.

I went back to the photo box at my parent’s house and later found this, our class photo from that Montessori school in Brooklyn. Can you spot us below?

Try now.

Epilogue

We discovered later that there were several other connections between our two families. My father, a restaurant critic, was a huge fan of Izumi’s aunt’s restaurant Marie Claude and had included one of his reviews of her restaurants in his book, Good Tokyo Restaurants.

Furthermore, my parents were eating at an izakaya in Jiyugaoka and sat next to Izumi’s parents. When they struck up a conversation, they made the connection that Izumi’s mom was the sister of Kazuko, the chef behind Marie Claude. While they celebrated making that connection, they did not realize the deeper connection, that they knew each other from Brooklyn at the time.

One final note of symmetry. My father was born on the longest day of the year, Izumi’s on the shortest. I have a younger sister and am the oldest of two siblings. Izumi has a younger brother and is the oldest of two siblings. Both our younger siblings are the same number of years apart from us.

I guess you could say the connection is strong 💪 Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

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Office

My Web 2.0 Laptop

When I worked at Yahoo it was at the height of a cultural trend called Web 2.0. The fashion was to put stickers of various startups all over the front of your laptop so people could see how hip you were. I was running into many interesting people so I took a different approach and asked them to sign my laptop with a sharpie instead.

When the laptop started to give out, before handing it back Yahoo IT and took a snapshot for posterity.

Here are some of the names. Click on the photo above to go to the Flickr page that has them tagged.

Rafat Ali
Stowe Boyd
Nick Denton
Caterina Fake
David Filo
David Jacobs
Bradley Horowitz
Guy Kawasaki
Ross Mayfield
Richard MacManus
Dave McClure
Matt Mullenweg
Ray Ozzie
Greg Reinacker
Doc Searls
Deborah Schultz
Kathy Sierra
Bruce Sterling
Chris Tolles
David Weinberger
Dave Winer
Niklas Zennström

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Current Events

Political Theatre

A detailed breakdown of how the Senate health care vote went down in the dead of the evening. John McCain’s mic-drop moment when he went against his party and voted against repealing legislation enacted by his opponent in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Buzzfeed has an annotated blow-by-blow of the historic moment, complete with animated GIFs, “Honestly, it’s like a Renaissance painting with all this drama.”

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Current Events

The Unseen Great Wall

The Great Wall of China

This weekend’s Sunday New York Times features the striking photo seen above, spread over two pages. Most people experience the Great Wall, “on half-day tours from Beijing to the Badaling or Mutianyu sections of the Great Wall, which are 40 to 50 miles north of the capital” but the author of The Great Wall, Our Way chose the road less traveled and hiked along a remote section of the wall further to the North that have been essentially untouched for 500 years.

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Current Events

Time Travel

old-telephone

Leave it to the Lutherans.

100 years ago, on April 22, 1913, the Ladies Aid Society and the First Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City sealed a time capsule which has been sitting under a grill set into the floor of the church. Last month, the Century Chest as it was called, was opened. The contents were in pristine condition and included newspapers & periodicals, a brand new telephone, a straw hat, clothing and correspondence, all in mint condition.

Oklahoma Century Chest

Several letters and objects were addressed to future descendants of local families. Imagine handing your youngest daughter or son the package above and telling them it was from their ancestors and addressed specifically for them.

Further reading:

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Current Events

Google Glass and Time Travel

google-glass-patent

A lot has been written about how Google Glass will be great for those that put on a pair. Immediate access to the world’s most powerful database, push alerts from your closest friends, a voice UI so you can look up directions without having to look down at your phone, a  camera that lets you take a photo and share a moment, all without leaving that moment.

While these are all powerful use cases that are bound to transform how we interact with the world around us, I’m more excited for the capability of Google Glass to annotate the physical world as we travel through it for those that come after us, especially those that can re-experience that world, as we saw it, in context. Imagine being able to take a photo of Notre Dame in Paris today, on a trip with your family and saving those photos with all the GPS data so the photo has a place, on a map, in time. Add a community and you have a series of photos of a place, all taken from different perspectives. This, of course, is flickr’s world map – announced in 2004 under the tagline, “eyes of the world.”

flickr-world-map

 

While a picture is worth 1,000 words, what if you could add more context. What if you could add more text to your photo? Tell a story that shared how this photo, in this place, was important to you? This is Findery.com, a place where people leave notes for each other in space and time. As described in their FAQ,

Findery is made of notes. A note can be a story, advice, jokes, diatribes, information, memories, facts, advertisements, love letters, grocery lists and manifestos. The content of a note is only limited by your imagination. A note can be shared with the world, one to many people, one to one, or only with yourself.

findery

 

Findery and the Flickr Map are compelling maps experiences but imagine how powerful they could be if you could experience them in situ. The mobile versions of Flickr and Google+ get at this with a Nearby feature. This sort allows you to browse photos that are nearby to your GPS location. I’ve used it a few times but rarely is it compelling. Even if the photos are only a block away, they lose their connective tissue.

While Google Glass is interesting as an information capture device, the possibility of a viewing device that can potentially line up photos that are taken at the same place is something that really excites me. Once you have a head’s up display connected to a vast library of GPS-tagged photos you can enable clever overlays that show you not only the space around you but also that same space through time.

Check out OldSF – it’s a completely voluntary effort where two folks came together and took the time to put a bunch of photos from the San Francisco Public Library on to a map so you can browse through them. One of the founders of OldSF blogged about the thrill of overlaying one photos from the past and fading to the present (and back again) where you can basically time travel in real life. It’s a genre called, Now and Then photography most recently cataloged in the site, Dear Photograph

Imagine being able to pull up photos from your past, your father’s past, or your grandparent’s past. Ask Google Glass for directions to the nearest pinned memory and then bring it up in your glasses and be able to see that moment, captured in time, while standing on the very spot the photographer stood. Add voice annotation, capture some audio. It’s that moment that puts goosebumps on my arms. It’s that moment, reliving history, your personal history, that makes me excited to try out Google Glass someday.

notre-damePhoto from Tom

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Current Events

A day that will live in world history

At Pearl Harbor there is an exhibit of the events leading up to the Pacific War. Inside is the original draft of the speech FDR gave to congress on the day following Japan’s attack. The document is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of FDR. Several changes you can see include:

Replacing, “a date which will live in world history” with the much stronger “a date which will live in infamy.”

A tentative attacked “without warning” is struck out. There are theories that FDR did have warning.

Also at the exhibit is the full text of a telegram which FDR sent to the Emperor of Japan the day before Pearl Harbor. In it he says that he is willing to cede what is today Vietnam to the Japanese as long as they withdrew the build up of forces in Vietnam which were gearing up to invade the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia (which they eventually did).

There is absolutely no thought on the part of the United States of invading Indo-China if every Japanese soldier or sailor were to be withdrawn therefrom.

I think that we can obtain the same assurance from the Governments of the East Indies, the Governments of Malaya and. the Government of Thailand. I would even undertake to ask for the same assurance on the part of the Government of China. Thus a withdrawal of the Japanese forces from Indo-China would result in the assurance of peace throughout the whole of the South Pacific area.