Picasa, Google Street View, and other overzealous face-recognition magic

Lately I’m impressed by Picasa’s ability to recognize faces in my digital photos. It’s so keen, in fact, it even asked me to tag the following “people” that I encountered in Amsterdam:

Facerec01 Facerec02 Facerec03

This reminds me of how Google Street View’s face recognition is so eager that it thinks Colonel Sanders’ image on KFC storefronts is of a real person - it’s probably exactly the same algorithm as Picasa’s, except Street View eventually blurs the faces it picks out. According to Street View, this is the KFC nearest to my old home:


It’s such an eager algorithm that it recognizes the Colonel each time he appears! I wonder: if facial recognition software is so keen that it identifies mannequins and illustrations as people, what would you have to do so that your face isn’t recognized as a face at all?

Introducing Woot-Aloot, a woot.com alert service


Update (28 December 2010): Woot-Aloot is now located at http://www.wootaloot.com, and looks 1000 times nicer. Happy wooting!

I’m pleased to announce that the first edition of Woot-Aloot, my home-made woot.com checker, is now online.

Woot-Aloot couldn’t be simpler - tell it what you want to buy, and when that product is available on Woot.com, it will email you an alert.

(nerd info: Woot-Aloot is written in Python and takes advantage of the generously-resourced free Google App Engine program. I’d strongly recommend it for any little programming projects you might want to do!)

Two tips for avoiding Google Reader information overkill

Google Reader Logo

I know this is my third post already about a Google product, but I can’t help myself - I’m a huge fan of Google Reader. I love how it takes out all the hard work from surfing the web, but it definitely engenders a certain information overload. Mine was getting out of hand: I had a folder for every topic I kept up with: “Technology News”, “Music News”, “Music Reviews”, “Technology Fun”, “Apple News”, and so on. It was pandemonium!

So, I rethought my approach to Google Reader, starting with the categories. I noticed that the feeds I like most are really concise - barely more than a descriptive headline. A good example would be the Hacker News feed: because the feed contains only headlines, I can quickly decide whether or not to read the article. I put the most concise feeds into a Really Interesting category. Slightly wordier feeds go into Sorta Interesting. After those are the Really Funny feeds - hilarious sites that I don’t want to bundle in with my higher-brow feeds. Wordy feeds that I feel obligated to follow are relegated to either Check Infrequently or Not Very Interesting.

Another smart move was unsubscribing from several sites. I followed a handful of blogs that would post several times a day, mainly sharing links to news stories or blog posts that had somehow caught their eye. A lot of articles would be posted by several different people, and I got sick of the repetition, so I unsubscribed to all aggregator-type feeds bar one (the aforementioned Hacker News).

Now, I have a much healthier relationship with Google Reader. I’m no longer overwhelmed by masses of information - now, I’m able to pay more attention to the feeds I really like and less attention to those I don’t. I’d strongly recommend thinking about your Google Reader usage, and seeing if you can benefit from reorganizing.

In which I review the Akai MPD18 Pad Controller

I’m really into making music on my computer, using software like Propellerhead Reason and Apple Logic, but I’ve never been great at making drum beats. I have a MIDI keyboard, but it’s not great for tapping out rhythms, and dragging the notes onto the sequencer grid is not really spontaneous or fun - so, about a month ago, I bought an Akai MPD18.

Akai MPD18

There have been MIDI-over-USB drum pads on the market for years now, but they’ve either been too pricey for my liking (the M-Audio Trigger Finger is about $150) or too tiny (the $60 Korg NanoPad looks pretty flimsy, and has only 10 pads). I was drawn to the MPD18 by a number of factors: it has 16 pads, it costs less than $100, and Akai have a good reputation when it comes to drum pad products. I got a refurbished one for $87, and I got free shipping, which seemed like a great deal.

First Impressions

One of the first things I noticed about the MPD18 is that its size is perfect for me. It fits comfortably in my lap, which is great, as I have very little desk space. Its front panel is interface is quite basic: it has a few buttons, and a nice chunky “Q-Link” slider. I really like the simplicity of the controls - my MIDI keyboard has dozens of buttons whose purpose I don’t understand, so the Akai’s sleek interface is refreshing.

It took a little experimentation to get the slider to work in Reason - there’s no preset controller template included, so I had to set it up as a generic MIDI instrument. Although the slider didn’t work straight away, the pads certainly did - I was tapping out beats in seconds. It even has aftertouch, which is a cool (if gimmicky) feature when I’m using it to control non-drum instruments.


My one complaint with the MPD18 is that the pads are not very sensitive. Most of my taps will have a velocity of around 50 or 60, which is very quiet considering that the maximum MIDI velocity is 127 and that I’m not being gentle. There is a “Full Level” button you can toggle, which sends all notes with maximum velocity, but that defeats the purpose of a touch-sensitive controller. This appears to be a common complaint with Akai’s non-MPC pad instruments, due to a small but significant gap between the pad and the internal trigger. A friend of mine has the same issue with his MPK49’s pads - he referred me to some forum posts which advocate opening the case and placing a few layers of electrical tape over the triggers. This would be a really easy fix, but I’m reluctant to void the warranty on my new toy.

In summary

I’m very happy with my MPD18. It’s been a real boon to my amateur beat-making, and I think it’s the right price for its level of functionality. The pads’ insensitivity is a little annoying, but it’s not a dealbreaker. For the price, it’s pretty hard to beat.

(PS: If this review has helped you decide to buy an MPD18, and you’d like to help support this blog financially, then please buy your MPD18 from here if you’re in the US or here if you’re in the UK. Thank you very much!)