Google Photos

DSCN0223.JPGThis week Google announced and released their new photo sharing service. I mostly use Flickr, but I had a handful of photo collections in Google Picassa years ago, which got dragged over into Google+ photos, and now have dutifully arrived in Google Photos.

As an overall interface for viewing photos, Google Photos seems nice, but not particularly better or worse than Flickr. There are options to share photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but I see no way to get various-sized photos to embed within web pages as I do with Flickr.

I also see no way to tag photos, but this might not be significant, as the facial, object, and location recognition built in to Google Photos is so accurate that it comes across frightening to this privacy advocate.

Facial recognition in my photo sample set is almost perfect. If the face is looking straight on, or is turned to the side, or is wearing a hat — doesn’t matter. Google Photos can pick out the face. It also correctly identified photograph locations including Boston, Washington D.C., Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Irvine, Joshua Tree National Park, and San Juan Capistrano, seemingly based on photographic content. (My ancient Canon 5D camera doesn’t have a GPS to embed location data, and my even more ancient Canon EOS-3 film camera certainly doesn’t embed location data!)

Object recognition was nearly as accurate, with a search for “food” including pictures of restaurants, pictures of food on a plate, and pictures of unpicked vegetables growing — though I was amused to see a picture of a live crab in an aquarium counted amongst “food”… not strictly incorrect, but unexpected.

The two main things that I do with photo sharing is to set up a place to store, share, and browse photos, and to embed them into web pages (such as this blog post). Google Photos does a fine job of the first set of tasks, but apparently not so great at the second task, so I will be sticking with Flickr for the time being.

The content recognition software behind Google Photos is outstanding, but might open a whole new can of worms in terms of reasonably expected privacy. Obviously, anyone sharing a photo in public would not expect privacy of the photo itself, but the fact that so much data can be automatically sucked out of the photo could easily give one pause. And it doesn’t really matter if your photos or stored on Google Photos or not, as Google can find and analyze photos from Flickr or from any public photo site.

Compulsory Mechanical Licensing

783843-R1-028-12A_012I’m at the tail end of producing a music album for a client, and have been sailing the seas of mechanical licenses. Briefly, for the uninitiated, in order to use someone else’s composition on your album, you need to secure a mechanical license. This is frequently done by working with an organization like the Harry Fox Agency, which represents many different music publishers, or going directly to a particular music publisher. But what happens when the copyright holder of a song isn’t represented by a music publisher?

This happened on one of the songs for my current project. Or more precisely, the song had been co-written by two composers, one of which had his copyright represented by a music publisher, and the other of which did not. So going through the Harry Fox Agency or through the publisher, I was only able to license 50% of the song.

U.S. copyright law makes provision for a so-called compulsory license, in which case, just so long as you file the initial paperwork before publishing your recording, you can simply notify a copyright holder that you will be engaging in a compulsory license, and then follow up by sending them a check for the royalty payment, based on the number of copies to be published and the current government-established statutory rate. Not as easy as working with a publisher or with Harry Fox, but certainly doable — albeit with a catch. U.S. Copyright Office Circular 73 explains that you must also:

Make … a monthly statement of account, to the copyright owner or authorized agent of the owner on or before the 20th day of each month for every phonorecord made and distributed in accordance with the license.

and:

File with the copyright owner or authorized agent of the owner a detailed annual statement of account, certified by a certified public accountant.

The circular does not suggest any end to this, implying that monthly statements and annual accountant-certified reports must be mailed to the copyright holder indefinitely, even if no further royalties were owed. I don’t want to deal with this myself, nor do I want to burden my client with needing to deal with this.

I must not be alone in preferring to avoid directly engaging in compulsory mechanical licensing, as there are companies set up that will do this for you. One such company is Easy Song Licensing in Minneapolis, a music recording company who saw a need to help others with compulsory licensing. After spending hours across about a week trying to figure out to whom I owed a royalty payment and how to get it to them, I gladly paid ESL’s modest fee to handle the compulsory licensing paperwork for me, wishing only that I had done so earlier!

Bark Busters Progress

20140808-samantha-7.jpgIn March we met with a local Bark Busters trainer to get assistance working with Samantha the Border Collie. Despite previously earning status as an AKC Star Puppy, as a three-year-old dog her obedience had been deteriorating and her demeanor around people she wasn’t familiar with was unacceptable. She would frequently refuse to come back inside the house after playing outside off leash, she would growl and bark at guests, and she was generally assuming a role of command both within our family and wherever she went.

Past dogs in my life were much more naturally submissive (for the most part) to their human caretakers, and we needed some help learning how to get Samantha under control.

Our Bark Busters trainer showed us that we had to take on the role of pack leader for Samantha, including responding to her not as we would respond to other people, but as a lead dog would respond to other dogs. We learned how to growl at Samantha, and, if that doesn’t get her attention, to growl and clap our hands simultaneously, or even to growl and throw to the ground a “Bark Busters pillow”, filled with metal bolts that clank together making a sound unpleasant to dogs’ ears. All of this is meant to simulate a dog pack leader growling and, if needed, snapping at other dogs, to deter unacceptable behavior and to signal that there’s no reason to get upset right now.

Of course, not every response should be negative. On the positive side, praising the dog for a successfully following commands and for behaving appropriately should be boisterously happy, as should calling for the dog to come. Other commands (sit, stay, etc.) should be given firmly and directly, neither too happy nor too dour.

We learned that we must enforce ourselves as the leaders of the family, even in seemingly minor things. We go through the door first. We go up and down the stairs first. We say when it’s time to play and when it’s not. On walks, stay in front, not behind. Over time, the dog will learn that its owners are in the lead, in charge, in control, and that she doesn’t have to be.

All of these things intertwine together to promote obedient behavior in the dog, and to diminish anxiety wrought by the dog feeling that she’s responsible for the household — a job that is really too big and overwhelming for her.

Putting what we’ve learned into practice, the results have been immediate and astonishing. Samantha’s behavior has improved many times over, going from being a dog that would only listen to us if it suited her mood, to a dog who seems eager to please, and truly apologetic if she lets us down. We’ve not brought her into contact with unfamiliar house guests yet, though her behavior around the Bark Busters trainer has gone from antagonistic to playful. We are hopeful to see similar changes around other visitors.

Shortly after we first started noticing issues with Samantha, I bought a Bark Busters book, which I wrote a mediocre review of on Amazon. I stand by that review of the book, because I found it confusing and poorly written. But, with the assistance of an in-person Bark Busters trainer, I have been extremely impressed with their methodology.