Regarding Photos

The Computer Should Serve the Human

Recorded on February 12th, 2016

Eniac

I have lost the stupid-simple chronological order of the iPhoto library on my MacBook, and it’s my own fault. I turned on Google Photos backup a few months ago with the intention of having an additional safe harbor for 14 years of photos. That worked great on the old iPhoto library, and I could open the Google Photos app on iOS to see all those same photos anywhere. But then I upgraded to the OS X Photos app, and the magic of iCloud photo syncing collided with Google Photos. Something about the way they tie together on the phone makes the Apple Photos library think that lots of those Google photos are new, so random pictures from years ago appear in the iOS camera roll as if they were taken recently.

As Mr. Thornton, my high school physics teacher would say, “This is what you would expect.” I knew this would happen, but my curiosity about OS X Photos got the best of me. It’s not a complete disaster, because of the year/month browsing you can do in the Years > Collections > Moments view, but the underlying chaos makes me nervous. There’s no authoritative order to it anymore.

I remembered seeing a post from Dr. Drang a while back about photo management via the Finder. He described a podcast where Myke Hurley and Bradley Chambers were talking about photo management and backups, and Bradley endorsed the files + folders method:

As the podcast proceded [sic], I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one with a photo mess on his hands. Myke Hurley has apparently never organized his photos. He has gigabytes and gigabytes of photos just sitting on his phone. Backed up to iCloud, yes, if you consider that a backup, but with no structure. Bradley began an intervention.

I agreed with much of what was suggested: bringing the photos onto Myke’s Mac through Image Capture and setting up the year/month folders. But Bradley then suggested Myke move his photos into the folder structure by hand, doing maybe fifty a day for the thousands of photos Myke has. This is madness. It’s using a human to serve the computer rather than the other way around. Like me, Myke needs an automated solution.

Dr. Drang then shares some excellent scripts to generate the hierarchy of folders automatically. This is an obvious case for automation, but the more important lesson is: Watch out for situations where the human serves the computer. There are so many tiny bits of recurring nano-maintenance we do on our phones and laptops, that they sneak into our routines without us noticing:

  • Updating operating systems and apps
  • Cleaning files off the desktop
  • Deleting duplicate photos
  • Running backups
  • Cleaning out podcast episodes we’ll never listen to
  • Deleting/filing the same kinds of status/notification emails over and over

Minimizing the number of devices, apps and places where data lives is the first solution, but after that, watch for ways to make computers maintain themselves and serve people, instead of spending your time taking care of the machine.