Monthly Archives: June 2013

And another story on 60 Minutes about a major personal mystery which was solved by visual recognition and visual memory

Memories of the scenery of a long-ago journey, Google Earth, a very old photograph of a young boy and face recognition – these are the elements that found the solution to an impossible quest. Saroo Brierley’s amazing story of finding a lost mother within the incomprehensibly huge population and landmass of India is a demonstration of the incredible power and potential of the use of images as data in contemporary computer technology and the natural visual processing and visual memory capabilities of the human brain.

Lost and Found. 60 Minutes (Australia). June 21st 2013. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8678261

Saroo was also a guest on Breakfast on ABC’s Radio National on June 25th 2013, interviewed with her usual skill and intelligence by Fran Kelly. Saroo is promoting his autobiography titled A Long Way Home.

Long Way Home: An extraordinary story. Breakfast. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/long-way-home-an-extraordinary-story/4777562

Is face recognition (in conjunction with other forms of identification) once again the key to solving a crime mystery?

“I started to read about the shearers’ strike and I made a discovery. I found a photograph of the Strike Committee and there, standing up, in the middle is a person that I know was Joe Quinn. At this stage, he was calling himself Payne but I know him and recognise him as Joe Quinn from Gatton. I was so surprised to see that he was quite an influential member of the strike committee. And I remembered evidence that had been disregarded that Michael had a confrontation with a union official in a barber shop in north west Queensland and I wondered if the confrontation had been with this man, Joe Quinn.” – STEPHANIE BENNETT

This is a transcript from a story on the current affairs TV series Australian Story about a lady by the name of Stephanie Bennett who has spent years trying to solve the mystery of the horrific and vile Gatton murders. Bennett’s theory is that Quinn was the ringleader in the murders in company with others. I find her argument believable. Here are some more quotes from the transcript of the report:

“So Mum believes that Joe Quinn had been using aliases for years to evade the law. But he had a tattoo, he had some missing fingers, and he’d had a gunshot accident to the groin some years ago.” – ANGELA O’MALIA

“And under the name Adams, he is described as having one tattoo on his left forearm…” – STEPHANIE BENNETT

My knowledge of critical thinking and fallacies in decision-making tells me that questions need to be asked about this kind of evidence. Was the tattoo an exact match, visually or by description? How common was it for men at the time to have a tattoo on the left forearm, missing fingers or a gunshot wound to the groin? One needs to always consider base rates within the relevant population before deciding that some characteristic is unusual or abnormal or significant in some way. One must also ask how reliable was Bennett’s visual recognition of Quinn in the photo. But I guess such doubts might be unnecessary given the info that Quinn lost his job and was sent to jail for past crimes. One can only assume that this conviction was based on good evidence available at the time.

This interesting mystery is one of countless demonstrations of the importance of excellent face memory ability in solving crimes and identifying suspects, and it also demonstrates why we should never discourage the habit of criminal types to adorn their bodies with tattoos. In doing this they give a gift to police and detectives who are trying to identify persons of interest. Faces and tattoos are highly visible, permanent and distinctive features that can be used to identify people who are suspected of committing crimes. It is a wonder and a paradox that the section of society which has the most to lose from having a tattoo is the one that appears to have the most enthusiasm for getting them.

The story of this Australian murder mystery is also a reminder that criminals and psychopaths can and often do have charismatic and popular personalities. Regardless of whether or not Quinn was involved in the murders, it appears that he had been a leader in one of Australia’s most important industrial disputes, but also had a criminal past and a habit of using false names, and his dark past eventually caught up with him resulting in some time in prison. There is a popular image of the criminal psychopaths as loners, but it is more often the case that they are leaders.

Australian Story. When Blood Runs Cold – Transcript: Monday, 17 June , 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2012/s3783411.htm

You know you’re a super-recognizer when….

……you identify an Australian character actor in a terrific old English horror movie that was made in 1945, filmed when the actress was young and had no Australian accent, and many years before she was most famous in Australia.

Dead of Night – IMDb – cast – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037635/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm#cast

If you have a taste for evil ventriloquists’ dummies, this is one to watch for sure.

Scenes, scenes, scenes, my idle thoughts are filled with scenes

While trying to get my finger into the groove on the inner side of sticks of celery to wash them properly scenes of Leederville around the area of the Luna Cinema and the Leederville TAFE or tech or whatever they call it these days flashes into my mind automatically. There is no logical or temporal connection between celery and Leederville that I know of. This is just another example of my fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia. I named it myself. As far as I know I’m the first person to ever describe this type of synaesthesia in detail. I experience it all the time, and it is such an ordinary part of my life that I barely notice it. I’ve also described other types of synaesthesia that are either triggered by seeing scenes or which have visual memories of scenes as the surprising thing that is triggered by doing things such as household manual chores or thinking about particular concepts or reading or listening to a narrative story or non-fiction account that has scenes in it.

The stuff of thought is scenes and visualizations. In my opinion the front of the brain is over-rated for importance in thought compared to the back end and the under-side of the brain, which does visual processing. I believe we need to take a new LOOK at the way the brain works.

One way to hide your face – stack on weight

The Australian politician Joe Hockey has lost a lot of weight in the last year, and now we are able to see the full character and structure in his face. I think he does look a bit older without the chubbiness, but at the same time I think his appearance is now more like a person to be taken seriously. In my opinion the full emergence of Hockey’s facial features from behind a layer of padding highlights an issue that facial recognition technology researchers need to consider – the issue of excess weight or obesity altering facial appearance and making face recognition more difficult (because it makes faces more generic) or more likely to give a false negative (when done across a range of weight gain or weight loss in the same person). These days obesity and also the dramatic loss of large amounts of weight from gastric surgery are more common than ever, so these factors have an increasing impact on face recognition. The visual effect of weight loss on a face is a bit like looking at a coastline at low tide. It might be the same land but it isn’t the same scene.

Another sculpture of personified fast food

small sculpture of personified soft-serve ice cream cones at a new playground in Western Australia

Cool for Kids by Judith Forrest, located at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity. Alkimos, Western Australia

a playground at Trinity at Alkimos Western Australia
Playground at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity at Alkimos.

Macca's burger monster sculpture on drive-thru bollard

Burger monster sculpture on drive-thru bollard at a McDonalds restaurant

Scene at sunset from picnic seating at the playground at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity at Alkimos.

Scene at sunset from picnic seating at the playground at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity at Alkimos.

I don’t know what inspires a sculptor to create a work depicting a piece of fast food with human characteristics, but I think it does demonstrate how much the personification of things that aren’t persons is a ubiquitous part of human psychology, not only for those of us who naturally personify numbers and letters with one variation of synaesthesia. Judith Forrest might be horrified if I compare her work with those cute hamburgers with faces that decorate the tops of poles in the drive-thrus of McDonalds restaurants, but I will anyway. Another odd fact which I can’t explain is that this new playground isn’t the only one in the Perth metro area which features one or more sculptures of personified objects. The Piney Lakes Sensory Playground south of the river includes many striking and whimsical sculptures including some personified letters of the alphabet, which for me, a multi-synaesthete with ordinal-linguistic personification, have a special appeal. I think those sculptures might be the work of Anne Fine, and I’ve written about them in the past.

The inclusion of sculptures in a new playground is some indication of the level of quality of this new property development. I’ve spent many a happy hour supervising kids in WA playgrounds, but I think this small playground is the best example I’ve seen of bringing the beauty of the natural local landscape, flora and fauna into a park and playground area. This is an attractive, intelligently-made playspace with play equipment that kids genuinely enjoy, and recreational areas for families that are a pleasure to use. The only issue is a lack of toilets, but I guess that is because this park was created for local residents. If you sit still, tiny blue wrens can be seen darting about in the bushes of WA coastal native plants around the playground at sunset. I wish the Opportunity Playspace on Scenic Drive in Wanneroo (Rotary Park) was a bit more like this wonderful playground. I don’t know exactly who created the Agora Village Square Park, but I’d like to say you’ve done a top job.

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe Beach, memories and the method of loci go together so naturally

Even though I no longer live near Cottesloe, I make a point of visiting Sculpture by the Sea every year, with at least one of our kids in tow. We love it, and we love swimming at Cott Main Beach (not too deep though, we aren’t that daring). In the last few years I’ve visited with the child of ours who has as strong an interest in the sculptures as I do, so I’ve been able to take my time to really appreciate the pieces, and in doing this to memorize the sculptures seen, in context in their locations. This means that as I tour through the various highly memorable locations along the foreshore of one of Perth’s oldest beaches, I get to visually experience things that are there, and also things that once were there at that exact location. The organizers of the exhibition unavoidably re-use many specific locations for situating sculptures from year to year, so when I look at a sculpture I also often see in my mind’s eye a sculpture that was at that spot last year, or maybe in a year before that. This is an example of the unconscious or unintentional employment of the method of loci memory technique. I have written other posts at his blog about similar experiences of mine and our children in which we have memorized stuff with this or a similar method by accident, and I have even given a name to this phenomenon; involuntary method of loci memorization or IMLM for short.

Standing and looking at many locations along the Cottesloe Main Beach foreshore also evokes memories of family and personal visits to the beach in past years, in addition to the over-laying of more recent memories of the annual sculpture exhibition which has been operating in Cottesloe since 2005. Memories evoked include the time we ate fish and chips there when we were still unmarried, the day I unexpectedly met an elderly aunt (she’s long-dead now), then paddling with her and being shocked by finding a scallop that was unexpectedly alive, memories of many visits with my mother, a sibling and a grandmother which are sometimes also evoked by listening to a specific piece of music from the 1980s, and memories of swimming with my sibling at night in the cold fresh-water pool that was once situated near the groyne, the water tasting strangely sweet following the taste of salt water from swimming in the sea. I could point out the specific locations where I saw the dead whale and also where I touched the rough skin of a large dead shark that someone had displayed like a trophy at the shoreline, both events witnessed when I was a child. There probably isn’t a public place in Perth that evokes as many memories for me as Cottesloe Beach. If there is a neuron or a location within my synaesthete brain “for” Cottesloe Beach, it is surely thickly surrounded by many connections.

The 10th annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe will be open from March 7th to March 24th 2014. I can’t wait.  http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/exhibitions/cottesloe.aspx

Pareidolia in a squashed plastic choc-milk bottle

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=619558368056300&set=a.352718398073633.93806.131153923563416&type=1&theater