Using the Google Search App for Plant Identification

Over the past few months Kelly and I have been testing Google’s search app, which lets you use your phone’s camera to do a kind of reverse image search, to identify weeds and trees. It’s surprisingly accurate and even when it doesn’t get you to the exact plant it usually shows results close enough to make a good guess with a little more research.

To do an image search you click on the colorful square next to the microphone and allow the app to access your phone’s camera. It seems to work both with long distance shots, for instance a picture of an entire mature tree, or closeups of leaves.

There are other plant identification apps out there that I have tested over the years but none have worked as well as Google’s search app. Google is sitting on way more data than any small-time app maker. Which leads to my disclaimer . . .

While this search ability is amazing, I find Google creepy. Why? Let me list just a few reasons.

  • When you use Google for a search they track your location data. What exactly are they doing with this location data? Yes, you can turn this off but you loose functionality.
  • They gather publicly accessible information about you and hoard it like the Nibelungen hoard their gold.
  • They have monopolized and monetized search.
  • Google’s Director of Engineering is Singularity nutjob Ray Kurzweil who believes we will, someday, be raptured up to the cloud in a perverse, secular form of millenarianism.
  • Google confuses data accumulation with wisdom.
  • See Adam Curtis’ three part series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Part I, PartII, Part III) to see where the nightmarish world Google’s belief in cybernetics will take us.

Enough ranting. You will all have to help still my urge to take a sledgehammer to the whole interwebs.

To that end if any of you know a plant search alternative that works as well as Google please leave a comment. Or perhaps we should all just take our kids for a walk and show them some plants . . .

Backyard in Progress

This morning I thought I’d update progress on the garden. A crew from Haynes Landscaping worked hard over the past week to clean up our backyard and install the hardscaping for a rain garden fed by the downspout from the back end of our house. The rain garden will fill out a problematic area we’ve struggled with over the years.

When we moved into this house in 1998 the spot was occupied by a dead tree. A few years ago we used the area to mine clay for our adobe oven. This left a shallow depression that I filled in with compost and routed the downspout towards via an unsightly pipe. Lacking definition and choked with weeds, the area never looked good.

Our landscaper Laramee proposed digging the depression out by about a foot and adding river rock and a little dry stream fed by the downspout. I made a bridge so that when it rains water will flow under the path that leads to our shed. This is why you hire an outsider expert: Kelly and I would never have thought of this rain garden or the idea of running the flow under the path.

Yes, one of these days I’ll remove the bar code from that pipe!

We plan on planting this area with native plants in the fall. Laramee and his crew also hauled up some rock to better define the paths in our yard that lead to the bees and the chicken coop.

Laramee also proposed something else we never would have thought of: 12-volt lighting. He placed the lights sparingly along the paths in our backyard. For the sake of wildlife, I don’t believe in having outdoor lighting on all the time, so I rigged up a remote control switch to turn the lighting on as needed, such as when heading to the shed in the evening.

On top of the importance of seeking outside advice, the other lesson is not to accumulate crap such as building materials or duplicate tools. I had a lot of “failed project” detritus hidden behind the shed and tucked into corners of the yard. It feels good to have that junk gone and have a space that brings solace rather than “I’ve-got-so-much-to-do” chore anxiety.

Saturday Tweets: Cat Memelord

On Moon Bases, Free Parking and One Hell of a Grim Swedish Science Fiction Movie

My post Monday linking to the Streetsblog video on Amsterdam’s re-purposing 10,000 parking spaces seems to have touched a nerve and sparked a heated discussion. Collect a random assortment of Americans together and I actually think we could have easier conversations about politics and religion than about parking. But we need to start talking about parking and the hold automobile culture has taken on our lives, health and wallets. Many of us would like to bike more but are afraid to because of the dangerous car-centric way in which our streets are constructed. And why take the bus when it’s so easy to find a free parking space?

To the partisans of the unalienable right to free parking I ask that you consider the video above for a quick overview of the subject featuring the godfather of parking scholarship, Donald Shoup. To summarize the video, the absurdities of parking regulation play a partial role in the homelessness and housing affordability crisis in many big cities. We’d do well to consider alternatives to the parking craters that deface our cities and make it less likely that we’ll walk, bike or take public transit.

Now on to the tangentially related subject of moon bases. My primary objection to manned space travel in general is that it gives a false sense that there is something else in this universe for us other than the paradisaical planet we currently call home and that we can screw things up here and escape to space stations, mars or other solar systems. While space offers lots of free parking potential, the simple fact is that life outside earth is inhospitable in the extreme and the distances involved in reaching other solar systems make that travel impossible.

I can think of no better warning of the vastness and horror of space than a recent Swedish movie Aniara, based on an epic poem, which you can watch via Amazon. Let me warn you that this film, despite the lack of gore, is definitely not for kids or for a cozy date night. While I’m not a fan of the film’s nihilism and dismissal of the numinous it does an excellent job of parodying the political impasse we’re currently living in (the spaceship in the film is nothing more than a bland shopping mall lead by leaders who everyone knows are lying). To my point, Aniara portrays space for what it is: an endless, empty realm of eternal darkness. The lesson of the film is don’t screw things up on earth–it’s all we’ve got.

Colonizing space is delusional, but working on making our cities more livable is eminently achievable.

What Happens When You Remove 10,000 Parking Spaces

In response to Jeff Bezos’ assertion that he can’t think of anything better to do with his billions than build a moon base, let us collectively imagine a list of more worthwhile ideas he could fund. How about an organization that would gift all expenses paid trips to Amsterdam for any nay-saying, “We can’t possibly do that here” Angelino unable to imagine a future without gobs of free parking? Speak out in favor of parking at a community meeting and, congratulations, here’s your KLM ticket. Drop an angry I-can’t-find-parking-tweet? Get ready to smell the tulips.

This Streetfilms production shows what can happen when we de-clutter the cars from our cities. Here in LA, those cars no longer “spark joy.” Get rid of them and we could have gardens, playgrounds, space for public transit and so much more.