Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to search for similar images on the internet

Answer:  I don't know.  If you're trying to source duplicated images, you can always use Tin Eye.  But if you've got a photo and you're trying to find similar photos on the internet, the options seem pretty dismal right now. 

Case in point:  I found this insect in my front garden the other day and, never having seen it before, I wanted to find similar images so that I could learn what it is and whether it is benign or potentially harmful to my carefully-constructed landscaping.
Friend or foe?

Sitting on the ledge of our stacked stone garden
I uploaded that pic to Imgur so that I could run a few searches.  Here are some of the amusing results.
Tin Eye only returns identical images, so that doesn't work.  Three billion images but it can't associate similar views and apparently nobody has taken a close-enough photo of this bug before. 
Xerox has this "similar image search" site, but you can see that I was getting nowhere with this one.  Well, maybe there's the beginnings of success because is that a politician on the second line??  Politician... insect...  now we're getting somewhere. 
Google was no better.
Mostly it returned a bunch of car parts. 
I had a good laugh over this one:
Congratulations, Google!!  That's an excellent image match!!  Except one is an insect and the other is a burned-up motorcycle!!!
The logic just hasn't been developed yet.  Clearly, the matching algorithms were purely literal, pixel by pixel, and strongly color-based rather than conceptually associative.  And they weren't getting the job done.  Not even close. 

You might wonder why I'd even attempt an image-searching method for this identification task.  Why not just use an insect reference book or website?
Answer:  Because most references list bugs alphabetically (or alphabetically by general category).  But if I already knew the name of the danged bug, I wouldn't need an identification guide, would I??  Duh!! 

And there are too many species of bugs to slog through alphabetical lists of them.  I haven't got all day. 

Screengrabbed from this Amazon site.  And yes, I did purchase this volume a year or two ago, only to realize upon receipt that it would be fairly useless to me.  And it has indeed been useless. 
In the end, neither the vast information repository on the internet nor impressive search engine technology helped me to solve this puzzle.  It was the good ol' fashioned human brain with its deductive reasoning that did the trick.  Look again at this picture:
What do you know about insects?

Each is adapted to life in its respective ecological niche (not to be confused with art niche). 

What else do you know about insects?

They are near the bottom of the food chain and they get eaten.  Therefore they each evolved defense mechanisms, one of which is camouflage. 

And what does this bug most closely resemble in terms of its coloration and patterning?  Does it look like your front lawn, holly hedge, or rose bush?

No.  It looks like tree bark. 
I think it might be some species of bark beetle or tree borer.  When I began searching within those narrower parameters, I finally began to find similar images.
Ah-hah.  Starting to look a little bit similar, isn't it??  Less like a motorcycle and more like what I found in my front yard. 

Screengrabbed from this site
Not the same species, but looking suspiciously similar, like a first cousin.

Screengrabbed from this site
The evidence mounts:  My next door neighbor trimmed his front-yard live oaks this past week, resulting in a pile of cut branches stacked in his driveway.  My guess is that my unusual bug was involuntarily liberated from his tree and sought refuge in my garden.

In fact, it looks very much like a pine borer, except we don't have any pine trees in Centerpointe, save for that one large loblolly at the corner of West Walker and Centerpointe Drive (the one that I always include in this blog's frontispiece). 

Screengrabbed from this site
From TAMU:

Yes, we do have dying trees here in Centerpointe.  The drought of 2011 weakened many of them, especially the ones in Section 9 which were newly-planted and not well-established by the time the drought hit.  The casualty rate has been enormous, and many of those that did survive have still not recovered. 

Anyway, now that I know what I'm looking at, I'll be watching for evidence of whether or not these things are causing any damage to our builder-basic front-yard trees.  And in the process, I will continue to rely more on my mid-century modern g-g-geriatric brain than on 21st-century whiz-bang information management technology. 

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