I’m really a dour matron

BY NOW, YOU MUST HAVE NOTICED everyone on Facebook posting side-by-side photos, their own selfie with an art portrait that the app chooses to resemble them. Like all Facebook trends, I was slow to adopt. I assume such quizzes are really designed to trick me into surrendering information about myself, or will cause malware to be added to my device. But, a couple of friends posted theirs and the portraits they were paired with were such good matches that I wondered if Google was actually generating a portrait-looking likeness based on the selfie submitted.

Intrigued, I downloaded Google’s Arts & Culture app, then took my picture and waited while it calculated. Here’s what it gave me:


What? OK, I guess, whatever. I shared it on Facebook (otherwise, what’s the point?). My friends were quick to suggest that I looked nothing like this older, somewhat dour matron. One friend said, try again with a smile! So I did, and I got this:


(No. If you think I look like this one, please get out a microfiber cloth and clean your glasses right now.)

I tried a few more times with different poses, but Google kept matching me with Mrs. Zeigler. And the more I look at her, I can’t really argue with the match: Unremarkable brown hair, blue eyes, resting “bitch” face (my down-turned mouth often makes people want to ask me why I’m sad), and most notably, jowls that have, after five decades, begun their inevitable surrender to gravity’s relentless pull.

I was curious about my doppelganger from another era. I was able to find more about her husband than I did about her – she is listed simply as the wife of John R. Zeigler, who was a Civil War Union Captain in Illinois. He left the war when he was injured in 1864. Both of their portraits were done at the artist’s Chicago studio in 1897, which is interesting, because her husband is listed as having died in 1896, at age 64.

If we assume she was around the same age as her husband, she’d have been around 60-65 at the time her portrait was painted; possibly younger if he married young, where “younger” = my age. Her eyes look a little sad to me, with a faraway gaze. She is a recent widow here, after all. She doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles one might expect of a woman her age (we have that in common). Also, no gray hair? I’d be mostly gray if I didn’t still color mine. I wonder if she allowed (asked?) the artist to take liberties here. My vanity manifests in my use of facial moisturizers and makeup and hair color; without access to such wondrous products of the modern era, perhaps hers surfaced as her likeness was being rendered in oil on canvas.

I suspect Mrs. Zeigler would have looked much different had she been painted with a smile on her face. My smiling selfie looks nothing like her resting gaze. If I ever have a portrait done, I want it to be of me laughing big and loud. And I want my wrinkles airbrushed and my hair brown.

Anyway, there you have it, and now Google has it, too. (Although the app does say they won’t use your photo for anything more than the portrait match.)





Does this email make me look fat?

It started innocently enough. My good friend, the ever-anonymous Washwords, sent me an IM through Gmail chat. I missed it because I had logged out for a nanosecond half an hour, but it showed up in my Gmail, because Google is cool that way, and here is what it said:

hey… i can’t remember. were we supposed to have lunch today? i can’t. argh. how about NEXT week (m or w)?

I replied to her via Gmail.

Me either, that’s OK though… Next week should be good – is Mon OK? Where do you wanna meet? Let me know.

An uncharacteristically brief communication for both of us. And really, what more needed to be said.

But then I glanced over to the right, to Gmail’s sponsored links. Gmail provides their users with these helpful links, which are generated based on message content (they call it “context-sensitive”), with the hope that you will click on through to the other side. Sometimes, they actually seem relevant, and you think to yourself, those crazy kids over at Google are sure some kind of geniuses, but other times? Raise your hands, Gmail users, if you’ve experienced shock and dismay at what you see over there.

Context is, as they say, everything. From our unusually quick exchange about a possible lunch date next week, the almighty algorithms apparently gleaned quite enough about me, making some mighty big assumptions that generated these four text ads:

5 Tips to Lose Belly Fat

Stop making these 5 mistakes & you will finally lose your belly fat!

Trouble Losing Belly Fat?

6 Shocking Facts You Need to Know About Losing Belly Fat…

1 Trick to Lose Belly Fat

I struggled for years with a fat belly, until I found this 1 secret.

Start a Lunch Truck Bus.

Plan, Start and Operate a Lunch Truck Business

Waidaminnit. Seventy-five percent of the ads about my BELLY FAT? How do they know I have belly fat, and how dare they assume I want to get rid of it? True, I have never loved my belly fat, but that’s none of their bidness. Are they serious? They need to recalibrate their algorithm.

“Start a Lunch Truck Bus” – perhaps this was a helpful suggestion for where my friend and I should rendezvous for lunch? Because I was kind of thinking of Baja Fresh, or maybe Moby Dick’s. You know, something with, oh, I dunno, SEATS. But on the other hand? A lunch truck hot dog with a little bag of chips and a can of soda? Mmmm, that sounds tasty. Belly Fat, be damned.

That was all amusing enough, but here’s where Google went out on the proverbial limb and took a huge leap, for this is what appeared below the four text ads:

More about…

Supposed to Make You Happy »

Where Im Supposed to Be »

Not Supposed to Break Down »

Speed Racer Lunch Box »

I suppose “supposed” is a Money Word. Supposed to Make You Happy? Well, yes, lunch always makes me happy. Where Im [sic] Supposed to Be? At noon, I’m supposed to be at lunch, preferably with friends. Not Supposed to Break Down? DUH. Speed Racer Lunch Box?

[Wait. Did she say Speed Racer Lunch Box?]

And just that quickly, I was transported back to elementary school, when my classmate Becky1 would carry her lunch every single day to school in a shiny metal Scooby Doo lunchbox. For like all fifteen years of elementary school. (It’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?) You had your packers and your buyers. I was usually a buyer, but I did not love the cafeteria food. Some of it was OK, like pizza Thursdays, but the reconstituted mashed potatoes? The gristle ham patties? Not so much. But Becky1 had a baloney sandwich with a piece of fruit and some cookies, every single day, thanks to her cool lunchbox.

Maybe if they had been serving up some Baja Fresh in my cafeteria, or perhaps cuisine from a Lunch Truck, I would have been more enthusiastic. Of course, Baja Fresh, not a Lunch Truck, is most likely responsible for at least some of my belly fat. Still, Baja Fresh is Supposed to Make [Me] Happy, because it’s Where Im Supposed to Be.

1 Not not her real name.