My father, an early adopter of nearly everything, took on a project to digitize a collection of historical family photos that had accumulated over many generations and that were now in his possession. It was the early years of digital photography when scanning technology was barely up to the task, and computer image file formats were crude by today’s standards.
Nevertheless, he forged ahead and built a repository of over 700 scanned photographs dating back to the 1800s. He recognized a weakness in the collection—there was no context, no annotations, no identifications of the people portrayed. Old photographs lose their value when this information, originally held in the memories of those who were around at the time, is not recorded.
My father knew this and wanted to somehow attach the information about the photo, in the scan of the photo. I know this, because he asked me (an imaging scientist) about how to do it. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no standardized way to embed such “metadata” within existing image file formats. He was a man ahead of his time.
This is adapted from a tribute that my father made at the memorial of his father, Theodore Olson, after whom we are both named, who died in 2002 at the age of 97. I post it here for the online access of posterity, and to provide a portrayal of the scientific mindset of a family patriarch that influenced not only his students, but his entire family and several generations beyond. Here is my father’s rendition of our family history.
The start of this story goes back almost 150 years. In about 1860 in Norway, Hans Opjörden left home and went to Oslo. Hans had the misfortune to be the second son in his family, and that meant that his older brother would inherit the family farm. Hans left home and headed off to Oslo, where he went to work in a shipyard building boats. After a while he decided he really wanted to sail on the boats instead of just building them. At this time Norway was a province of Sweden. Shrewdly, Hans changed his name from Opjörden to Olson (with a Swedish spelling) and got Swedish sailing papers.
He went on several voyages and along the way befriended a shipmate named Peter Magnus Peterson. We can imagine a conversation between them based on what subsequently happened. Hans confided that he’d really wanted to be a farmer but had no prospects of getting land—and that being a sailor was not his “dream job”, but was good paying employment.