The Story of LAMU

LAMU started from a tragic accident, but its path is not an accident.


    1. A Tragic Accident 

    On December 11, 2014, my father was hit by a car while taking a walk after dinner. The car knocked him down and thrusted him on to the side of the road. He was severely injured and was sent to INOVA Fairfax Hospital in Merrifield by ambulance. He was hospitalized for over three weeks. Miraculously he survived. He suffered bone fractures in his left leg, left arm, and his forehead. When he fell, his head hit right on the curb and it caused internal brain bleeding.

    That year, my father and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the hospital. He was released on New Year’s Eve so we were in time to be home with family for the New Year. But it was not a happy new year for our family.

    Although my father survived and gradually start to recover. The accident took a huge toll on his body and his soul. He used to live a very active lifestyle, but for months after the accident he cannot move by himself and had to use pain reliever regularly. 

    He used to be very happy and optimistic. But the traumatic accident wounded his spirit. He suffered from mood swings and severe depression. He used to have excellent memories and took pride in remembering details of things that happened decades ago. But after the accident, he had trouble remembering things that happened a day before.

    Frequently, he would just sit somewhere, be sad and do not want to talk to anyone. But there is one thing that always lights up his spirit.

      2. A Suitcase of Memories

      My father likes taking photos. He has a huge collection of photos and videos that span decades. There are prints, CDs, DVDs, tapes, hard drives, USB sticks, and SD cards. He stores all of them in a special suitcase and he treasures them dearly.

      When he was able to move around by himself, he would open the suitcase and look for the old photos. Sometimes we talk about certain events in the past, he would then want to find the photos for that event. It was not an easy task to sort through the dozens of storage media looking for specific photos or videos, it can take a while to find what he was looking for. But once he got those photos and videos, it can really make his day. He would view them again and again to relive the moments he treasured.

      After a while, I noticed these photos were having a very positive impact on his recovery. I wanted to help him get his photos organized so he would not need to put so much effort to find them.

      I did an inventory on all the photos in his suitcase. He has more than twenty-five thousand digital photos and videos. Because he had so much videos, it would take terabytes of storage. Many of the photos do not have the correct dates and almost none of them have GPS coordinates. In order to get these photos organized, we need to be able to make bulk date changes and assign GPS locations effectively. 

      First I thought about phone apps. Many photo apps are very popular and they can do lots of fun things with photos stored on the phone. But none of the apps were meant to organize tons of photos that are scattered in different places.

      Then I researched desktop software. There are plenty of photo viewer software on the market, but I couldn’t find anything that is capable of getting all my father’s photos and videos organized.

      Then I did lots of research on cloud based photo management services. There are many big tech companies offer cloud based photos storage services: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Amazon, Adobe, Shutterfly. All these are excellent photo management solutions. I felt Google Photos is the best of all. It has the most advanced photo organization functions. Google’s use of artificial intelligence to organize personal photos is way ahead of other competitors. So I recommended Google Photos to my father.

      But my father is not interested in storing all his photos in the cloud. He told me these photos in the suitcase are his memories, they are private, they are personal, and they will be his legacy. He will not hand them over to anyone outside the family.

      I told my father I treasure those memories too. But I still want to have them organized, otherwise I will never be able to find anything from it.

      The next thing I tried was a personal cloud based photo organizer. I thought it was a nice idea to store all the photos in a personal cloud at home and keep them organized. So I bought one. Unfortunately it turned out to be quite a pain to use and it could not get my father’s photos organized in meaningful ways.

      I was going to give up, but I couldn’t. Each time I saw my father opened his suitcase of memories and painstakingly search for something, I felt I had to do something.

        3. A Home Made Photo Organizer

        My father did a lot for me when I grew up, I wanted to do something for him. The accident that happened to him made me realize that I could have lost him forever. I’ve got to do something for him on this one thing he treasured so much: his suitcase of memories.

        I decided to make one for him. I did not tell my father about the plan as I wanted to make him a surprise present.

        It took a while to get a working system completed. The first version was pretty rudimentary and required a lot of manual hacks. But I was able to import all the photos and videos in his suitcase onto a single hard drive. I made corrections for all the photos with the wrong dates so the timeline would work well. I manually assigned GPS coordinates based on the locations of the photos so he can see all the photos on maps and visualize the journeys he has taken. And I added facial recognition so he can find photos by people, which I knew he always wished for. 

        When I presented the completed system to my father on his 77th birthday. He was amazed. It made his day. 

          4. It Saved My Marriage

          Like my father, I also like taking pictures of events in my life. But unlike my father, I hardly ever look at old photos. When my phone runs out of storage space, I just copy all the photos out onto a backup hard drive and never look at them again.

          I had my reasoning. I thought my father likes to look at old photos because he is old. There isn’t a lot for him to look forward to. But I am still young, I would rather look forward than looking back.

          I got married late in life. My wife is much younger than me. We met on the Internet by accident and fell in love. We got married in 2011. We were happy for the first few years. But our big age gap also means we have different views on many things. Overtime, these differences became more and more apparent and our tolerance for each other began to wear out. We both are very dedicated to our careers and we found less and less time for each other. This got even worse after we had our daughter. 

          I had my stereotypes of how a wife and mother should be like. The more I tried to fit her into my stereotype, the more I felt she was not doing enough to help taking care of our family and in particular our daughter. She likely had her ideal of what a husband and a dad should be like and I definitely did not fit that bill very well either.

          It came to a point when we could not talk to each other without ending up in arguments. Our marriage was falling apart. We decided to divorce after consulting a marriage counselor.

          Virginia Law requires a couple to be separated for at least a year in order to file for divorce (Looking back, I want to say Thank you, Virginia!). We separated.

          One day, I decided to clean up my stuff including my computer files. My photos are scattered in many places but I never bothered to collect them together. Even after I created the software for my father, I never used it for myself. I did not feel the need to organize my own photos since I wasn’t interested in looking at old photos.

          That day, I imported all my photos into a single hard drive using the software I made for my father. It took many hours. When it was done, I did a quick review to make sure the files were imported correctly. I was surprised to see photos of a lot of the things that happened in the past that I had totally forgotten about.

          I saw pictures of me and my wife from the day we first met, the fun times we had together, the many places we went together. The good times that I couldn’t remember ever happened were I not looking at the pictures.

          I saw a picture of her waiting at the emergency room at 2 am when our daughter had extremely high-fever.

          I saw pictures of her going through the many months of pregnancy and then the life and death experience of giving birth to our daughter. 

          And I saw pictures of the documents from the years we tried to conceive our daughter. Because of a problem with me, my wife had to go through years of medical treatments in order to have our daughter.

          Suddenly I realized how much sacrifice she had made for me and for our family. How wrong I was to blame her for not doing enough. What a mistake I was making to let her go.

          The next day, I went to talk to my wife and asked her for forgiveness. Luckily she did. Our marriage was saved.

            5. Life and Memories Unlimited

            My life went back to normal, but for quite a while, I kept thinking about why we went to the brink of divorce. We loved each other, we had a lot of happy times together. We have a beautiful daughter who brought us so much joy. But in the months that led us to the brink of divorce, my mind was filled with unhappy memories, it seemed that all I could remember were the bad things. Why couldn’t I remember all the happy times until I accidentally saw the photos and videos?

            Some Googling reveals it’s actually human nature that we tend to remember bad things more easily than good things. This is particularly true when we are in bad times. It wasn’t just me. There are probably many people out there who would have made the same mistake I made because their minds got filled with bad memories when in fact there are many times more good things happened in their lives than bad times. And there are probably many more people like my father who accumulated a rich legacy of their family memories but do not have a good way to get those precious memories organized.

            We are accumulating photos and videos at an ever increasing speed. Keeping our digital memories organized is difficult. Sometimes we are limited by the storage spaces available, but most importantly, we are limited by not having effective ways to put all our photos in one place and get organized so we can retrieve them easily.

            I talked to my wife about further developing the photo organizer I made for my father so that more people can benefit from it. She is very supportive. Just like me, she had thousands of photos scattered on various backup drives but was hardly able to find any of the old photos when she needs them, and her parents also wished there were ways to organize their photos

            So I started the second phase of development on the photo organizer. The objective was to develop a solution that can automatically turn collections of photos and videos into a personal media information management system, so that users can have the freedom and power to do almost anything they need to.

            The name of the system is LAMU, which stands for Life and Memories Unlimited. The phrase is borrowed from the popular aviation meteorology term CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited). For a pilot, CAVU is a perfect condition for flight. It is my hope that one day LAMU will be able to provide the perfect condition for users to navigate their treasured digital memories. 

            This is the story of LAMU.

            To the grandpas and grandmas who have meticulously collected your families’ memories, but are having difficulties to put them together and get organized, LAMU is for you.

            To the moms and dads who are busy creating the best memories for your kids and each other, but don’t have time to look back and savor your precious creations, LAMU is for you.

            To all the kids, who are growing up in today’s digital age and are having your lives recorded every step of the way, LAMU is for you.


            Thank you for reading my story.