Lost Camera – the rest of the story

I would like to sincerely Thank all of the people who viewed the post about the lost camera. I would like to especially acknowledge Thomas Hawk for re-posting on Google+.   I have located the owner after about 4 hours of intense emailing, googling and fact checking.  The short story is my own search and the work of folks on the internet  converged to the same point at about the same time, let me tell you how we got there.

After pulling the camera out of the mud and briefly looking it over, I pried the battery door open and found a pristine battery and memory card compartment. After arriving home late on Sunday,  Posted on Facebook that I had found a camera and was downloading the photos. I dragged a photo to stolencamerafinder.com but no luck.  It was late so I went to bed.  Monday during the day I got slammed a work.  Monday night, I looked a little bit but nothing popped out.

Tuesday night,  I got my first chance to take a good look at the photos.  There were about >1000 files on the camera. The first place I started was the EXIF data which told me a few things about the camera and the date the photos were taken. But no owner, no geo tags, just a few fragments I surmised from the photos that the first photo was number in the 200’s and dated 5/8 the last was dated 7/22/2011. This told me the camera was new and the day it was lost was likely on 7/22/2011 on a rafting trip on the Merced River with All Outdoors.  I called the rafting company All Outdoors  no luck, not open, I wanted to talk to a person not surf through the computer menu. I thought I would call back in the morning.   I watched and re-watched all of the videos on the camera.  Nothing. No names, no places, nothing. I was starting to make up audio; convincing myself people were talking and making stuff up.  Like when you play a record backwards.  After a few hours of watching the rafting videos I was getting motion sickness and hearing things so decided I was not getting anywhere.

Wednesday, I got slammed at work AGAIN and never ended up calling All Outdoors.  Wednesday night I focused on the photos and collected the data off of all the buildings numbers names, places and attaching them to the photo.  I took some notes.  The camera had 2 months of photos all from California. This suggested that the owner was likely from California.  The photos were from mostly Southern California so that narrowed the region.  I looked up some info on the Palm Springs Film Fest but I didn’t find any photos that looked like anyone in the photos.  What troubled me was something I know too often: the owner of the camera is usually behind the camera not in front of it. So I was assuming most of the photos might no have photos of the owner.  The reoccurring people maybe the ticket and if I could find one of them they might be able to lead me to the owner.  Especially, the group shots you usually pose in groups right?! Judging from the videos and photos I think I nailed the owner.  I was pretty exhausted.  I was concentrating hard on the photos looking for names on tables, or an address on a scrap of paper.  The little hints but nothing solid.  This was WAY too slow.  I collected the data, tagged the photos.  Tomorrow, I decided I was asking the internet.

Thursday,  I uploaded many of the photos to my Flickr account and Google + and wrote a short explanation on the Star Circle Academy Blog.  I published them all at the same time.  I asked some of my CA Flickr contacts for help.  I was running late for work and had a lot to do, I figured I could finish at work. I called All Outdoors still the computer menu…Grrrr, well they officially open in a few minutes. I might be able to reach them or it could be off season and no one is answering the phones.  I went to work, started with some Google+ contacts then began my workday.

I was not really prepared for what happened next.  In the brief time between me leaving for work and making a cup of coffee, Thomas Hawk moved my plea for help from Flickr to Google+.  Lets just say it exploded people were sharing it, +1-ing it via comments and  emails.  I shifted from reading comments, to emailing people to fact checking, there was a lot of encouragement, and tons of good info, lots of you should do “this” (and the “this” was redundant).  Between some of the comments I tried the Malibu Surf Shop,  after a short explanation all I got was they didn’t really keep computerized records.  Grrr…that was a dead end.

Just when it was getting really interesting I had to leave, you know “work” meeting.

While I was working the internet crew had been examining the photo that contained a badge that read ShortFest in Palm Springs.  They posted a link to some of the photos of attendees one of which looked a lot like the person I thought was the owner.   It was good but who was she??

Before lunch, I took a short break and tried All Outdoors  rafting company again. I got a person!!  A real person! I was a little surprised.

Hello Can, I help you?

Ah?  I sure hope so.

I think I surprised her with my surprise and excitement!  I explained the story to Diane.  She seemed a little stunned, one that a camera survived, and two I was contacting them.  She asked, How do you know it is us?  I replied. “Well, it is written all over your boat, the paddles, your life vests”.  I also mentioned that the date of the trip was 7/22/2011.  She quickly pulled up the date and said “That’s great we only had one trip the day.  And we have all the email addresses of the participants.”  I gave her my contact info and passed on.  A solid lead finally!!

While I left for lunch an email from All Outdoors  to all of the attendee from the day the camera was lost  For the next 45 minutes things churned in cyberspace.

The near miss, an email from a person in the boat:

I received your email, but the camera is not mine.  Someone on my raft did lose a camera, but I can’t remember the lady’s name.  I hope that you are able to track down the couple and that they get their camera back.
I know they were disappointed when it fell off her life jacket as she was being pulled back in the raft.

About an hour later I had an email, a very excited one indeed!!   In her own words (edit to protect privacy):

This is the most amazing email I have ever gotten! My underwater camera was my most favorite things and I was so upset when I lost it and all the pictures of our trip. Thank you so, so much for going to these lengths to find me! It is a total miracle that it worked, and how amazing of you to do such detective work!

Googleing, the recipient everything started to check out but I still had my doubts. Started to assemble the questions to verify it was her camera.  Things I could ask about the photos that only she would know. However, this was unnecessary, I got confirmation from Google +,  Craig Richmond had cross referenced the owner through the Shortfest Photo and surfed around until he confirmed with a separate photo which was connected to her name.  He got the same result as I did and helped me confirm from that, we came to the same conclusion.  My response was “Bingo”.  If he would have been about 40 minutes Earlier I would have been emailing the owner not her emailing me.

During some correspondence over email, she also confirmed some other details that made me confident the camera was hers.  That was it, it was an interesting ride and fun to be involved in the search.  All Outdoors really came through in the end and I am so happy that they do not close for the season and someone answered the phone.  Thank you, Craig Richmond who also helped me confirm which was a large part of fact checking.  And a very large Thank you to Thomas Hawk because this story would have never got off the ground without his response.

That is the end of the story.  I am heading to the post office today and will put the camera and SD card in the mail.  I am going to end with her own words (edited for privacy):

“Wow, the whole thing is so crazy I can hardly believe it! Amazing work. Wow. I am just so, so grateful that you went to all the trouble, it is so lovely. Eric, I feel like you know so much about me –  Where do you live? where do you work? what can I do to repay your kindness?……..Also would it be OK if we took most of the pics down and just left up the one below for the sake of posterity? only because I am slightly mortified to have me and my family’s analog life on public view – probably why it was so unnecessarily hard to find me! I don’t really use any of these technologies. I hope that is not ungrateful – because I am so thankful to you for all the trouble you went to! It is just such an act of generosity, you’ll have to let me write you up something for the end of the story about how thankful I am to everyone who helped with the detective work!
 Thank you again so much, and please tell me if you are coming down so we can have you to dinner – I think we’re destined to be friends now, right?”

Yes I  do believe we are destined to be friends. 🙂
PS.  Since the owner has asked me to remove her photos I will be responding to her request….I would also ask that you please do the same.  This is also why I have decided to identify her as just the owner to also protect her privacy.   I would not want to ruin a new friendship now would I?     She has allowed me to keep one photo up for the sake of posterity (but I am going to ask for a second I love this one).   Thank you.  The end.

7 thoughts on “Lost Camera – the rest of the story

  1. John Halbig


    You’re a man after my own heart — I’m usually the go-to guy for my friends and family when it comes to ferreting out this sort of information on the ‘Net, and it’s a blast to see someone else do a lot of the same things *I* would have in the same situation, and with such killer results!

    7 months after it was lost it must have been like a second christmas for “the owner”. 😀

    You rock!


  2. Keith Gosik

    Love the happy ending. Hope the owner get to use her camera for a long time. Hope if I lost something expensive and important the finder would work as hard to fine me. I know I would do the same for them.

  3. Mike W

    Eric – I saw you on NBC News last night – the story is awesome and you looked like a pro on screen – you deserve your 15 minutes of fame!


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