Emacs saves the day — again

For many of us Emacs is more than just a text editor. It is a programming environment, text processor, file manager, image viewer, organizer — you name it. But what's most enthralling about Emacs is the simplicity of ad-hoc repurposing it to the specific task. In this take I describe my recent application of Emacs to conveniently label large amount of images.

The task

Recently I was playing with text recognition of grocery store receipts. At one point you divide a photo of a receipt into hundreds of small images, each containing (hopefully) one character. From there your classifier should recognize each image as a character. But before that you must train your classifier by providing it with a set of character images having an already established mapping to the characters they represent. What I decided to do is to run 4-5 receipts through the character separation algorithm (which gave me around 2500 images) and then manually assign a respective character to each image.

The solution

So the problem boils down to the following — press a correct key for every image; also delete images that contained unrecognizable character or were just artifacts. With no obvious way of automation, I at least wanted something that doesn't require any additional keypresses and body movements.

What would a programmer do? Write some sort of a GUI tool that shows images and recognizes keypresses, saves the mapping between the two, preferably allows to go back and correct the mapping. What would Richard Stallman do? Use Emacs, of course!

Emacs has this wonderful mode called iimage-mode. It gives Emacs the ability to display images directly in the editing window. With this and some custom keybindings I was able to do the exact setup I wanted.

Here's the idea: M-x cd into a directory with images, insert a list of all images into a fresh buffer, M-x turn-on-iimage-mode. In the result your buffer should display one image in every line.

Note: If you use openwith-mode you should turn it off when entering iimage-mode, otherwise images will be open with system's default viewer instead of being displayed in the buffer.

Now to the coding. Create a new minor mode to be able to redefine bindings for character keys:

(define-minor-mode classify-image-mode
  :lighter "Classify")

Next we define our custom insert command. All my image files started with an underscore symbol. I wanted them to have the respective character before the underscore. So this function checks if current character under the cursor is an underscore, and if it's not, then removes the character first (so that you can easily correct mistakes). After the pressed character is inserted, function moves the cursor to the beginning of the next line.

(defun classify-image-insert (arg)
  (interactive "p")
  (when (not (= (char-after (point)) 95))
    (delete-forward-char 1))
  (self-insert-command arg)

Finally we set a bindings map for our newly created mode:

(defvar classify-image-mode-map
  (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
    (define-key map [remap self-insert-command] 'classify-image-insert)

(define-key classify-image-mode-map (kbd "<backspace>") 'kill-whole-line)

At the end, after the long and tedious process of mapping the characters, we turn off iimage-mode and replace each line (which now looks like a desired filename) by the move command:

M-x query-replace-regexp RET \(.\)\(.+\) RET mv \2 \1\2

Save the file as a bash script and execute it inside the directory with images — and the day is saved! There's one more thing to do though, we need to delete all the images that were not renamed. A simple rm _* will do the trick.

This is how the workflow looks like:

Mapping workflow


To avoid generating mv commands from desired file names we could directly do editing inside wdired-mode. Then we would have to just press C-c C-c to rename all the files.