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02-05-2008, 12:54 PM   #1
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Interesting Story

I know this is not pentax related, but I thinks it's too cool to pass up sharing. This is pretty interesting to say the least and a good read. I left all the links for proper crediting.

Camera found; mystery begins
By Brian Bergstein

Associated Press

February 5, 2008

At dusk on New Year's Eve, Erika Gunderson got into a taxi in New York City and entered a digital-age mystery.

Sitting on the back seat was a nice Canon digital camera. Gunderson asked the driver which previous passenger might have left it, but the cabbie didn't seem to care. So Gunderson brought it home and showed it to her fiance, Brian Ascher. They decided the right thing to do was to find the owner.

But how? The only clues were the pictures on the camera: typical tourist snapshots, complete with a visit to the Statue of Liberty. How could they find a stranger among the huddled masses?

Gunderson was busy in her job with Bear Stearns Cos., so the detective quest fell to Ascher, a 26-year-old law student at New York University. He was on winter break and eager to put off writing a paper about climate change treaties.

He checked whether anyone had reported a matching missing camera to the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. No dice. He placed ads in lost-and-found sections of Craigslist but got just one response -- from a couple in Brazil who had lost a camera in a cab Oct. 12, not Dec. 31.

"I guess they thought their camera had been riding around in a taxi for two months," Ascher recalls now, chuckling at the notion that such a thing would be possible in New York.

The 350 pictures and two videos on the camera showed several adults, an older woman and three children. Half put them at New York sites such as the Empire State Building. The other half had the group enjoying warm weather and frolicking at kid-friendly theme parks.

Ascher easily pinpointed Florida. The group had stood in front of a sign indicating Clearwater, Fla., and posed at Bob Heilman's Beachcomber Restaurant there.

They also took a pirate-themed boat ride where the kids had mustaches painted on their faces. Ascher zoomed in on the group to see name tags on their shirts. He spotted an Alan, an Eileen, a male Noel and a female Noelle, plus a Ciarnan. Under their names was written "IRE."

When Ascher checked the videos, he saw nothing telling, just the children dancing and swimming. But in the background, he heard Irish accents.

OK, Ascher figured, the camera's owner is from Ireland.

Ascher called Canon's Ireland division to see if anyone had registered the camera's serial number. No such luck. He posted ads on Irish Web sites. Nothing.

He checked the date stamp on the photos from Bob Heilman's and called to inquire whether anyone remembered serving a big Irish group that day. Without the diners' last names, there was no way to check. It's a nice thing you're trying, the manager told Ascher, but you probably just found yourself a new camera.

Enter some fresh eyes. Ascher's mother, Nancy, and sister, Emily Rann, scoured the pictures for clues he might have missed. Nancy Ascher was particularly confident, having reunited people with their lost belongings before. She once found a California woman's wallet in a cab in Florence, Italy, and spent all day on her trail before making a hand-over at an American Express office.

"I thought, with all this data in the camera, there's no way we're not going to get it back to them," Nancy Ascher says. "I was hoping it wasn't going to take a trip to Ireland, flashing their pictures everywhere."

Ascher's mother and his sister noticed that one of the pictures showed a doorman helping someone into a New York taxi. Zooming tight on the doorman's uniform, they made out the logo of the Radisson Hotel.

After several phone calls and a visit to the hotel to show the pictures around, Nancy Ascher persuaded an employee to search the Radisson's guest records by first name and country of residence. Indeed, a Noel from Ireland had stayed there on the date stamped on the photo. Nancy Ascher charmed the hotel employee into sharing the guest's e-mail address.


Except that when Noel responded to Brian Ascher, he said he hadn't lost a camera.

By now, school was resuming, and Ascher was prepared to give the camera to his mom so she could take over. She had figured out the name of the Florida pirate-boat cruise and was trying to reach its operator.

But first Ascher took a final look at the photographs.

He pored over some from Dec. 30 that didn't include the children. The photos showed signs for bars in Manhattan's East Village: The Thirsty Scholar, Telephone Bar, Burp Castle. There also were multiple interior shots of a tavern, but they didn't seem to fit with what Ascher knew of those other three bars.

Then he stopped on another picture, showing two people outside an apartment building. Seemingly accidentally included in the picture was something Ascher had missed the first time: an awning in the background that read "Standings." Aha! Standings is a bar next to Burp Castle. Ascher checked its Web site, and the interior matched the pictures on the camera.

Ascher found Standings' owner, who reached the bartender who had worked Dec. 30. Yes, he recalled an Irish group. Especially because one of the women was a big tipper and said she worked at another New York City bar, Playwrights. The Standings bartender called Playwrights to ask which employees had been in his bar.

Ascher soon got an e-mail from a woman named Sarah Casey, whose sister Jeanette works at Playwrights. Suddenly everything Ascher had seen on the camera came to life.

The Caseys recently had hosted relatives and friends from Ireland. The group included their friend Alan Murphy, who had journeyed to Florida with family before heading to New York, where the clan stayed at the Radisson. (Their Noel was not the Noel whom Ascher e-mailed.) Murphy ended the trip kicking himself for leaving his camera in a cab on New Year's Eve.

Sarah Casey agreed to send it to him. It didn't go to Ireland but to Sydney, Australia, where Murphy lives now.

Murphy, an insurance underwriter, had been devastated to lose the pictures from a trip he had planned for years. It was Jan. 10 -- his 34th birthday -- when he heard he would be getting the photos back. "I was over the moon," he says now. "Best present ever."

"I owe you one," he wrote to Ascher. "It's good to know there are some honest people left in the world."

Copyright 2008, Chicago Tribune

02-05-2008, 04:05 PM   #2
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I would have done the same thing if I found a Canon or Nikon on the back seat of a taxi. If I found a Pentax, it might be an entirely different story.

Seriously, it is really nice to read about people going way, way out of their way to find the owner. Here's hoping something good happens to everyone involved.
02-05-2008, 07:06 PM   #3
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Good story; good people
02-05-2008, 08:37 PM   #4
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If everyone behaved this way, the world would be a better place. Great story.

02-06-2008, 05:12 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by JMS Quote
If everyone behaved this way, the world would be a better place. Great story.
And now for something completely different:

An essay I posted on my currently neglected website several years ago:

While driving to work recently, I noticed an object fall from the roof of a car heading in the opposite direction. The windows on the other car were all rolled up, so quite obviously the object hadn't been tossed by the driver. It couldn't be trash.

Even though I was running late for work (it was about 4:40 a.m.), I did a quick u-turn and went back to see what the object was. It was a Louis Vuitton billfold. Had the driver of the other car been driving sensibly I likely could have caught up and handed the billfold back to the owner. But the driver was ripping down the road like a bat out of hell, and had since made a turn. I quickly gave up on that plan of action. I opened the billfold to see if there were any sort of identification inside. I noticed a student ID from a junior college, and also noticed 6,000 yen in cash. The owner must have placed it on the roof of the car and forgotten to retrieve it before speeding away.

What to do with it? I was already running late. Take it to Tokyo with me and then turn it in to the police when I got finished, probably about 8 or 9 o'clock that night? Or take it to the police right away in order to put the owner's mind at ease? From past experiences I knew that filling out all the paperwork would take up at least 30 minutes at the local police box. Mess around too long and I would end up paying large truck expressway tolls to Tokyo out of my own pocket.

I took it to the police box.

Nobody was there, however. So I picked up the phone receiver outside the police box door, a direct line to the main police station. I thought at least I would let them know the wallet had been found and would be turned in later. The owner was certain to call them. I wanted to make sure she knew it was safe and intact. Just then, though, a patrol car pulled up. The two officers manning the police box had been out patrolling. I told them what I had found and we went inside to do the paperwork.

Besides the 6,000 yen I had initially spotted, there turned out to have been an additional 42,000 tucked away somewhere. One of the cops pulled it out. Grand total: 48,667 yen. Nice little chunk of change. Her driver's license was also inside, so contacting her was going to be a simple matter for the police. No chance that I could exercise my claim to the total amount several months later. As I had expected, the paperwork took about half an hour.

As soon as I picked up the billfold and noticed the person on the ID was Japanese I immediately thought, "Judging by past experience, I won't get so much as a simple 'Thank you' for this...." You see, this wasn't the first time I had found a wallet in Japan. It was the fourth.

In Japan, the person who finds and turns in money has a legal right to receive a portion of it. The policeman said between 5% and 20%. 10% is the norm. When you turn in the money and fill out the paperwork, you receive a receipt for the wallet and all its contents. The only way the owner can retrieve the wallet is to come to you, pay the bounty, and get the receipt from you. He then takes the receipt to the police station and gets his things from the Accounting Section.

I'd lke to have an extra 5,000 yen or so. But I don't want it in the form of a statutorily mandated expression of gratitude. I also didn't want to make the owner have to go to the trouble of trying to catch me at home. When doing the paperwork, there is a small section on the form where the person who found the item can sign away his rights to the money. That's what I did. Not my rights should the item go unclaimed, but my right to collect the bounty. Four times I have found people's wallets. Four times I have willingly signed away my right to 10% of the money.

There won't be a fifth time.

Why won't there be a fifth time? Because my supply of the milk of human kindness has just about dried up. When the police hand over the goods, they always inform the person of the name and contact information of the person who did them a good deed. Care to guess how many have ever bothered to call and say thanks?


One person out of four. One man called to express his gratitude in very polite Japanese, and to insist on giving me the money I had turned down when I turned in his wallet. I refused, and he sent my family a nice box of cookies anyway. The other three folks? Nothing. Not a word. Like it never happened.

Have you ever encountered folks who think Japan is a society where manners are extremely important? Folks who plan to come to Japan and who spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about saying or doing something that might give offense to a Japanese person? Tell them not to worry so damned much. In Japan, one only need be polite to and considerate of those one knows in a personal or professional capacity. Don't give strangers a second thought. If a stranger does you a kindness but you know you'll never be put in a position to face him, don't give him a second thought. Take it for granted and march right along.

Oh, I fogot to mention something....

The one person who called to say thanks and who sent cookies...he wasn't Japanese. He was an exchange student at grad school, a man from China.
02-07-2008, 02:14 PM   #6
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Interesting story. But... I'll be willing to bet that the fifth wallet, if you ever find one, will be turned in too.


Quite simply it is a matter of upbringing and ethics. Those values do not change even in the face of repeatedly unresposive individuals. Certainly there is a perceived notion of the Japanese being all civil and cultured. Perhaps that misconception has more to do with the fact that it is virtually a homogenous culture and still not well unsderstood by most westerners.

I think that the circumstances here have more to do with embarrasment of the owners than anything else. The fact that you may be a westerner (gai-jin ... (sp?)) may also be a factor and emphasises my previous sentence .

Maybe you should try this.... Lose your wallet... and see if anyone returns it. Then have faith in humanity again.

Mike, I would be willing to bet that if you saw a man drowning you wouldn't have to sit there pondering whether or not you should attempt to save him at your own peril. You either do it instinctively or you don't do it. If you have returned four wallets... you will return them all. After all, you are an ambassador.

Back on thread... I have to agree with returning the camera unless it was a Pentax.

02-07-2008, 03:06 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Mike Cash Quote
(snip) Why won't there be a fifth time? Because my supply of the milk of human kindness has just about dried up. When the police hand over the goods, they always inform the person of the name and contact information of the person who did them a good deed. Care to guess how many have ever bothered to call and say thanks? (snip)

You know, Mike, I thought about this story the last time you posted it but didn't respond at the time. However, since you've posted it again, let me ask if there is any possibility the people aren't calling because they might feel you don't want to be disturbed? That's certainly what I would be thinking if a person finding my wallet did not want me to see or contact him/her for the required bounty. In other words, if the person doesn't want the mandated followup bounty, he probably doesn't want any followup at all and I would likely respect that. However, that wouldn't change my feelings of gratitude about the situation and the kind person who returned my wallet. Just a thought.


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