Wednesday, June 22, 2016

9,355,339: system and method for color reproduction tolerances

In the early days of digital imaging for office use, there was a religion that the response of the system had to be completely neutral. The motivation came from a military specification that a seventh generation copy had to still look good and be readable. If there would be a deviation from neutrality, every generation would enhance this deviation.

When a Japanese manufacturer entered the color copier market, they enhanced the images to improve memory colors and boost the overall contrast. They were not selling to the government and rightfully noted that commercial users do not do multiple generation copies.

Color is not a physical phenomenon, it is an illusion and color imaging is about predicting illusions. Visit your art gallery and look carefully at an original Rembrandt van Rijn painting. The perceived dynamic range is considerably larger than the gamut of the paints he used because he distorted the colors depending on their semantics. With Michel Eugène Chevreul's discovery of simultaneous contrast, the impressionists then went wild.

When years later I interviewed for a position in a prestigious lab, I gave a talk on how—based on my knowledge of the human visual system (HVS)—I could implement a number of algorithms that greatly enhance the images printed on consumer and office printers. The hiring engineering managers thought I was out of my mind and I did not get the job. For them, the holy grail was the perfect neutral transmission function.

This neutral color reproduction is a figment of imagination in the engineer's minds in the early days of digital color reproduction. The scientists who earlier invented the mechanical color reproduction did not have this hang-up. As Evans observed on page 599 of [R.M. Evans, “Visual Processes and Color Photography,” JOSA, Vol. 33, 11, pp. 579–614, November 1943], under the illuminator condition color constancy mechanisms in the human visual system (HVS) correct for improper color balance. As Evans further notes on page 596, we tend to remember colors rather than to look at them closely; for the most part, he notes, careful observation of stimuli is made only by trained observers. Evans concludes that it is seldom necessary to obtain an exact color reproduction of a scene to obtain a satisfying picture, although it is necessary that the reproduction shall not violate the principle that the scene could have thus appeared.

We can interpret Evans’ consistency principle (page 600) as what is important is the relation among the colors in a reproduced image, not their absolute colorimetry. A color reproduction system must preserve the integrity of the relation among the colors in the palette. In practice, this suggests that three conditions should be met. The first is that the order in a critical color scale should not have transpositions, the second is that a color should not cross a name boundary, the third is that the field of reproduction error vectors of all colors should be divergence-free. The intuition for the divergence condition is that no virtual light source is introduced, thus supporting color constancy mechanisms in the HVS.

We all know the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 hue test. The underlying idea is that when an observer has poor color discrimination, either due to a color vision deficiency or due to lack of practice, this observer will not be able to sort 100 specimen varying only in hue. In the test, the number of hue transpositions is counted to score an observer.

Farnsworth-Munsell 100 hue test

We can considerably reduce the complexity of a color reproduction system if we focus on the colors that actually are important in the specific images being reproduced. We can minimally choose the quality of the colorants, paper, halftoning algorithm, and the number of colorants to just preserve the consistency of that restricted palette.

First, we determine the palette, then we reproduce a color scale with a selection of the above parameters and we give the resulting color scale image a partial Farnsworth-Munsell hue test. This is the idea behind invention 9,355,339. The non-obvious step is how to select color scales and how to use a color management system to simulate a reproduction. The whole process is automated.

A graphic artist manually identifies the locus of the colors of interest, which is different for each application domain, like reproductions of cosmetics or denim clothes. A scale encompassing these critical colors is built and printed in the margin. In the physical application, the colors are measured and the transpositions are counted.

complexion color scale

The more interesting case is a simulation. There is no printing, just the application of halftoning algorithms and color profiles. The system extracts the final color scale and identifies the transpositions compared to the original. Why is the simulation more important?

Commercial printing is a manufacturing process and workflow design is crucial to the financial viability of the factory. Printing is a mass-customization process, thus every day in the shop is different. This makes it impossible to assume a standard workload.

For each manufacturing task, there are different options using different technologies. For example, a large display piece can be printed on a wide bubblejet printer, or the fixed background can be silkscreen printed and the variable text can be added on the wide bubblejet printer. Another example is that a booklet can be saddle stitched, perfect bound, or spiral bound.

print fulfillment diagam

In an ideal case, a print shop floor can be designed in a way to support such reconfigurable fulfillment workflows, as shown in this drawing (omitted here are the buffer storage areas).

example of a print fullfillment floor rendering; the buffer zones are omitted

However, this would not be commercially viable. In manufacturing, the main cost item is labor. Different fulfillment steps require different skill levels (at different salary levels) and take a different amount of time.

Additionally, not all print jobs are fulfilled at the same speed. A rush job is much more profitable than a job with a flexible delivery time. To stay in business, the plant manager must be able to accommodate as many rush jobs as possible.

This planning job is similar to that of scheduling trains in a saturated network like the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA or NEAT for Neue Eisenbahn-Alpentransversale, or simply AlpTransit). For freight, it connects the ports of Genoa and Rotterdam, with an additional interchange in Basle (the Rotterdam–Basel–Genoa corridor). For passengers, it connects Milan to Zurich and beyond. There are two separate basis tunnel systems: the older Lötschberg axis and the newer Gotthard axis. In the latter, freight trains travel at least at 100 km/h and passenger trains at least at 200 km/h. These are the operational speeds, the maximal speed is 249 km/h, limited by the available power supply.

The trains are mostly of the freight type, traveling at the lower operational speed. A smaller number of passenger trains travels at twice the operational speed. A freight train can be a little late, but a passenger train must always be on time lest people miss their connections, which is not acceptable.

The trains must be scheduled so that passenger trains can pass freight trains when these are at a station and can move to a bypass rail. However, there can be unforeseen events like accidents, natural disasters, and strikes that can delay the trains on their route. The manager will counter these problems by accelerating trains already in the system above their operational speed when there is sufficient electric power to do so. This way, when the problem is solved, there is additional capacity available.

The problem with modifying the schedule is that one cannot just accelerate trains: new bypass stations have to be determined and the travel speeds have to be fine-tuned. Train systems are an early implementation of industry 4.0 because the trains also automatically communicate between each other to avoid collisions and to optimize rail usage. For AlpTransit this required solving the political problem of forcing all European countries to adopt a new ERTMS/ETCS (European Train Control System) Level 2, to which older locomotives cannot be upgraded.

The regular jobs and rush jobs in a print fulfillment plant are similar. The big difference is that the train schedule is the same every day, while in printing each day is completely different. The job of the plant designer is to predict the bottlenecks and do a cost analysis to alleviate these bottlenecks. In particular, deadlocks have to be identified and mitigated. There are two main parameters: the number and speed of equipment, and the amount of buffer space. Buffering is highly nonlinear and cannot be estimated by eye or from experience. The only solution is to build a model and then simulate it.

We used Ptolemy II for the simulation framework and wrote Java actors for each manufacturing step. To find and mitigate the bottlenecks, but especially to find the dreaded deadlock conditions, we just need to code timing information in the Java actors and run Montecarlo simulations.

We used a compute cluster with the data encrypted at rest and using Ganymed SSH-2 for authentication with certificates and encryption on the wire. Each actor could run on a separate machine in the cluster. The system allows the well-dimensioned design of the plant, its enhancement through modernization and expansion, and the daily scheduling.

So far, the optimization is just based on time. In a print fulfillment plant, there are also frequent mistakes in the workflow definition. The workflow for a job is stored in a so-called ticket (believe me, reaching a consensus standard was more difficult than for ERTMS/ETCS). One of the highest costs in a plant is an error in the ticket, which causes the job to be repeated after the ticket has been amended. With this, risk mitigation through ticket verification is a highly valuable function, because it allows a considerable cost reduction for not having to allocate insurance expenses.

While in office printing A4 or letter size paper are the norm, commercial printers use a possibly large paper size to save printing time and, with it, cost. This means there are ganging and imposition, folding, rotating, cutting, etc. It is easy to make an imposition mistake and pages end up in the wrong document or at the wrong place. Similarly, paper can be cut at the wrong point in the process or folded incorrectly.

Once we have a simulation of the print fulfillment factory, we can easily solve these workflow problems, thus reducing risk and with it insurance cost. The data for print jobs is stored in portable document format (PDF) files. For each workstation in a print fulfillment plant, we take the Java actor implemented for the simulation and add input and output ports for PDF files. We then implement a PDF transformer for each workstation that applies the work step to the PDFs. There can be multiple input and output PDFs. For example, a ganging workstation takes several PDF files and outputs a new PDF file for each imposed sheet.

Most errors happen when a ticket is compiled. After simulating the workflow, the operator simply checks the resulting PDF files. A mistake is immediately visible and can be diagnosed by looking at the intermediate PDF files. A more subtle error source is when workstations negotiate workflow changes in the sense of the industry 4.0 technology. Before the change can be approved, the workflow has to be simulated again and the difference between the two output PDF files has to be computed.

A more valuable, but also more complex workflow change is accommodating rush jobs by taking shortcuts. For example, if there is a spot color in the press, can we reuse the same color or do we have to clean out the machine to change or remove the spot color? Another example is the question of using dithering instead of stochastic halftoning to expedite a job. Finally, earlier we mentioned the possibility of running a fixed background through a silkscreen press and printing only the variable contents on a bubblejet press.

In a conventional setting, any such change requires doing a new press-check and having the customer come in to approve it. In practice, this is not always realistic and the owner will use his best judgment so self-approve the proof.

9,355,339 automates this check and approval. The ICC profiles are available and can be used to compute the perceived colors in each case. The transposition score for the color scale (there can be more than one) can predict the customer's approval of the press-check.

9,355,339 automates the press-check and approval

Thus, we have created a Java actor that simulates a human and can predict the human's perception. This is an industry 4.0 application where we not only have semantic models for the machines but also for the humans, and the machines can take the humans into consideration.

simulating the human in the loop

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The internet of things is a power guzzler

A study commissioned by the International Energy Agency and conducted by Prof. Alexander Klapproth's iHome Lab at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences made a sobering determination: The internet of things is a power guzzler! Instead of saving energy, that light switch that today does not use any power when connected to the internet uses a lot of power.

The study found that today, the about 10 billion IoT devices deployed worldwide suck up 10 TWh of electricity. By 2025, they project a total energy waste of 46 TWh. 78% or 36 TWh will be wasted by home automation devices, followed by connected home appliances with 15% or 7 TWh, and smart lighting with 7% or 3 TWh.


The main culprit is the power supply, which wastes more energy than the internet control device itself. The latter also uses too much power because inappropriate communication technologies are used.


Fortunately, energy-saving technologies already exist, as proven by smartphones, laptop computers, and other personal digital assistants. All the IoT vendors have to do, is to hire engineers with expertise in power management.

M. Friedli, L. Kaufmann, F. Paganini, and R. Kyburz. Energy efficiency of the internet of things. Technology and energy assessment report prepared for IEA 4E EDNA, iHomeLab, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland, April 2016.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Compression on Newell Road

Newell Road starts at West Bayshore Road in East Palo Alto. After crossing the narrow bridge over the San Francisquito Creek into Palo Alto, it continues south-southwest then dead south to the public library and the art center. After crossing Embarcadero Road, it proceeds southeast and terminates at David Starr Jordan Middle School.

Jordan had become famous around 1977 because Xerox PARC gave it an Alto—which it called "interim Dynabook"—catapulting the pupils in a new world of windows, icons, mice, and pointing (WIMP), as described by Howard Rheingold.

Maybe, the most famous person to live on Newell Road was Dr. Norman J. Lewiston, a professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine who had three legal wives and whose life was made into a movie (The Man with Three Wives, his last name was changed to Grayson). Newell Road was where he lived with his original wife and three children.

Late Spring 1994, Yoko held one of her BBQs on her patio on Newell Road, which was attended by the group of researchers working on color fax. In this technology, the page images are compressed with JPEG. At the receiving end, the pages looked fuzzy, and the group was discussing how to improve the image quality.

The usual sharpening kernels could not be used because they would sharpen prominently the compression artifacts and the image quality was worse. Maybe, it was the Chardonnay that made the group come up with one of those crazy ideas: why not do the sharpening in the compressed domain, where the artifacts are explicit. Essentially, the original is boosted, and this is accomplished by using different DQT tables for compressing and decompressing, a trick that made the operation computationally free.

The method, described in US 5850484 A worked like a charm and other algorithms working in the compressed domain ensued, for example, to change the lightness or the contrast. Konstantin optimized the Huffman code and got an additional 14% compression for the color fax protocol.

This method improved the image quality, but it did not sufficiently reduce the file size, which was a showstopper. Indeed, it took 6 minutes to transmit an A4 page, but the upper time limit was considered to be 2 minutes. Optimizing the Huffman tables was not enough.

A few of Yoko's BBQs later, the group realized that visually lossless compression was too strict and made a run for perceptually lossy JPEG compression. The idea was to compress the image much more, but to move the artifacts to where the image would admittedly look bad, but this would not affect the readability, i.e., the reading performance for a human.

The heuristic process behind this method is interesting because it is the same that is behind today's deep learning algorithms for image recognition. In 1994, the hardware was not ready for that.

heuristic process for image recognition in deep learning

This led to patent US 5883979 A, finally making the new color fax technology viable. However, the employer was not convinced of the product and pulled the plug, only to resuscitate it a couple of years later. By then the momentum had been lost and the market window was closing. At the end, the only thing that came out of the Newell Road BBQs was the book Image and Video Compression Standards: Algorithms and Architectures.

All this work was on lossy compression. The work on lossless compression was a couple of years later, 3.1 km further northwest along Middlefield Road, in Menlo Park. There, the work did not take place on a patio but at Peter's kitchen table. The issue was that Unisys was enforcing its LZW patent. Peter used LZ, which was not patented, and followed it by Huffman encoding, obtaining a better compression rate than LZW.

In compression, it is customary to standardize the decoding of the signal, not the encoding. This leads to the somewhat funny name of FLATE for the method, although the RFC calls for DEFLATE. File formats like PNG and PDF use FLATE.

There was a related event on Newell Road in 2002 when in Yoko's garage the US National Body's proposal for color preference semantics was written (references USNB-CD-DIA-044 to 051). This became part of the MPEG–21 standard for color vision deficiency in the digital item adaptation (DIA) part. However, although this is part of MPEG: it has nothing to do with compression.

This being Palo Alto, people are running all kind of stuff in their garages. For example, at one point a neighbor was running Napster from his garage for a couple of months. However, that was at the time Palo Alto was running its Fiber to the Home (FTTH) pilot and about 100 houses in our neighborhood had 100 Mbps symmetric Internet connections. Legal action was taken by the private industry and the conduits many of us ran from the curb to the utility entrance in January 2000 remain empty and the fiber under Newell Road is dark. In our case, we get by with a 6 Mbps asymmetric VDSL line with 300 GB data cap that costs us $77.44 per month for a double play including VoIP. On Newell Road in Silicon Valley's Palo Alto, Internet access is pretty miserable and expensive.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Different analytics tools for different jobs

When people talk about analytics jobs, they usually have a mental picture of a single job and skill set. They talk about analysts, or data analysts (in the Silicon Valley they may be called data scientists). However, we can structure the users of analytics tools by the kind of job they have. The builders of these tools must then have the same skills, but at a much deeper level.

The first job type is the office worker. Today, every employee is expected to be able to produce some analytics. The basic tools include the office suites from Microsoft, Google, or Apple. Proficiency in more specialized tools like Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, FileMaker, and Tableau are a plus. The worker is expected to be able to convert data between formats like CSV and Excel. Workers are typically given assignments like “Prepare a presentation explaining our performance and suggesting how it can be improved.” Therefore, office workers must be able to produce visualizations, where visualization refers to being able to produce graphics from tables using Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Excel, and PowerPoint. By nature, the office workers are domain experts in their daily activities.

The second job type is that of a data analyst in a traditional company. The all-round data analyst must be proficient in a relational database system like MySQL, and in Excel. The analyst must also have a good understanding of descriptive statistics. A key skill is to be an expert in munging data across applications and file formats; this is also known as data shaping, wrangling, ETL, etc. The required statistical expertise is not deep, but basic A/B testing and Google Analytics experience are required. Presenting and selling the results of an analysis are very important, requiring the ability to be able to do basic data visualization in Excel and Tableau. The data analyst has to have a good understanding of the company’s products and general all-round skills.

The third job type is that of an analyst in a start-up company, where a typical assignment may sound like "please munge our data." This requires proficiency in the basic tools and the ability to move fast: go for the low-hanging fruits and be able to quickly implement a new analysis or visualization by writing Excel macros, Access programs, or R functions, which in turn requires a good knowledge of the available libraries in Excel, R, or Tableau. The data analyst in a start-up company must be proficient in the implementation of advanced parsers and creating ad hoc MySQL databases for persistent storage. Basic statistics knowledge, for example, contingency tables and Poisson tests, are also a must. Since a start-up does not have historical data, the analyst must be able to do the ground-truthing by themselves. As a lot of the data may come from social networks, this job type also requires the ability to use linguistics functions to clean up unstructured text and extract useful information.

An analyst in a data company has a completely different job. Here data is the product: “we are data — data is us.” This requires a formal background in mathematics, statistics, machine learning, or linguistics (natural language processing, NLP). The analyst must be able to discriminate among the various algorithms and understand their parameters. On the bright side, most data is already munged, but the analyst must be able to customize parsers and workflows. Understanding privacy laws is a must, especially the European ones because the internet has no borders, but the laws have and the fines can be debilitating. The analyst in a data company must have a good sense of emerging techniques, like topological data analysis.

The fifth job type is that of analysts in an enterprise, where they are members of an established data team with experts in various tools. By enterprise here we mean a reasonable sized non-data company who is data-driven, to distinguish it from the second job type. The work is about data, but data is often not central to the product. An example is the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0. This analyst is a generalist with broad experience, a jack-of-all-trades. For survival, this analyst must be able to find blind spots where niche roles can be played. It requires heavy experience in munging and aggregating data from all possible sources: SQL and NoSQL, logs, IoT, social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), news feeds, REST services,, Google Public Data Explorer, etc.

We can summarize these job types and the skills they require in this table:

Skills for analytics jobs

This is a generalization and it can be debated. For example, graph theory is topology, actually the historical beginning of it, but topological data analysis focuses on point clouds to build graphs, while traditional graph theory uses completely different mathematical tools to analyze graphs which is why I listed them as two different items. One could also make this list summarizing skills:

  • Tools of the trade: SQL, R, Java, Scala, Python, Spark, MapReduce, …
  • Basic statistics: distributions, maximum likelihood estimation, statistical tests, regression, …
  • Machine learning: k-nearest neighbors, random forests, …
  • Linear algebra and multivariate calculus
  • Data munging: imputation, parsing, formatting; aka wrangling, shaping
  • Data visualization and communication: Tableau, ggplot, d3.js
  • Software engineering: logging, performance analysis, REST interfaces, connectors, …
  • Curiosity for emerging technologies, like algebraic topology
  • Thinking like a data scientist: business sense, approximations, teamwork, …

Monday, April 18, 2016

Data Shamans

The benefit of attending meet-ups and conferences is that, compared to papers and webinars, you can hear and understand questions and you can talk to the speakers and other audience members during the breaks. Especially in conferences, in the formal presentation, you hear a scientific report, while in the breaks you can learn all the false turns the researchers have taken in their endeavors but have no place in short scientific communications.

As I mentioned last October regarding the ACM Data Science Camp Silicon Valley, the field of advanced analytics is full of hype. Data scientists are perceived like demigods, but in reality, their employment can be insecure and harsh.

Indeed, I often hear from data scientists that they are treated like shamans, i.e., a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.

When the organization has a problem it cannot solve and the scientists or engineers are at the end of their wit, they collect big data and deposed it a the feet of their data scientists in the hope to get a miracle by the next day. A problem can only be solved when the causality is known, and correlation does not imply causality. There is no magic algorithm the data scientists can throw at the data and solve the engineering riddle.

In the end, the data scientists have to be able to go back to first principles. However, their training and experience make them more diffident to project preconceptions into the data, and their toolbox allows them to formulate hypotheses and test them statistically more efficiently. There are no data shamans.

Not a data shaman

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Shape of Data

Last week I attended a San Francisco Bay Area ACM Chapter event at Pivotal Labs, which now occupies one of the former HP Labs buildings up on Deer Creek Road. The speaker was Gunnar Carlsson and the topic was algebraic topology analytics. I was waiting to write this post until the slides would be posted, but they never materialized—maybe the fancy rendering of a coffee mug metamorphosing into a topologically equivalent donut broke the system.

I must admit that what attracted me the most to attend was to see how Gunnar Carlsson would give a presentation on a very arcane topic requiring intimate familiarity with Betti numbers, functional persistence barcodes, simplicial complexes, and Vietoris-Rips complexes to the 244 registered attendees, probably mostly lacking the necessary mathematical background. I was also curious to see if he would reveal some of the fast algorithms which he must have invented to perform the very complex calculations involved.

He did a superb job! After the demonstration that for mathematicians coffee mugs and donuts are equivalent, he had everybody's attention. He then showed some examples of how conventional methods for regression and cluster analysis can fail and lead to completely incorrect conclusions, leaving the task of understanding topological pattern recognition for point cloud data as an exercise.

Gunnar Carlsson started by noting that big data in not about "big" but about complexity in format and structure. Data has shape and shape matters. Therefore, the task of the data scientist is not to accumulate myriad data, but to simplify the data in a way that the shape is easily inferred.

Consider for example the point cloud on the left side of the figure below. You can import it in your favorite analytics program and perform a linear regression. This simplifies the data to two parameters: a slope and an intercept. However, if you look more carefully, you see that this an incorrect representation of the data. Indeed, the point cloud is on two intersecting lines, therefore, the green cross at the right is a more accurate representation of the data's shape.

A linear regression would give an incorrect result

A second example is the confusion between recurrent data and periodic data. People tend to equate them and then use Fourier analysis on recurrent data that is not periodic, getting meaningless results. Recurrence is a concept from chaos theory and does not imply regular cycles, like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

The solution is to use topological modeling, like in the figure. If you are older, you need to revisit topology, because the field has started to study point clouds only in the last 20 to 15 years.

The first step in a project is to determine a relevant distance metric. Examples include Euclidean distance, Hamming distance, and correlation distance. The distance metric should be such that it is sensitive to nearby events but not so much to far away events because the interesting stuff happens close by: consider for example a distance metric based on the statistical momenta.

The output of an algebraic topology analysis is not a set of algebraic formulæ but a network.

For exercising, Carlsson recommends the World Values Survey, which contains a lot of interesting data. When you play with the data, it is often useful to consider a topological model of the space of columns rather than the rows in a data set.

Adapting to street lighting

Although in Switzerland light pollution is a fraction of what it is in American urban areas, in an interesting study, Florian Altermatt from Zurich and Dieter Ebert from Basel have shown experimentally that moths have adapted to light pollution. They reared moths from 10 different populations from early-instar larvae and experimentally compared their flight-to-light behavior under standardized conditions. Moths from urban populations had a significant reduction in the flight-to-light behavior compared with pristine populations.

This adaptation has direct consequences for ecosystems, because as moths avoid light pollution they will fly less and will pollinate fewer flowers.

If you delve into data science, beware that correlation does not predict causality: if Americans have become couch potatoes and move less than the Swiss, this is not due to the difference in light pollution :-)

Citation: Florian Altermatt, Dieter Ebert: Reduced flight-to-light behaviour of moth populations exposed to long-term urban light pollution, Biol. Lett. 2016 12 20160111; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0111. Published 12 April 2016.

Helvetia by Night

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to pronounce LIRE

One of the difficulties of the English language is that it is often not clear, how to correctly pronounce words. For example, Edinburgh, Gloucester, and Leicester are often mispronounced. Fortunately, a dictionary will teach you how to pronounce a word correctly, and if you do not find it there, you can try the Wikipedia.

The situation is a little more hairy in the case of acronyms. Often there is a pun, which can guide you in guessing the pronunciation, but sometimes it is a genuine acronym, and therefore impossible to guess.

In the age of big data, the default approach to crack this riddle is to crowd-source the answer on a social network. Blast the question on Twitter, write a small R program using twitterR, and calculate the statistical mode. You can even get creative and use the PBSmapping package to plot the locations of the responders.

Unfortunately, the crowds are not wise and they might never have crossed path with the acronym, so they just guess. This is a classical case of garbage-in, garbage-out. In German, this process is also known with the expression "mit Kanonen auf Spatzen schiessen."

People were debating how one might pronounce LIRE, a Java library that provides a simple way to retrieve images and photos based on color and texture characteristics. LIRE is an acronym for Lucene Image Retrieval and is used to build content based image retrieval (CBIR, rhymes with cyber) systems.

Nothing is easier than shooting a one-line email to the creator Mathias Lux in Klagenfurt (do not fear, the Lindwurm is made of stone and will not byte you) and you get the correct answer, no need for confidence intervals: "Ich persönlich gehe von der italienischen Sprechweise aus"— it is pronounced the Italian way: li like liberty plus re like record.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Big Dada

If you mistyped and where searching for "big data," try this other post. Here we are on 5 February 1916 in the Cabaret Voltaire on the Spiegelgasse, just a few steps from the apartment where Lenin was living in exile and not far from where I lived for a couple of years under a gaslight.

Cabaret Voltaire

Dada represents the total doubt about everything, the absolute individualism and the destruction of ideals and norms hitherto cast in concrete. For example, in Hugo Ball's Lautgedichte (sound poetry) the utterances are decoupled from semantics. This is how a century later naive users misuse Internet search engines and then wonder their queries just return millions of dada, much to the chagrin of the computational linguists trying to design semantic search engines. This is dada. No, it is a trigram. Can a second order Markov model help? Not for this trigram: Google Books thinks, it does not exist. Coming up with a new sentence is so dada.

The dadaists were displeased with science, which they judged to be elitist and far from any comprehensibility and sensuality. Maybe they were not completely right, considering what was happening in theoretical physics around that time. But certainly, today science is more dada, when fresh laureates dance their Ph.D. You can win a trip to Stanford and visit me, just a few steps away, under an LED lamppost.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

bottom-up vs. top-down

Last week I wrote about systems of autonomous components, also dubbed as bees vs. the bee hive. In management, there is the somewhat related concept of bottom-up vs. top-down management.

Bottom-up used to be popular in engineering companies. Engineers work in small groups that push beyond the bleeding edge of technology and invent new product concepts. As the product evolves, more people are recruited and the product is polished by UX experts, manufacturability experts, marketing and sales teams, etc.

In a top-down company, the leader of the company is an expert visionary who has a new technology idea. A team of second level executives is assembled, which repeats the process for the next level, etc., down to the worker bees who develop the product. This was the basis of the utopian concept described in Tommaso Campanella's Città del Sole.

Der Schulmeister und seine Schüler

The preference for one paradigm or the other oscillates with time. Both are viable. Things only go wrong when a mediocre person becomes the head honcho of a bottom-up company and transforms it to top-down. In a bottom-up company, the management's role is mostly to take out of the way the obstacles that slow down the engineers. Typically their nature is more that of a facilitating person than that of a leader.

When the polarity of a company is switched from bottom-up to top-down, the management layers typically fail. With a mediocre person at the top, the company is doomed. It can take decades, but in the end, there is no escape from the spiral of death.