Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kodachrome RIP

Today Dwayne Steinle will take the last shot on Kodachrome, a picture of all his employees standing in front of Dwayne's Photo in Parsons (Kansas) wearing shirts with the epitaph: "The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010."

Read the full story in the New York Times:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Switzerland never built an empire, so the technology of cartography (D|F|I) was developed late compared to other nations. The innovator was general Guillaume-Henri Dufour (1787–1875), who in 1838 started up a topography office in Geneva. His main contributions were cross-hatching and shading, two graphical techniques important to render mountain terrain.


The Swiss topographic maps are of particular interest to color scientists and designers for their superior use of functional color.


Another innovation of Swiss cartographers was the hierarchical ordering of labels. Labels have as an attribute the saliency of the feature they tag, e.g., the population, the level in the political hierarchy, etc. For each map, the labels would be printed only down to a level depending to the map's scale. The resulting maps are much less cluttered and easier to read.

In fact, they are so easy to read that in their fifth school year, Swiss pupils buy a copy of the heavily Swiss Atlas for Middle Schools. Combined with the lessons in the classroom, this atlas explains the high rate of topographic and geographic literacy in the general population.


The first edition of the Swiss Atlas for Middle Schools was published in 1910. Therefore, the new edition published at the end of October 2010 is the Jubilee edition, and by the way, it is now called the Swiss World Atlas.

For the Jubilee edition, the atlas has been augmented with another Swiss invention: the World Wide Web. The interactive world atlas (D|F|I|E) is continuously updated with the latest statistical data, as today's pupils demand (only the German version is fully operational at this time, the translations being on their way).

In the download section, you can find the blank master copy maps used to teach geography in the Swiss schools. Can you label the map below? Hint: start from Lake Tahoe.

Western USA

If you have a recent computer, you can also start a Java application that lets you display a set of maps which synchronize automatically when you pan in one of them. Finally, there is a 3-d representation of terrain over which you can fly.

Grand Canyon

Friday, December 17, 2010

Light Emitting Single Molecules

Future nanoelectronics engineers might be capable of using individual molecules to perform the functions in an electronic circuit that are performed by semiconductor devices today. A joint research team from Basel University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany has now demonstrated that rigidly wired molecules can emit light under voltage bias. This result is important for fundamental science but it also adds to the molecular electronics vision an optoelectronic component, i.e. the development of optoelectronic components on the basis of single molecules. The team synthesized a specifically designed rod-like molecule with a fluorescent core and electrodes of carbon nanotubes. These findings are reported in Nature Nanotechnology.

For more information click Adding an optoelectronic component to molecular electronics

Thursday, December 16, 2010

which color synonym should I use?

Recently we wrote about magenta and fuchsia being synonyms, and on Water Day we wrote about the difference between cyan, aqua, and (for the horizontal readers of our blog using the etymology tag) turquoise, (see also here, since we are still in 2010). The question we left open was how to choose between color synonyms. As color scientists, we do not want to come across as being too geeky or おたく

From today, there is a tool to answer this question.

In the old days of color science, in psychophysics we dealt with about 15 subjects (logarithmically: 1). Then with the multilingual color naming experiment, HP Labs ratched this up to thousands (logarithmically: 3). Today, Google Labs is taking this to the next level: millions (logarithmically: 6), or 5,195,769 observers if you need an exact number.

When the color naming experiment allowed you to find color names and their synonyms, the new corpus allows you to decide which synonyms to use. Let us get back to magenta and fuchsia. You are at Silicon Valley cocktail party, want to talk about your daughter painting her room in hot lips color, but do not want to come across as a geek. Should you call it magenta or fuchsia?

First learn our latest tag: culturomics. While our technological advantage was crowd-sourcing, the next level is culturomics, where instead of harvesting an audience, all books are interrogated. Moreover, while crowd-sourcing was ephemeral, culturomics introduces time as a new parameter. The details are in the upcoming Science magazine paper Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books, by Jean-Baptiste Michel1, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva P. Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, The Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak and Erez Lieberman Aiden.

Essentially, Google Labs today is making 5,195,769 of the 15 million books they have digitized available for research. To put the number in perspective, these are about 4% of all books ever published.

So, is it magenta or fuchsia? [click on the graph to view it at full size]

use of magenta vs. fuchsia

In harmony with what we wrote, fuchsia has been around since 1730, while magenta emerged 1851 with the battle in Magenta. While the first use in books was probably regarding Magenta, uses after London's 1860 red magenta definitively refer to the color. The above graph teaches us, that when talking to non-scientists we should use magenta rather than fuchsia, even when the former is currently dipping.

This is good. After all, the color naming experiment teaches us that nobody knows how to spell fuchsia anyway.

Now, let us look at cyan. [Click on the graph to view it at full size]

use of cyan

The corpus queried was English books, specifically, Italian books were excluded. Although the Latin spelling aqua has always dominated, up to 1870 the Italian spelling acqua was sometimes used. At the cocktail party, however, you should call it turquoise.

Although this is a quantum leap, it does not yet solve the hot lips problem, because there is not enough data to isolate the context of color. For that we will have to progress beyond books, but Google does not yet know how to structure its corpus, as we wrote a while back. Will it be Bing?

Study On How Light Affects The Brain

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a well-known phenomenon, one that disappears on bright days when the sunshine returns. Researchers at the University of Geneva have concluded a study that shows how the brain responds to blue light, a part of the light spectrum that is often in short supply in the winter, particularly in northern Europe. The research found that such ambient blue light, found in daylight, increased responses to the stimuli in the "voice area" of the brain and in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is important for memory processes. The light also led to a tighter interaction between a part of the brain that regulates emotions and the hypothalamus, which responds to light to regulate biological rhythms.

For more information click Geneva study shows how light affects the brain

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The pinwheel density is π

In this day and age when everything is dumbed down to a sound byte or an elevator pitch, the structure of organisms is distilled to the false conundrum of nature versus nurture. Alas, reality is much more complex. Although a cone in your retina has a matching DNA strand in its nucleus to the one in a cell in your armpit, the two cells are quite different.

The first lesson we learn is that what counts are not just the genes themselves, but which ones are expressed. For example, the genes encoding the peak spectral sensitivity for the L (red) and M (green) cones do easily get transposed, with the effect that the peak sensitivity moves. Yet, we cannot look at the DNA to determine if an observer has deficient color vision. What counts for the actual peak sensitivities are which genes are transcribed by the messenger RNA (mRNA). This can only be determined by looking a the actual opsin, there cannot be a genetic test for color deficiency because it is unethical to rip out somebody's retina. Fortunately, tests like the Ishihara Color Test and the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue test do a good enough job that this is not an issue.

Another insight is epigenetics (C. H. Waddington, 1942). Today, the study of the environmental influence on our genome is a hot topic.

When we look at the brain, it appears that there is a skeleton that is present at birth. During the first period of life, the neurons grow and connect in response to stimuli, both real and virtual. This is for example why hospitals correct strabismus immediately after birth, because otherwise one eye never gets wired up to the visual system.

An interesting question is whether there are constraints on how neuronal preferences can develop. This is a problem that Fred Wolf of the Max-Planck-Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, at the Göttingen University has studied.

From the work of Hubel and Wiesel we know that in the visual cortex of carnivores and primates, neurons selective for the orientation of visual edges are organized in orientation columns, which are vertical arrays of neurons that prefer the same orientation.

Credit: Matthias Kaschube

In the figure, the column at the left is the legend for the color encoding of orientations. As shown in the inset, orientation columns are arranged around numerous singularities, called pinwheel centers. The mean number of pinwheels per orientation-hypercolumn area is called pinwheel density. The self-organization of orientation columns dominated by long-range interactions would explain a common design.

It can be shown mathematically, that for large interaction ranges, the mean pinwheel density predicted by the universal pinwheel statistics rapidly approaches an asymptotic constant equal to π.

Matthias Kaschube and his coworkers have performed a very rigorous experiment to measure the pinwheel statistics, which is described in a detailed 74 page paper Universality in the Evolution of Orientation Columns in the Visual Cortex.

They have studied the visual cortex of the tree shrew (Tupaia belangeri), galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus), and ferret (Mustela putorius) and measured the pinwheel density. The map labeled "original" in the above figure shows the orientation map from a galago visual cortex.

They also analyzed properties of orientation maps in ferrets reared in darkness beginning about 1 week before eye opening and the emergence of orientation maps, because dark-rearing alters the spatiotemporal pattern of activity in the afferent visual pathway, induces abnormal receptive field properties in the lateral geniculate nucleus and visual cortex, but does not prevent the formation of orientation maps.

Finally, they have compared the pinwheel density with randomly generated orientation maps (right map in the figure) obtained by randomizing the phases of the original measurements in the Fourier domain and then subjecting the randomized maps to the same preprocessing and analyses as the original data.

Only in the original maps the mean pinwheel density approaches an asymptotic constant equal to π.

Their empirical results and theoretical analyses suggest that the precise spatial organization of pinwheels in the visual cortex reflects cortical network self-organization rather than genetic prespecification or environmental instruction of neuronal circuit development. Their theory reveals that dynamic network self-organization can robustly constrain the spatial organization of cortical circuitry to a specific design.

Already in 1942, Waddington suggested that robustness of developmental processes may play an adaptive role in evolution, protecting developing organisms from both genetic and environmental perturbations by canalizing the physiological and anatomical organization of organisms into a much narrower range than might be expected from their genetic diversity.

If Kaschube's explanation of the common design is correct, its evolution represents a genuine example of such canalization through an emergent property of complex cortical networks expressed in long-separated mammalian lineages. Kaschube et al. conclude that wherever such complex biological systems unfold, especially in the mammalian brain where they are likely to abound, the principles of dynamic network self-organization may design and constrain system behavior as powerfully as an organism's genetic endowment or early life experiences.

Science 19 November 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6007 pp. 1113-1116 DOI: 10.1126/science.1194869

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

mRGCs implicated in vision

We have known for 10 years about melanopsin-containing retinal ganglion cells (mRGCs). Research over the past decade has shown that they play an important role in reflexive responses to light, such as pupil constriction and regulation of the body's sleep-wake cycle. But they did not appear to be involved in vision.

In July, researchers tagged the mRGCs with a blue protein to see where the cells occur in the mouse eye. When they tracked the cells' axons from the eye into the brain, they saw that many of them terminated in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) and into parts of the mouse brain involved in conscious vision, not just the parts of the brain that control unconscious responses to light.

Timothy Brown, a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom tested a range of light intensities, from starlight to bright daylight, in mice without rods nor cones and found that light as intense as daylight fired up the LGN.

Brown and colleagues also looked at whether mRGCs might also send information to the LGN in mice with normal vision. "We found that approximately 40% of the brain cells that process visual signals appear to receive information from mRGCs," says Brown, whose team reports its work today in PLoS Biology. What the researchers don't yet know is whether mRGCs can sense variations in brightness across the visual field.

The next step will be to do the complementary experiment, i.e., show that mice lacking melanopsin have inferior vision based on their behavior.

Brown TM, Gias C, Hatori M, Keding SR, Semo M, et al. (2010) Melanopsin Contributions to Irradiance Coding in the Thalamo-Cortical Visual System. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000558

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

World's First Plant-Derived Color Toner

Kyocera Mita Corp. has developed a color toner for multifunction printers that is made from resin gleaned from rice husks, palm kernel shells and other discarded plant materials and adds pigments to a resin base. For the new product, it developed a base that contains a 30% mixture of polyester resins derived from plant fibers. By making partial use of the plant-derived resin, the new color toner has a 30% smaller carbon footprint when the spent cartridges are incinerated. Rivals such as Ricoh Co. already sell mono-chrome toner made using such resins, but Kyocera Mita will be the first in the world to market a color toner product from the material.

[Source: Science & Technology News from Japan, Swiss Science & Technology Office Tokyo]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fun with Collocates: Orange Vodka to Blue Skies

The SCOTS team at Glasgow University has posted a handy tool the BMC ComPair for visualizing collocates in the British National Corpus. Here's an example for orange and blue, also shown below.

The instructions clearly state: "Collocates of both words are shown, together with your search words. The collocates near each extremity have a strong collocational strength with that search word, collocates in the middle are used equally with both your words."

So vodka is more likely to be used with orange, while skies is more likely to be used with blue and light is roughly equally used by both orange and blue. Interestingly, the most common orange collocate is k-type, as in orange dwarf. The results for pink and beige are even more curious.

But first let's try red and green.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Combatting bit rot with steganography

Over the years we had various posts on bit rot, the problem that digitally stored images become unaccessible after just a few years because the system that can decode them is no longer available. Essentially, this might be an ethical problem we cannot solve with technology.

Recently, steganography has been proposed as a possible solution for digital image archiving, so today we revisit the origins of this approach.

To avoid unnecessary excitement, lets us just reveal from the beginning that it cannot do anything about bit rot in image archives, because it requires a system to decode. Sure, you might interject we can always implement a decoder, but as we saw with PhotoCD, unless there is a commercial product in the form of an operating system feature, this statement is useless in practice. For example, we can read punched cards by simply scanning them, but I doubt that you would pursue this route if you still had a stack of cards in your basement.

In the early days of digital color printing, the Feds were the early adopters of technology, so we always had their requirements in mind. One requirement relating to copiers and telecopiers (digital facsimile machines) was to be able to subject a document to seven copy generations without degrading its readability.

At the time this lead to religious wars of colorimetric reproduction versus preferred color reproduction, with the idea that colorimetric systems stood a better chance in surviving seven generations, while preferred color reproduction (e.g., saturation boost and contrast enhancement) would make more money because most customers make just one generation and a better looking copy begets more business.

The main digital color print technologies at the time comprised liquid and dry xerography, acoustic inkjet, thermal transfer, and dye diffusion thermal transfer (D2T2). In industrial research labs we cared mostly about dry xerography, because that is where the biggest profits were.

At that time we were fighting with the triboelectric effect, so halftoning with dispersed dots like dithering, or error diffusion, did not work well and be had to use clustered dot halftoning. We were achieving the best results with Tom Holladay's rotated dots. They were ellipses at a 45º angle, which were robust for the triboelectric effect and prevented the human visual system from connecting the dots into unsightly patterns.

Research is about synergies and serendipity, so at this point I need to digress.

At that time (late 80s) PARC had a big cross-lab project called System 33. It played a big role in Xerox renaming itself the document company and had a big effect on society by introducing concepts like Mark Weiser's ubiquitous computing, document management, etc. The basic idea was to take all possible technologies currently in the research stage and connect them together in one big bet.

One of these concepts was Smart Paper (not to be confused with the SmartPaper that then became Gyricon). Every document would have a cover page that could act as a banner page for print and a cover page for fax. This page would also have a barcode universally identifying the document. On one side this provided a solution for the copy generation problem, because a copier could reprint the original document referenced in the barcode instead of the document on the platen (annotation could be lifted from the paper document and overprinted onto the original document).

On the other side, having a cover page on every document is ugly and a barcode is even uglier. Although all this is done by document delivery services, you do not want this on all your office documents.

At this point the preceding two threads can be combined. Enter Rob Tow (click here for his account), who in 1988 came up with the idea of encoding information in images on documents (all office documents tend to have at least a company logo) by using Holladay's rotated dots for a binary code, by simply rotating them at ±45º. Rob called them glyphs.

Encoding a document's universal identifier in the logo was just a simple application. A more compelling application was to encode the CIELAB values of an image's pixels in the image's halftones. A dumb copier would simply do whatever it did to copy an image, but a smart copier would decode the image's colorimetric information from the halftones by interpreting them as glyphs.

At the time we coined the phrase "scan–think–print" for digital copying, so we could safely assume each one of our copiers would always have the additional intelligence to restore an image's colors from the glyphs. The actual image was then just a backup for the dumb copiers from the competition.

We even filed an invention disclosure for an Oliver North copier, which was a DocuTech with a built-in shredder. It would scan each page, encrypt the bitmap, and print the result using glyphs. The original document would be shredded right then and there, as part of the process. The copy could be stored and distributed in plain sight. It could even be copied at least seven generations, but only when the operator inserted in the copier a token with the decryption key, the copy would be the original readable document. This would have solved North's problem because he would have had only his token to be destroyed.

Rob got US Patent 5,315,098 on the basic concept, but then it took a lot of work to turn the idea into a robust technology. For one, the glyphs had to survive the infamous seven copy generations. Meg Withgott had come up with the concept of document dry-cleaning, but it took Dan Bloomberg substantial work in mathematical morphology to achieve a robust implementation for glyphs.

Then there were the problems of optical distortions, self-clocking, and error correction, among many others. All said, until the technology was done David Hecht and Noah Flores got 51 more US patents solving all the details.

The final artifact became a Xerox product under the trademark DataGlyphs. A project called Express (Henry Sang, Jr. was one of its leaders) achieved a successful commercial deployment solving the problem of processing the field test reports for Syntex, with others following.

Bit rot refers to images meant for archival applications. In that sense the glyph technology was not invented for bit rot but for document management, i.e., with a limited time scope in mind.

I am also using the term steganography in a loose sense, because it really refers to hiding a secret payload image into a carrier image. As such, steganography has to work only over a very restricted time span, just to smuggle an image through a hostile boundary.

A related concept is that of watermarks. Here the system has to be available only for the duration of a copyright, and the owner has a pecuniary incentive to keep the system working during this time.

As far as I know, currently the most promising remedy for bit rot is encoding the images in the DNG format and encapsulating them into a PDF file. However, this archiving path is not yet available at the operating system level. And there will always be the ethical issue to enable digital image archiving.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crowdsourcing Money: Images vs Video?

Following up on Giordano's crowdsourcing numbers post, which in turn follows up on my previous crowdsourcing corpora post is a recent Optimizely post on crowdsourcing money. The post includes a comparison of button label text and the effect of using images versus videos for a splash page for the political fundraising efforts of Obama.

(image via: wikipedia: Obama Steelers.jpg)

Details and politics aside, it is remarkable to consider the crowdsourcing of money as an experimental undertaking. Not only that but an undertaking based on a full-factorial multivariate design. As for images versus videos? The authors found:

Before we ran the experiment, the campaign staff heavily favored "Sam's Video" (the last one in the slideshow shown above). Had we not run this experiment, we would have very likely used that video on the splash page. That would have been a huge mistake since it turns out that all of the videos did worse than all of the images.

Which I think also points to the scalability of keeping things simple.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Crowdsourcing numbers

www.trackyourhappiness.orgWhen we want to perform experiments with a large number of subjects we resort to crowdsourcing. For his color naming experiment, Nathan Moroney uses the Web. An alternative approach is to write a smartphone application that periodically prods the owner for data.

Often researchers hide the size of their data. Recently Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert have published a paper in which they reveal how much data they were able to collect with a smartphone app. Over an undisclosed time interval, they collected almost 250,000 responses from about 5000 subjects from 83 countries, ranging from 18 to 88 years of age and representing 86 occupations.

For comparison, the xkcd color survey harvested over five million color terms across 222,500 user sessions. Nathan's thesaurus so far served almost 300,000 color terms in English alone.

One of the worries in crowdsourcing is the amount of disruptive subjects. In the calibrated lunch color naming experiment, this number turned out to be surprisingly low: 4% of the participants. For Killingsworth and Gilbert with their more intrusive and possibly obstreperous method, the data came from 2250 adults (58.8% male, 73.9% residing in the United States, mean age of 34 years). The details are in their paper's supporting online material.

By the way, the topic of their research are not color terms but stimulus-independent thought, also known as mind wandering. The outliers in their data are the subjects who were making love when the application woke up to poll them about their happiness status. This is also an unexpected response, as we would think a very happy person would not answer the phone during such an activity…

You can find the paper here: Science 12 November 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6006 p. 932

Friday, November 26, 2010

Computer! Separate Color Channels!

From Stephen Wolfram's blog comes a post about natural language processing and Mathematica 8. First, I like that he used an example with separating color channels.

(image via wikimedia: Category:Images with Mathematica source code)

Second, in addition to mentioning color he has the following to say about corpora:

"One issue that we have faced is a lack of linguistic corpora in the area. (...) But as of yesterday we now have an important new source of data: actual examples of natural language programming being done in Mathematica 8. And taking a glance right now at our real-time monitoring system for the Wolfram|Alpha server infrastructure, I can see that very soon we’re going to have lots of data to study."

Looks like an interesting effort to follow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aggression and Hockey Uniform Color: Does Black & Red Lead to Black & Blue?

From David Caldwell and Jerry Burger comes a recent study on aggression and hockey uniform color. The results have been published in a Social Psychological and Personality Science article entitled "On Thin Ice: Does Uniform Color Really Affect Aggression in Professional Hockey?".

(image via wikimedia - Category:Fights in ice hockey)

We've previously posted on anxiety and nurse uniform color but it's interesting to see some results for hockey uniform colors. Of course with respect the the authors' conclusions one wonders if there is any difference in the perception of aggression and uniform colors.

A Beaming Inventor

We recently reported on the winners of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. In the meantime Mostly Color Channel's correspondent in D.C. sent us the photographs from the ceremony, which took place Monday last week.

The ceremony involves all the pomp and circumstance required for such an important State event:

Federico Faggin and Barak Obama

When the POTUS shakes your hand, you realize he is not just a great leader but also a tall man:

Federico Faggin and Barak Obama

The current President is perfectly comfortable performing the ceremony ad lib, without reading from a teleprompter. Here he is being handed over the medal:

Federico Faggin and Barak Obama

It is harder to say who is happier for this moment, Mr. Obama or Dr. Faggin?

Federico Faggin and Barak Obama

But certainly here FF is beaming:

Federico Faggin and Barak Obama

You can learn more about the invention of the microprocessor from this IEEE Solid-State Circuits Magazine article: The Making of the First Microprocessor, 10.1109/MSSC.2008.930938. For a trove of historical details around the invention of the microprocessor you may also want to visit the 4004 Web site.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peer To Patent 2011 Pilot

Peer To Patent is a historic initiative by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that opens the patent examination process to public participation for the first time. Peer to Patent is an online system that aims to improve the quality of issued patents by enabling the public to supply the USPTO with information relevant to assessing the claims of pending patent applications.

The Peer To Patent 2011 Pilot has opened and will run through September 30, 2011. Eleven applications have been posted for review, all in subject matter classes covering software. Patent classes covered by these apps include 380 (cryptography), 701 (vehicles, navigation, and relative location), 706 (artificial intelligence), 707 (database and file management or data structures), 709 (multicomputer data transferring), 712 (processing architecture and instruction processing), 715 (presentation processing of document, operator interface processing and screen saver display processing), and 718 (virtual machine task or process management or task management/control).

A New Viewpoint on Faces

This appears to be the month of faces, at least on this blog. The temporal lobe of macaques' brains contains six patches of face-selective cortex. This observation has prompted systems neuroscientists to ask, why so many and what do they do? Freiwald and Tsao (Science 5 November 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6005 pp. 845-851) targeted four of these regions for single-unit recordings and found that the different face-selective patches in macaques have independent functions. The areas where earliest processing occurred were most sharply tuned for individual views and least sharply tuned for identity. The mid-level area was more sharply tuned for identity, and the highest processing stage was strongly tuned for identity in a strikingly view-invariant way. These results yield fundamental insights into the computational process of object recognition, the functional organization of the brain, and how representations are transformed through processing hierarchies.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The inverted retina

Human retina

One of the mysteries of the human visual system is why the retina has evolved to be mounted backwards, i.e., light has to travel through layers of retinal cells before reaching the detectors. Erez N. Ribak and Amichai M. Labin constructed a 3D optical model of the human retina suggesting the retina has developed its inverted shape to improve the directionality of intercepted light beams, to enhance vision acuity, increase immunity to scatter and clutter, concentrate more light into the cones, and overcome chromatic aberration.

Read the news item in the SPIE Newsroom at this link: Light propagation explains our inverted retina.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mail Chutes and Optimal Team Size

Interesting Business Insider article on innovation.

The article starts with the assertion that Google can’t keep its teams small enough. This is then followed by the story of:

'how Larry Ellison actually got efficiencies from teams. If a team wasn’t productive, he’d come every couple of weeks and say “let me help you out.” What did he do? He took away another person until the team started shipping and stopped having unproductive meetings.'

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photorealistic ink-jet printing

Most scientific papers are written according to a rigid structure that can be traced back to the Iraqi scientist Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (965–1039), known in Europe under his Latinized name Alhazen. Alhazen proposed the scientific process in use today and consisting in observing a phenomenon, formulating a hypothesis, and conducting an experiment to prove it.

Consequently, we structure papers in an abstract, an introduction with the background, a method section describing the experiment, presentation of the results, discussion and conclusion, and a list of the references. This format was introduced by that unrepentant optimist who was the German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How great companies die

We all know of great companies that have gone under. When we are teenagers and have a flourishing phantasy coupled with still little real world experience, we often develop conspiracy theories of evil conglomerates destroying great companies. This is reflected in the American tradition of siding with the underdog and buying goods from the second largest company.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Face of Sydney

I was poking around on the Web and found a link to this article. I no longer recall where I originally saw it, but it perfectly ties in to a few of the other threads of our blog.
When I first saw this, I immediately saw ties to the World Wide Gamma. I love the idea of taking loads of data, mashing it up, and seeing what happens. Last Friday I mentioned this to Giordano and he immediately saw the ties to Nathan's prosopagnosia post. I love our 9:30 AM Friday breakfast meetup!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Your brain: use it or lose it

The French have always been snobs for literacy. When a guest visits you in your house, the Californian will first look what car you drive, the German will look for any dust, and the French will check the books in your library. Thus, it is not surprising it was a French team of researchers to study how learning to read changes the cortical networks for vision and language.

Virtually all adult neuroimaging experiments are performed in highly educated college students. The observed brain architecture therefore reflects the influence of culture and education over and above spontaneous brain development. Thus, the researchers asked: "Does literacy improve brain function? Does it also entail losses?" Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, they measured brain responses to spoken and written language, visual faces, houses, tools, and checkers in adults of variable literacy.

The conclusion of their research is that literacy, whether acquired in childhood or through adult classes, enhances brain responses in at least three distinct ways. First, it boosts the organization of visual cortices. Second, literacy allows virtually the entire left-hemispheric spoken language network to be activated by written sentences. Thus reading, a late cultural invention, approaches the efficiency of the human species' most evolved communication channel, namely speech. Third, literacy refines spoken language processing by enhancing a phonological region, the planum temporale, and by making an orthographic code available in a top-down manner.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

"The First Pass is Relatively Arbitrarily Picked Colors"

From the summer toPost folder is a hurl from Tim with a link to a Chuck Close interview on Colbert:

Which regardless of your opinion of Colbert, is a remarkable interview. First, Close gets Colbert to say toner. Second, Close describes paintings as "colored dirt on a flat surface". Third, Close checks his hand before revealing he suffers from prosopagnosia.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why the Leopard Got Its Spots

A new study shows why leopards and other big cats are spotted, striped or melanistic — all black. In short, big cats' patterning and pattern attributes evolved in relation to their ecology and behaviors. This is evolution in action: if you stand out by color or texture you get eaten and your species becomes extinct. Blend in and you thrive.

Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 10.1098/rspb.2010.1734 (2010).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Teal Icosahedron: webOS PDK for Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010

Starting with Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010, go to the webOS PDK download page and get a copy of the SDK/PDK for 64-bit machines. The following steps can then get you to a rotating teal icosahedron.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Measuring NCS Colors and Matching Marmalade

The NCS has announced the NCS Colour Scan 2.0 which is described as follows:

"Lightweight, easy to use and infinitely adaptable, NCS Colour Scan 2.0 gives the NCS Notation of a selected colour from any surface, also immediately visible in the screen. You can now identify colours on walls, render, carpets, furniture, flooring, and clothing - virtually any inspiration object."

As for the NCS Notation, the following video provides an overview, including custom mixing a marmalade color at 9 minutes in:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Plethora of Colorful Pixels, Some Assembly Required

From Pixels XL comes revestimento removible or removable decorative color tiles. Nifty. Looks like a different palette than the post-it mosaics. The t-shirt is clever.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Disney Research Zurich Wins Award

Disney Research Zurich has won the Tell Award for most significant Swiss Technology and Innovation Investment in 2009, the Walt Disney Company, ETH Zurich and the Greater Zurich Area AG jointly announced. Receiving the Tell Award is a mark of recognition to the Los Angeles-based company for successfully launching operations of its Disney Research Centre in the Greater Zurich Area in collaboration with ETH Zurich. The Tell Award is an annual celebration of Switzerland's most significant inward investment projects. Disney Research Zurich (DRZ) is the only research lab that Disney operates in Europe.

Click here for the full story

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seven Things to do with a New Palm Pre Plus

The new Palm Pre Plus is here. Yeeha! Time to make a list of seven things to do with a new Palm Pre Plus, and yes at least one of the items is color related.

1. Learn How to Take Screenshots

This has been covered elsewhere but without a photo of which buttons to press. For visual reference, here's an image of which buttons to press to take a screenshot:

This capability should not be used to perform a related screenshot prank.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nurse Uniform Colors: Preference vs Anxiety

From a recent 2010 Sigma Theta Tau International conference comes a presentation abstract: "Is There an Association Between Nurses' Uniform Color and Feelings/Emotions in School-Age Children Receiving Hospital or Ambulatory Healthcare?" by N.M. Albert and co-authors.

The conclusions that while blue, pink or patterned yellow might have positive emotional associations, when it comes to negative emotional associations "uniform color does not matter".

Which is to say white is probably OK.

And from a previous publication with N.M. Albert as the primary researcher, white might also be perceived as being more professional. All of which perhaps contribute to the question: "Should White Uniforms Be Standard for Hospital-Based RNs?"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Violin Bow - with Color Interface

From the Cal Arts blog 24700 comes a post about students experimenting with instrumental interfaces as part of an exchange program. The description of the violin caught my eye:

"Haraldsdottir, a violist, and myself, a violinist, worked on building interfaces that incorporated an accelerometer and buttons with our bows. Haraldsdottir’s controls allowed for live looping and various audio effects, and my controls consisted of real-time alteration of filter effects and varied response of color intensity in RGB LEDs (lights)."

One wonders what they could have done with a gyroscope on the violin bow...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chicken Broth + Streptomyces Spores = Blue

How cool is that, PLoS Biology has posted an article by L.K. Charkoudian, J.T. Fitzgerald, C. Khosla and A. Champlin entitled "In Living Color: Bacterial Pigments as an Untapped Resource in the Classroom and Beyond".

Turns out with some chicken broth (and some agar) you can use soil bacteria, like Streptomyces coelicolor, as a biopigment for all your educational and/or artistic projects.

For other research on biopigments, see "Biopigments from Monascus: strains selection, citrinin production and color stability" by J. Cesar de CarvalhoI, B.O. OishiI, A. PandeyII and C.R. Socco for color from fungi.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gotthard pierced again

After 11 years of drilling, yesterday at 2:17 PM the third Gotthard tunnel was pierced. 300 trains per day will travel in the 57 kilometre-long Gotthard base tunnel at 250 km/h. Freight trains will be able to carry twice the weight compared to the old tunnel.

Friday, October 15, 2010

R.I.P. Benoît Mandelbrot (20 Nov 1924 - Oct 15, 2010)

Click on the image to find out more

President Obama Honors Nation's Top Scientists and Innovators

The White House just announced the winners of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The press release can be found at

We are particularly delighted the inventors of the microprocessor are being recognized. In particular, Dr. Federico Faggin was also coinventor of the artificial retina and cofounder of Foveon. Congratulations, Federico!

Federico Faggin, president of Zilog

The color of water

You may say "water is transparent," but this is not necessarily true. Color is not a physical phenomenon, it is an illusion happening in our mind. The color of water depends on the context. For example, little air bubbles make water appear white, reflecting sky makes water appear blue, etc.

the colors for aqua used by computers, printers, and crowds

The Latin word for water is aqua. In the X11 window system this term was introduced to designate the color with RGB coordinates (0, 255, 255), or #00FFFF in hexadecimal. In the print industry the color term corresponding to this RGB value is cyan, thus in the context of computers aqua is a synonym of cyan.

We have to explicitly mention the context, because the term aqua is used also in the printing industry, where it does not refer to cyan but is short for aquamarine. Aquamarine, in turn, does not refer to sea water but to the gemstone of the same name. Its color is more greenish than cyan, in X11 exactly RGB (127, 255, 212) or #7FFFD4 in hexadecimal.

Finally, we can ask the on-line color thesaurus what crowds think aqua looks like. Crowds converge on the RGB value (66, 218, 211) or #42DAD3 in hexadecimal. This is a quite different color.

Returning to the Latin word for water, it remains in the Italian acqua, the Japanese アクア and the German aqua. A propos German, let us look up aqua in the German thesaurus:

Quell des Lebens (umgangssprachlich); blaues Gold; Wasser; das nasse Element (umgangssprachlich); kostbares Nass (umgangssprachlich); H2O (fachsprachlich); Nass

Indeed, wet it is, but it also is precious like gold, it is the blue gold, and it is the source of life.

Water, transparent but of so many different colors. And so precious.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Xray-CT Imaging of a Very Old Lump

Not exactly the Antikythera, but something a little less remote in time: a barnacle-encrusted pocket watch recovered from a 17th century shipwreck [1]. The wreck is thought to be that of The Swan—a small warship from the English Civil War that went down off the west coast of Scotland during a violent gale on September 13, 1653.

The Egyptian pillars, that can be seen in both the slides and 3D fly-through, were first used around 1640. Thus, I'm left wondering if Newton, like Dirac 300 years later, also covertly owned a special pocket watch [2, p.10].

[1] The pocket watch was a very novel device in C17. Robert Hooke had a lot to do with developing the coiled spring, which improved both miniaturization and accuracy.
[2] J. Van Vleck, "Travels with Dirac in the Rockies," in A. Salam and. E. P. Wigner, eds., Aspects of Quantum Theory, Cambridge U. Press, 1972.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Collective Intelligence of Groups

Caveat: this is about ad hoc groups, not well honed teams nor aggregations of individual contributors happening to work in adjacent cubicles.

Bee hivePeople who are good at solving one type of brainteaser tend to excel at a variety of mental calisthenics—support, many psychologists say, for the concept of general intelligence. A study published online this week in Science extends this concept to groups of people, arguing that groups have a "collective intelligence" that predicts their performance on a range of collaborative tasks.

The researchers, led by Anita Woolley, an organizational psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, reached this conclusion after studying 699 people working in small groups. They also investigated why some groups appear to be smarter than others. Surprisingly, the average intelligence of the individuals in the group was not the best predictor of a group's performance. The degree to which group members were attuned to social cues and their willingness to take turns speaking were more important, as was the proportion of women in the group.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The dark side of color

Next year's session on the dark side of color in the Color Imaging XVI conference at EI has attracted what the French call la crème de la crème in color imaging:

Monday, October 11, 2010

color arithmetic

X-mas is coming up and it is time to shop for gifts. While tycoons of the financial industry like to splurge in Swiss tourbillons for $400,000 a piece, here in the Silicon Valley the Christmas bonuses are a little more modest. We were looking at the Leica M9 Neiman Marcus Edition Camera, his and hers just $35,000 for the pair. Nathan suggested that the cost might be in hand carving those 18 million pixels, but I think matching ostrich leather trim to the ostrich leather strap might be a larger cost factor.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

World Wide Gamma: Data & Technical Report

A while back, the World Wide Gamma tool was posted to the blog. This is an attempt to estimate an overall display Optical-Electronic Conversion Function or 'gamma' using a method of adjustment experiment. The results have been accepted for publication and presentation at the 18th IS&T/SID Color Imaging Conference. The corresponding technical report has been completed. In addition this post includes the raw observer data so that, if you are so motivated, you can try your own fit to the data.

The technical report is available here.

The raw data used in the report is available here. There were multiple requests for the data when the experiment was first posted so it has been posted here for general usage.

The result is about 2.36, which is quite close to the sRGB specification.

In some ways the result is perhaps not that unexpected. One of the anonymous manuscript reviewers pointed out that we have "just confirmed what we already know which is that most display manufacturers design their devices to have an sRGB gamma to fit into pre-existing workflows." Fair enough. But hopefully a rigorous and systematic confirmation of this common knowledge is useful nonetheless. Likewise it would also appear that most display users are presumably using some sort of sRGB workflow, at least when they surf the web.


42 = 2 + 8 + 32

or in binary

10 + 1000 + 10000 = 101010

So, according to the Christian calendar, the answer is Today. But, the riddle remains: what is Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Love of ink

When I was a pupil in elementary school, there were several big steps through which we progressed, as from writing vertical bars to writing letters. The biggest step, though, was graduating from the pencil to ink. Our school tables had ink wells, carefully refilled every morning by the teacher. The writing implement was a pen with a delicate nib (later adding the redis nib for titles).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Giving Optical Kids a Brake

Would you stop for this child?

The Automobile Association of British Columbia is betting that you would.

What they might not have appreciated fully is that, depending on the contrast with the road surface and ambient lighting, checking against the Color Thesaurus could be a good idea.

Friday, September 24, 2010

PARC's 40th anniversary

Yesterday, PARC celebrated its 40th anniversary. The first part consisted of three panel discussions in the auditorium, which was packed full. The average age was relatively high, as mostly people from PARC's first two decades showed up, several from very far away. The air was electric, but this is no surprise with most of the leaders who created the technology that made the Silicon Valley all in the same room.

For the second part of the celebration we walked up to the third floor for a reception and technology showcase. On the way, it was refreshing to see that unlike us, PARC still has a cafeteria and a technical information center. But most satisfying was that talking with the current employees it is clear that PARC still has its secret sauce. They are the best scientists in the world, fired up to invent the future. When they explain their research you can feel how excited they are, and in their interactions you can experience the deep level of mutual esteem for each other: they each contribute their particular knowledge to the team, in an amalgam of synergy. Quite unique.

Happy birthday PARC, still rocking like 40 years ago!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Movie Uses 3D Printer

Watch the adventures of Dot.
Animators used a 3D printer to make 50 different versions of Dot, because she is too small to manipulate or bend like they would other stop-motion animation characters. The figurine’s tiny features stretched the limit of the printer — any smaller and it would be hard to make distinct limbs. Each one was hand-painted by artists looking through a microscope. [ Source: Popular Science ]

Mirror, mirror off the wall ...

A previously unknown stranger-in-the-mirror illusion has been described. According to this 2-page academic paper, under the right lighting conditions, the participant just has to gaze at his or her reflected face within the mirror and usually “after less than a minute, the observer began to perceive the strange-face illusion”.

Unfortunately, the intriguing citation for "Margaret Thatcher: a new illusion," Perception 9, 483 – 484 1980, is restricted.

Caveat lector: I haven't tried it personally but as far as I know, this is not a hoax.

Journal impact factors

I had not realized I had not posted for quite a while the impact factors for the journals of interest to our readers, so here it is:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ethics of bit rot

I am finishing up a conference paper and was planning to add some old photographs to document a workflow. I had several computers since I took the photographs, and because I have my stuff on several external disks (we researchers in image processing keep running out of disk space), I was not able to find them right away.

I remembered the photographs had been taken on film, so I thought can just quickly retrieve them from my PhotoPD archive. In fact, there they were, on PhotoCD number 6232 3073 2355. Lucky me.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Leonardo da Vinci: The Audubon of Automata

I was asked to review Leonardo's Legacy: How Da Vinci Reinvented the World by Stefan Klein for the New York Journal of Books. My copy from the publisher (Da Capo, April 27, 2010) arrived very late and I only found time to complete my review last week. As a consequence, NYJB ended up inserting it retroactively into their April slot and they either dropped or did not know how to accommodate the timeline I created for my review. So, I'm including it here.
It is intended to give some perspective on the extraordinarily early period in which Leonardo lived relative to other well-known contributors to the development of western scientific thought.

Other themes covered in my review include:
  • Dissecting cadavers
  • Backward writing
  • Stroboscopic vision
  • The opportunist
  • Optics
  • Electric water
  • Innumeracy
  • Computing engines
  • Simulations
  • The grounded aeronaut
This is not the Leonardo you might have learnt about in school.

Friday, September 17, 2010

on the lighter side

A smile for the weekend: Mr. P. and Mr. H. test an instrument to deal with executives who have governance issues.

Mr. P. and Mr. H. test an instrument to deal with executives who have governance issues

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tunnel Creek

Two days ago Intel announced the E600 system-on-chip (SoC), also known as Tunnel Creek. Intel positions it for in-car infotainment systems, Internet phones, and smart grid devices, but there are good reasons color scientists working on commercial printers should be interested in it.

A system based on an E6xx SoC

The figure above shows a possible system built around an E600 SoC, which is the dark blue part in the top center. The chip includes an Atom core running at 1.6 GHz (E680 part), a GPU running at 400 MHz, and a PCIe interface, drawing only 3.9W of power. The core supports hyper-threading, while the GPU supports OpenGL 2.1; the limitation is that memory is supported only up to 2 GB.

Hyper-threading means that two pages can be ripped concurrently for almost twice the speed, since ripping spends a lot of time on waiting for memory. Not shown in Intel's diagram is that the GPU interfaces to the CPU through the L3 cache. This should give a good speed bump when the rendered page is written back to the CPU for compression.

Two possible architectures spring to mind. The first is to use the system configuration in Intel's diagram above and use their Platform Controller Hub to interface gigabit Ethernet and a disk. The second is a bit more pushed.

Since the E600 has a PCIe interface, a custom hub could be designed, supporting 8 (this is a magic number) E600s, a gigabit Ethernet MAC, a RAID, and the digital press. The RIP would run in parallel using mapReduce, ripping 16 pages concurrently. This would deliver quite a power package costing only about $1000 in volume and drawing less than 100W of power!

And you could put all this on a blade, fill a rack, an use again mapReduce. Will this be a paradigm shift leveraging GPU-based ripping?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Color name boundaries

Papers on the World Color Survey often contain diagrams of the boundaries of the regions where the color patches are labeled with the same basic color term. The dream is to be able to somehow find the boundaries analytically, and for a much larger number of color categories than the 11 basic color terms.

Tsuei-Ju Hsieh and I-Ping Chen of the Chiao-Tung University in Taiwan might be onto something by serendipity. Their original intent was to assess the effect of size on color appearance, as reported in their paper Colour Appearance Shifts in Two Different-Sized Viewing Conditions. To sample a color space, they chose Alvy Ray Smith's old HSV color space that was used in the early days of computer graphics. They varied H in 30º increments starting from 15º and kept S fixed at 70 and V at 75, obtaining the following samples plotted in the x-y chromaticity diagram:

stimuli plotted in x-y chromaticity diagram

The figure is a little hard to read, but they label the colors as follows:

reddish orange
greenish yellow
yellowish green
deep blue
purplish pink

Then their perform their color matching experiments and consider the errors in CIE DE2000 and use the CIECAM02 color appearance model to study the errors in the perceptual correlates.

Here we are interested in ∆H, the difference in CIECAM02 hue quadrature. Plotting ∆H for the 12 hues gives the following plot, where HB is for "color samples arranged along hue and brightness axes" and HSL is for "color samples arranged for hue and saturation"; the L postfix is for "large target."

modulation pattern of ∆H using large targets as baseline

The red curves are the sinusoidal fitting of the data. The authors write:

The fitting results exhibit a certain regularity of hue shifts in different conditions across the hue circle. In all histograms, the rise and fall of bars alternate in a rhythmic manner, discounting the slight phase shift that occurred when different baselines were used. The zero-crossing points correspond to hues that their neighbouring colours are converging toward.

and conclude:

In the large size conditions the hues around the hue circle are apparently drawn in groups to some anchoring colours, i.e., a typical representation colour within the hue group. We propose that this phenomenon might be due to some kind of categorical perception of colours, a hypothesis that calls for future studies to verify.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mixing powders

A big part of job security for color scientists is that the mixture of colorants is very difficult to predict. This is especially so in color printing with CMYK halftones. It is surprising to learn that this is not so for mixed powders: their color appearance turns out to be easy to predict.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reduced Service

This weekend our blog has reduced service due to the installation of new power service. Between 2 p.m. Friday 10 September and 11 a.m. Monday 13 September (Pacific time, UTC+9), first access will be slow and there will be no images nor active posts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Color Calibration of Satellite Cameras

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Paul Matheson. I work with Nathan and Giordano at HP Labs. My background is in commercial print and I consider myself to be a printer. Hopefully I will be able to add something of value to this hallowed blog - if not, I am sure Nathan and Giordano will make me pay for several rounds at the Nuthouse so at least they'll get something of value out of me.
Several days ago I stumbled across this article explaining how satellite cameras are calibrated. It reminded me of Nathan's post about a revolutionary white reflectance standard for metrology - curiously enough, the post was entitled "Revolutionary White Reflectance Standard for Metrology." The original blog post is gone but I was able to find a couple of links to the blog, one of which included some of the text.
Unlike Nathan's post, Lake Tuz really is used for calibration. I knew that many satellites have cameras, but it never occurred to me that they would need calibrating or that image sensors in orbit degrade significantly. The thing that I enjoy most about this article is the fact that some smart person(s) figured out how to use unique geographic features as reflectance standards.
Science is cool.

Image of Lake Tuz from the Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center. "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is teamwork good or bad?

Actually, in today's issue the Science magazine editors phrased it differently:
"Two Heads Are Better Than One," but then you have to watch for the caveat. They summarize the research conducted in London and Aarhus as follows: "When two people peer into the distance and try to figure out if a faint number is a three or an eight, classical signal detection theory states that the joint decision can only be as good as that of the person with higher visual acuity. Bahrami et al. propose that a discussion not only of what each person perceives but also of the degree of confidence in those assignments can improve the overall sensitivity of the decision. Using a traditional contrast-detection task, they showed that, when the individuals did not differ too much in their powers of visual discrimination, collective decision-making significantly improved sensitivity. The model offered here formalizes debates held since the Enlightenment about whether collective thinking can outperform that of elite individuals."

Six vertically oriented Gabor patches displayed equidistantly around an imaginary circle

In their paper Optimally Interacting Minds in Science of 27 August 2010, the authors describe their experiment, in which six vertically oriented Gabor patches were displayed equidistantly around an imaginary circle. There was one oddball target that had slightly higher contrast than all of the others. Then they tested four models for a dyade identifying correctly the oddball patch.

The four models made different predictions for the relation between the slope of the psychometric function for each individual and the collective dyad; thus, by comparing predicted and observed dyad slopes, the researchers could distinguish the models:

  • CF: the joint decision is no better than a coin flip
  • BF: pairs of individuals learn, from trial-to-trial feedback, which of them is more accurate, so they eventually use that individual’s decisions
  • WCS: confidence, which they define as an internal estimate of the probability of being correct, is communicated
  • DSS: the mean and standard deviation of the sensory response to the stimulus about which the decision is made are communicated

The result is that when dyads have matching standard deviations, the DSS model is a better predictor, while when the standard deviations are different, the WCS model sets a quantitative limit on the usefulness of cooperation, so individuals with very different sensitivities are best advised to avoid collaboration and instead should rely entirely on the more sensitive individual.

Therefore, if you manage a team of color scientists, your encouragement of teamwork should depend on your management style.

If your style is the old guerilla approach, where a team of highly motivated researchers attack a hard problem, then you probably groom them at the same level and they will have matching standard deviations in their decisions. In this case, you will get much higher performance with teamwork.

If your style is the army approach, where a hierarchical team slugs away at a big project, teams can cooperate positively on small decisions, while important decisions are better made individually by the manager.

Finally, in the contemporary totem pole approach, where the crew is sorted by contribution to the bottom line and through the use of performance boni there is a large salary span, you are better off using the old divide and conquer management strategy and discourage team work: the member higher up un the totem pole rules the member below.

In summary, when the individuals do not differ too much in their powers of visual discrimination, collective decision-making significantly improves sensitivity, and this is also the caveat.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Like being there in Hi-rez and Color

  1. Cincinnati waterfront captured on daguerreotype plates c.1848. Restored by conservators at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. What was unexpected is the resolution of these daguerreotypes. The panoramic set could be blown up to 170 by 20 feet without losing clarity—a digital camera would require 140,000 megapixels per frame to match it. Since the exposure time was on the order of minutes, anything that moved significantly was not imaged. Particularly interesting is seeking out the "ghosts" of slower moving people and horse-drawn buggies moving along the line of sight of the camera.
  2. Photographic survey of the Russian Empire c.1910. Taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii under the auspices of Tsar Nicholas II before the outbreak of WW1 and the Russian Revolution. This is not (Ted) Turnerization of black and white photographs but a "digichromatographic" restoration of the original color plates. I highly recommend comparing with the more recent photographic views available in the accompanying Google Map links.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Glad not to be on the stake

Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, addressing the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Paris, declared (click on "more" for official translations):

Certainement on ne peut qu'être saisi de vertige lorsqu'on essaie seulement d'imaginer les questions auxquelles vous vous attaquez ! Il fut un temps où elles relevaient de la métaphysique. Elle nous semble loin cette époque où les découvertes de Giordano Bruno lui valurent le bûcher et celles de Galilée, — mieux traité !— la prison. Estimez-vous heureux de vivre à votre époque ! La science est une démarche, je le sais, fragile et vous devez être défendus, vous les scientifiques, vous devez être défendus contre l'obscurantisme, contre le fanatisme, contre le refus des faits et contre le mépris de la vérité. Ces risques sont actuels, ils sont de tous temps et de toutes époques.


La science est un édifice qui doit être complet : il n'y a pas d'applications sans recherche fondamentale, il n'y a pas de saut qualitatif dans le progrès des connaissances en dehors de la recherche fondamentale et de ses découvertes. Ce n'est pas en prétendant améliorer la bougie qu'on a découvert l'électricité.

President Sarkozy addressing ICHEP2010

Official translation of the above citations:

The mind boggles at an attempt to even imagine the questions you explore. At one time these questions belonged to the realm of metaphysics. The days when Giordano Bruno was sent to the stake and Galileo (who received better treatment) to prison for their discoveries are long gone and you have the good fortune to live in our times. But science is, I am well aware, a fragile enterprise and scientists must be defended against obscurantism, fanaticism, wilful ignorance and contempt for the truth. These dangers still threaten us, as they always have.

The scientific edifice must be comprehensive: there can be no applications without basic research or breakthroughs without its results. Electricity was not discovered by attempting to improve the candle.

These are not just words. President Sarkozy announced France's plan to increase spending on higher education and basic & applied research by €35 billion for the next 4 years as part of the country's bailout strategy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

CPS: what are they?

To scientists formed throughout the Cold War, the term cybernetics leaves a funny taste in the mouth. During the Cold War, the West had astronauts while Eastern Europe had cosmonauts, and we had computer science while they had cybernetics. The term—from Greek kubernētēs ‘steersman,’ from kubernan ‘to steer’—used in this context goes back to 1948, when the American mathematician Norbert Wiener published the book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fast Photo Physics

Fascinating examples of how ultra high-speed photography is helping to reveal otherwise invisible physics:
  1. Lightning strikes at 9,000 frames per second.
  2. Exploding moss at 100,000 frames per second.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blues for a Thousand Years

Indigo dye, the blue in blue jeans, is one of the oldest known naturally occurring plant dyes. Vat dyes—a range of dyes based on indigo—are used in cotton dyeing where high wash and boil fastness is required. Because of the high alkali concentration in the dye bath, vat dyes cannot be used on animal fibers because they would dissolve.

The German chemist Adolf von Baeyer began working on the first synthesis of indigo in 1878 and developed a second pathway in 1880. However, his approach remained impractical for industrial application and a search for alternative starting materials was undertaken by BASF and Hoechst. The first synthetic version of indigo was introduced to the textile industry in 1897 and completely replaced the natural dye.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Calibrated Lunch

The calibrated lunch is one part ice-breaker, one part quasi-experiment and one part an exploration of the self-selection of non-basic color terms in the context of a corporate social dining event.

To start you'll need individually calibrated and uniquely numbered printed color patches. Then you'll need a couple hundred hungry co-workers. Beer is optional.