Friday, February 25, 2011

Please Raise Your Right Hand: The Other Right Hand

The Illusion of Owning a Third Arm

"In these experiments two visible rubber hands or virtual hands were stimulated in synchrony with touches applied to the hidden real hand, which, reportedly, produced a referral of somatic sensations to both rubber/virtual hands. These studies indicate that supernumerary limb illusions might be possible."

Guterstam A, Petkova VI, Ehrsson HH, PLoS ONE 6(2): e17208. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017208

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Metadata in images

I just received the latest issue of the print version of Optical Engineering in the mail. It has a paper on storing metadata in images that is related to some work I described recently, namely Rob Tow et al.'s glyphs, and the watermarking and steganography work by Gaurav Sharma et al. respectively Robert Ulichney et al.

The citation is: Jen-Chang Liu and Hsiang-An Shieh, "Toward a two-dimensional barcode with visual information using perceptual shaping watermarking in mobile applications", Opt. Eng. 50, 017002 (Jan 21, 2011); doi:10.1117/1.3529430.

The link is:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mik Lamming's Digital Darkroom

In the mid-eighties the world of electronic imaging was still rarified. Researchers were pushing the state of the art on very expensive computers and vying to get their papers into SIGGRAPH. Some years earlier, IBM's monochrome Selectric typewriter and the monochrome Xerox copier had banned color from the office, with the demise of color ribbons (black and red, sometimes blue too) and multicolor mimeographs.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pity the Pilcrow

Fascinating ancient history of ¶, and writing in general.
Who knew that ¶ started life as the letter 'Κ' for kaput?

Aside: I’m puzzled by the claim that ‘K’ represents kaput or head. As neither an epigrapher nor an etymologist, I would’ve thought the Κ was a Greek kappa, based on surrounding the text; unless it was inserted at a much later time. In which case, it would be the Latin caput for head, wouldn't it? But that's not a K. If, however, it’s a later Teutonic inscription, the word for head would be kopf.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Open Access

I am not an expert in social media and do not know why all the feedback on this blog comes through email instead of comments. Today, I am answering to an emailed comment on my post of Friday, January 28, 2011 where I announced the links to our EI papers. The topic is open access.

It came from Dan B., who works for G. in Mountain View (emphasis is his):


Regardless of the cost to produce the paper, to ask for $18 for a copy is senseless from an operational viewpoint, because nobody is going to buy it. As a result, this paper that you spent so much time working on ends up in a walled garden, essentially unavailable to the world at large.

I claim that's just stupid. It is a bad grafting of electronic media onto traditional dead-tree media.

In a more perfect world:

(1) any work paid for in whole or part by government agencies, if not classified, should be put on the web, free. That includes all research done at public universities and most done at private universities. This would include all medical and genomic research.

(2) any work otherwise paid for by a corporation can, at the discretion of the corporation (HP for you), be made publicly accessible at no cost.

The physicists figured this out nearly 20 years ago. The traditional model of paying publishers huge amounts of money for paper subscriptions is passe, fini, kaput. Information wants to be accessible.

I don't believe I can put up more than 15 minutes on youtube on any account, let along yours, for free. I'd suggest that you divide it into two parts. You could call them Part1 and Part2 :-)

-- Dan

Ignore the last paragraph for now, I will come back to it at the end of the post.

The fundamental question is how does society fund the creation of art and knowledge. This was first discussed vigorously by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732–1799). Beaumarchais was a flamboyant and boisterous figure whose life reads like a picaresque adventure, but he is the one who championed the concept of author's right (protection of the author), which through the Convention of Berne (9 September 1886) is related to the British concept of copyright (protection of the work).

Staufen, Dr. FaustThe goal of the author's right is to provide a sequential solution to the dichotomy between financing authors and open access to their work.

[I am writing from my recollection of what I learned in high school in the French literature class, so the following may be somewhat inaccurate.]

In the past, creative minds like scientists and artists were supported by patrons. Sometimes this had disadvantages, like Dr. Faustus here at left having his neck broken when his employment contract expired after 24 years and he was not able to succeed in his assigned research. Other times, especially when the creative mind was an independently wealthy patron himself, it allowed for a very comfortable and gratifying life.

Although Beaumarchais himself was in the latter category (among others he made a big pile of money selling weapons and ammunition to the insurgents in the American colonies fighting the British for their independence), he realized that when the French applied the guillotine to their aristocracy, they also eliminated most of the patrons, leaving scores of artists and scientists without the means to pursue their creative work.

He advocated that society needs their creations, and therefore has to always provide a means for them to create more work giving them two rights: the moral rights and the monetary rights to their work, i.e., recognition and means to live and create more.

What Dan B. writes is that in the case of the calibrated lunch viz. fuchsia paper (which is work for hire), the paper should be made available under open access, i.e., for free, by the hiring party.

Because of our moral rights as the authors, the paper must be available from a reputable source, like a learned society or a reputable scientific journal. In our case, the paper is available through the SPIE Digital Library (DL).

The SPIE DL is hosted by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), which for this purposes runs a datacenter or cloud computing farm and pays a staff of people to provide the service. It costs about $500 to make a paper permanently available, and their funding model is that institutions pay an annual subscription to give open access to their members.

For example, in HP Labs all employees have open access to all SPIE, IEEE, etc. papers they need for their research to create new products for the company. Although Dan's employer is an advertising company, they employ a large number of researchers and engineers to create technology that increases their advertising income. With that, I am very surprised G. in Mountain View is not an institutional member of the SPIE DL and the other fine digital libraries catering to the technologies of their interest.

What Dan is suggesting in his email is that my employer should pay the $500 to make the fuchsia paper open access. Unfortunately, my organization does currently not have the $500 to make the paper open access for Dan and everybody else. Also, to be fair it would have to make available also all papers by my coworkers, in addition to pay the institutional membership to the SPIE DL.

Actually, to research the open access process took more of my time than it took me to write the paper, so trying to swim against the flow is clearly not a good tactical move for a creative mind. The $18 is really only for the few people for whom it is not meaningful to subscribe to the SPIE DL, for example color consultants or teachers who only need this individual paper.

About "bad grafting of electronic media onto traditional dead-tree media," the AIP just lets you download a PDF file. It is each purchaser's personal business to decide how they want to exercise their fair use rights. For example, Dan's company might want to provide him with a fine HP TouchPad tablet computer, which is an excellent media delivery device for the fuchsia paper, and does not require dead tree media.

The traditional academic process for disseminating knowledge is to first publish a paper as a technical report for the consideration of one's friends and collaborators. The feedback is then used to write an improved paper that is submitted to a scholarly journal, with the referees and associate editors guiding through further revisions. This process allows the efficient dissemination of research, ensuring that readers are only exposed to quality results.

In common law countries like the USA, copyright law in principle allows the informal publication of the final paper as a technical report under certain restrictions, but this contradicts the moral right half of the law, especially in civil law countries, which use author's right instead of copyright.

The technical report version of our paper is still available as a free download from HP Labs at this link: This brouillon may be adequate for starving researchers, but the moral portion of the author's right law demand that Dan base his work on the formal publication in the SPIE DL.

At this point, Dan might interject that the AIP should find other funding to host papers than charging for a subscription. In the current American economic situation it may not be politically feasible to increase the Federal tax to fund such an endeavour.

An alternative would be fund the SPIE DL through analytics and advertising. However, this is not a viable solution, because companies like Dan's fund their supposedly "free" services by intruding in their user's privacy and selling this data for a considerable profit. Do I want my competitor to be able to buy my online activity log? Certainly not, and this is why I do not use free search engines or Scholar in my work for hire. I use paid subscription services from SPIE, AIP, IEEE, ACM, Thomson Reuters and others, which guarantee my privacy.

Actually, quite a few Web 2.0 companies are more diabolic than violating privacy. In fact, their researchers no longer publish their work, keeping it secret. This is a return to the Dark Ages, which Beaumarchais aimed at preventing… When did you publish your last paper?

Now to the last paragraph in Dan's comment. If G. is so generous to publish my research video in exchange for analyzing my viewers, why is there a limit of 15 minutes? Certainly people's attention span is decreasing with time, but in computer science we learned many decades ago that artificial limits are bad. 64 KB RAM, 2 GB disk space, and now 15 minutes YouTube? I am diabolically tempted to believe that after 15 minutes G. has collected sufficient analytics on my viewers that they no longer need to provide additional air time…

And now something completely different.

Since I have been writing about author's right and copyright, the latter applies roughly to the former British empire and Japan, i.e., the common law countries, while the author's right applies to the rest of the world, i.e., the civil law (Roman law) countries. The Convention of Berne reconciles the two, but they are different.

For online content, which law applies? The convention is that the law of the country of the domain name primary registrar is determining. In the case of this blog, Swiss civil law and therefore author's right applies. In particular, this requires that you properly cite all content you use from this blog. It also requires me to cite the SPIE DL authoritative version of the fuchsia paper and not the free technical report.

It might be a good exercise to review John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Beaumarchais to appreciate the concept of moral rights in author's right. As for the monetary rights, this blog is not work for hire, so contributions for purchasing equipment and electricity are always appreciated.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Business of Color and Bose-Einstein Condensation

Surprised to hear this piece about Pantone on NPR this morning.
"One of the most influential committees is a group of 10 people whose names are a secret. They meet in Europe twice a year (May and November) at the invitation of Pantone, a company based in Carlstadt, N.J., whose only business is color. In fact, Pantone has a hand in the color of roughly half of all garments sold in the U.S."

"Why would any designer want to run with the pack? John Crocco, the creative director for Perry Ellis, calls color forecasts 'a self-fulfilling prophecy.' He says if designers choose to follow such forecasts, then they'll be 'part of what ultimately becomes the trend.' But if designers disregard the trend, they risk irrelevance — just about the worst thing imaginable for any label."
All of which begs the obvious question: Is this is an example of Bose-Einstein condensation (winner takes all) in a scale-free marketplace?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on combatting bit rot with steganography

Last December First, I wrote about the story behind the data glyph technology and the preservation of digital images (here is the link). As it happens, at the Electronic Imaging Symposium two weeks ago, two papers presented recent progress on this technology.

Gaurav Sharma's presentation disclosed an extension of Tom Holladay's rotated dots from grayscale to full color. The authors were particularly concerned about the æsthetic quality of the images with the added payload. They conclude in their paper:

In this paper, we present a high capacity image barcode scheme for applications that require both high capacity and pleasing visual appearance of the encoded region. The scheme combines orientation modulation based data encoding on per-channel basis and color separation. We demonstrate that significant performance improvements can be obtained in terms of embedding rates by sacrificing image fidelity in favor of embedding robustness. Our simulation and experimental results indicate that dot orientation modulation based data embedding can achieve high embedding rates and well suited for per-colorant channel based data encoding in printed documents.

Link to the paper: Citation: Orhan Bulan, Basak Oztan and Gaurav Sharma, "High capacity image barcodes using color separability", Proc. SPIE 7866, 78660N (2011); doi:10.1117/12.872215.

Robert Ulichney's presentation described a system specifically for solving the image bit rot problem. The method presented was grayscale, so the payload would not be in the image's halftoning, but in a logo or other monochrome ornamental artifact.

The novelty is that the halftoning method is not Tom Holladay's rotated dots but a new algorithm called stegatones. Compared to the rotated dots, which allow a binary code, stegatones consist of 1-bit to 3-bit carriers, thus allowing a much higher capacity payload. The authors conclude:

We have improved on the scheme reported earlier for hardcopy image backup by embedding metadata into a steganographic halftone object. The advantages of this approach are:

  • a better æsthetic presentation of the photo archive
  • the elimination of the need to solve the complex OCR problem
  • a more compact representation of the color tiles and metadata
  • a layout for which auto-alignment is easier and thus the data is more recoverable

Building on the original motivation to use an analog hardcopy means of long-term image storage, our solution transcends hardware obsolescence by requiring any means of scanning the data coupled with the recovery software. While we can predict that hardware for reading digital storage media will likely not be available decades from now, some means of hardcopy scanning will be. So our strategy shifts the need to archive recovery hardware, to archiving recovery software. Long term recovery then depends on the availability of generic source code that includes means to read the accompanying stegatone.

Unfortunately the authors do not address the requirement to preserve a system capable of running the recovery software, so we are still stuck in the PhotoCD problem.

Link to the paper: Citation: Robert Ulichney, Ingeborg Tastl and Eric Hoarau, "Analog image backup with steganographic halftones", Proc. SPIE 7866, 78661I (2011); doi:10.1117/12.872612

If you missed the conference, you can easily read the two papers after downloading them from the two links above. However, you would have missed the conversation in the hall after Ulichney's talk. Actually, Elvis had already left the building, when a conversation started with Reiner E. from Rochester and Keith K. from Kihei.

We were wondering how far back this and the related technologies go. Reiner now has the date: 1982. During his first visit to the DGaO Conference (Deutsche Gesellschaft für angewandte Optik e.V.) he was getting a 'free ride' for operating the slide projector.

The talk contained the following: since digital storage is too expensive and cumbersome :-) and since it is always better to store in human readable form, since all other forms will disappear over time: create a system that stores digital in a human readable format. Data was from some satellite images (or other high quality imaging system).

Each data pixel (M > N bit) was converted to a N bit signal, where the N bits will be used as human readable signal and directly converted into an 'explicit' halftone. Meaning each pixel will get its own halftone cell with the corresponding number of elements set to "on". Since M > N, we have a many-to-one map and thus will create an M bit lookup-table for the explicit halftones, where the Mi,j that map to Ni have the identical number of 'on' bits, but in different spatial arrangement. Such a system was known in the digital field, but Reiner is not sure about the name. It is a less than optimal system for information density.

Camille Flammarion, L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire, Urbi et Orbi

Mirror Measures Body Temperature

A Japanese technology firm unveiled a mirror-like thermometer that can identify a person who is feverish. "Thermo Mirror," which looks like a table mirror, measures the skin temperature of the person looking into it, without the need for physical contact, said the firm, NEC Avio Infrared Technologies. The person's temperature is displayed on the surface, and the device has an alarm that will beep when detecting a subject who is feverish. "We foresee uses at corporate receptions, schools, hospitals and public facilities," NEC Avio said in a statement. The company said it aimed to sell 5,000 units in one year.

The mirror comes in a standard and an economy version. At ¥98,000 for the economy version, this is unlikely to be a gadget you will install in your powder room or atrium.

Thermo Mirror by NEC Avio Infrared Technologies

[Source: Science & Technology News from Japan, January 2011, Dr. Felix Moesner]

Friday, February 4, 2011

New SPIE Fellow at EI

Each year, SPIE promotes members as new Fellows of the Society. Fellows are Members of distinction who have made significant scientific and technical contributions in the multidisciplinary fields of optics, photonics, and imaging. They are honored for their technical achievement, for their service to the general optics community, and to SPIE in particular. "The annual recognition of Fellows provides an opportunity for us to acknowledge Members for their outstanding technical contributions and service to SPIE," says Katarina Svanberg, SPIE President.

Yu-Jin Zhang and Majid Rabbani at EI

At this year's EI, Prof. Yu-Jin Zhang of Tsinghua University was promoted for achievements in image engineering

Prof. Zhang studied image processing in Belgium and plays and important international role as an influential scientific ambassador. Now at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he is active in European national science foundations and in American learned societies.

I first met Prof. Zhang when he joined the Program Committee of the Internet Imaging Conference I organized for the SPIE/IS&T Electronic Imaging Symposium (part of Photonics West) from 2000 on. He was an active member who helped me setting the direction for the conference and solicited a number of papers. I then met him again when he joined the Review Panel of the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research on Interactive Multimodal Information Management (IM2). More recently, in 2008 he took my place as an Associate Editor for electronic imaging at Optical Engineering.

During his career, Prof. Zhang has chosen a number of fields in electronic imaging and taken a deep dive. This results in two accomplishments. The first is the scientific advancement of the field that can be achieved by taking a fresh look from the distance and gaining new insights. The second is the creation of new curricula and the authoring of novel text books. For example, his 2009 book on Image Engineering is the first comprehensive textbook on this topic since Pratt's 1991 Digital Image Processing.

Yu-Jin Zhang: Image Engineering

In research, the first field Prof. Zhang tackled was image segmentation. He created a new framework that first allowed him to efficiently implement and compare existing methods, and then allowed him to invent new approaches and algorithms.

In the second deep dive, he tackled a larger field, namely image and video retrieval. There are several retrieval methods: object based, feature based, semantic based, (surrounding) text based, etc. Prof. Zhang has created and deployed a framework like in the image segmentation case, but this time more general to cover all retrieval paradigms. He shares his knowledge in machine learning for imaging not only in publications and education, but also in providing direction to IM2.

The scope was again broadened in his third deep dive, this time encompassing all of electronic imaging. He had developed a structured view of the field, which has culminated in the Image Engineering book.

In summary, Prof. Zhang is a prolific scientific pollinator across continents and excels both in research and in education. At EI 2011 he was also awarded a certificate of appreciation for his work starting up a new conference on Parallel Processing for Internet Imaging.