Saturday, January 23, 2010

it's moving day ...

yes, yes, yes ... blog has moved, decided to switch over to wordpress, a little more control, a little better design, and a little more flexibility.

you can find the new blog home at:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Face-Detection Cameras: Users' Racism Charges Explained - TIME

Joz Wang

When Joz Wang and her brother bought their mom a Nikon Coolpix S630 digital camera for Mother's Day last year, they discovered what seemed to be a malfunction. Every time they took a portrait of each other smiling, a message flashed across the screen asking, "Did someone blink?" No one had. "I thought the camera was broken!" Wang, 33, recalls. But when her brother posed with his eyes open so wide that he looked "bug-eyed," the messages stopped.

Wang, a Taiwanese-American strategy consultant who goes by the Web handle "jozjozjoz," thought it was funny that the camera had difficulties figuring out when her family had their eyes open. So she posted a photo of the blink warning on her blog under the title, "Racist Camera! No, I did not blink... I'm just Asian!" The post was picked up by Gizmodo and Boing Boing, and prompted at least one commenter to note, "You would think that Nikon, being a Japanese company, would have designed this with Asian eyes in mind." (See Techland's top 10 gadgets of 2009.)

Nikon isn't the only big brand whose consumer cameras have displayed an occasional — though clearly unintentional — bias toward Caucasian faces. Face detection, which is one of the latest "intelligent" technologies to trickle down to consumer cameras, is supposed to make photography more convenient. Some cameras with face detection are designed to warn you when someone blinks; others are programmed to automatically take a picture when somebody smiles — a feature that, theoretically, makes the whole problem of timing your shot to catch the brief glimpse of a grin obsolete. Face detection has also found its way into computer webcams, where it can track a person's face during a video conference or enable face-recognition software to prevent unauthorized access.

The principle behind face detection is relatively simple, even if the math involved can be complex. Most people have two eyes, eyebrows, a nose and lips — and an algorithm can be trained to look for those common features, or more specifically, their shadows. (For instance, when you take a normal image and heighten the contrast, eye sockets can look like two dark circles.) But even if face detection seems pretty straightforward, the execution isn't always smooth.

Indeed, just last month, a white employee at an RV dealership in Texas posted a YouTube video showing a black co-worker trying to get the built-in webcam on an HP Pavilion laptop to detect his face and track his movements. The camera zoomed in on the white employee and panned to follow her, but whenever the black employee came into the frame, the webcam stopped dead in its tracks. "I think my blackness is interfering with the computer's ability to follow me," the black employee jokingly concludes in the video. "Hewlett-Packard computers are racist." (See the 50 best inventions of 2009.)

The "HP computers are racist" video went viral, with almost 2 million views, and HP, naturally, was quick to respond. "Everything we do is focused on ensuring that we provide a high-quality experience for all our customers, who are ethnically diverse and live and work around the world," HP's lead social-media strategist Tony Welch wrote on a company blog within a week of the video's posting. "We are working with our partners to learn more." The post linked to instructions on adjusting the camera settings, something both Consumer Reports and Laptop Magazine tested successfully in Web videos they put online.

Still, some engineers question how a webcam even made it onto the market with this seemingly glaring flaw. "It's surprising HP didn't get this right," says Bill Anderson, president of Oculis Labs in Hunt Valley, Md., a company that develops security software that uses face recognition to protect work computers from prying eyes. "These things are solvable." Case in point: Sensible Vision, which develops the face-recognition security software that comes with some Dell computers, said their software had no trouble picking up the black employee's face when they tested the YouTube video.

YouTube commenters expressed what was on a lot of people's minds. "Seems they rushed the product to market before testing thoroughly enough," wrote one. "I'm guessing it's because all the people who tested the software were white," wrote another. HP declined to comment on their methods for testing the webcam or how involved they were in designing the software, but they did say the software was based on "standard algorithms." Often, the manufacturers of the camera parts will also supply the software to well-known brands, which might explain why HP isn't the only company whose cameras have exhibited an accidental prejudice against minorities, since many brands could be using the same flawed code. TIME tested two of Sony's latest Cyber-shot models with face detection (the DSC-TX1 and DSC-WX1) and found they, too, had a tendency to ignore camera subjects with dark complexions.

But why? It's not necessarily the programmers' fault. It comes down to the fact that the software is only as good as its algorithms, or the mathematical rules used to determine what a face is. There are two ways to create them: by hard-coding a list of rules for the computer to follow when looking for a face, or by showing it a sample set of hundreds, if not thousands, of images and letting it figure out what the ones with faces have in common. In this way, a computer can create its own list of rules, and then programmers will tweak them. You might think the more images — and the more diverse the images — that a computer is fed, the better the system will get, but sometimes the opposite is true. The images can begin to generate rules that contradict each other. "If you have a set of 95 images and it recognizes 90 of those, and you feed it five more, you might gain five, but lose three," says Vincent Hubert, a software engineer at Montreal-based Simbioz, a tech company that is developing futuristic hand-gesture technology like the kind seen in Minority Report. It's the same kind of problem speech-recognition software faces in handling unusual accents.

And just as the software is only as good as its code and the hardware it lives in, it's also only as good as the light it's got to work with. As HP noted in its blog post, the lighting in the YouTube video was dim, and, the company said, there wasn't enough contrast to pick up the facial shadows the computer needed for seeing. (An overlit person with a fair complexion might have had the same problem.) A better camera wouldn't necessarily have guaranteed a better result, because there's another bottleneck: computing power. The constant flow of images is usually too much for the software to handle, so it downsamples them, or reduces the level of detail, before analyzing them. That's one reason why a person watching the YouTube video can easily make out the black employee's face, while the computer can't. "A racially inclusive training set won't help if the larger platform is not capable of seeing those details," says Steve Russell, founder and chairman of 3VR, which creates face recognition for security cameras.

The blink problem Wang complained about has less to do with lighting than the plain fact that her Nikon was incapable of distinguishing her narrow eye from a half-closed one. An eye might only be a few pixels wide, and a camera that's downsampling the images can't see the necessary level of detail. So a trade-off has to be made: either the blink warning would have a tendency to miss half blinks or a tendency to trigger for narrow eyes. Nikon did not respond to questions from TIME as to how the blink detection was designed to work.

Why these glitches weren't ironed out before the cameras hit Best Buy is not something that HP, Nikon or Sony, when contacted by TIME, were willing to answer. Perhaps in this market of rapidly developing technologies, consumers who fork over a few hundred dollars for the latest gadget are the test market. A few years ago, speech-recognition software was teeth-gnashingly unreliable. Today, it's up to 99% accurate. With the flurry of consumer complaints out there, most of the companies seem to be responding. HP has offered instructions on how to adjust its webcam's sensitivity to backlighting. Nikon says it's working to improve the accuracy of the blink-warning function on its Coolpix cameras. (Sony wouldn't comment on the performance of its Cyber-shot cameras and said only that it's "not possible to track the face accurately all the time.") Perhaps in a few years' time, the only faces cameras won't be able to pick up will be those of the blue-skinned humanoids from Avatar.

Read "Sony's Robot-Cam: Partying Without a Photographer."

See the best pictures of 2009.

... I've always been a Nikon-ian, until now that is ... kidding.

Posted via web from pchaupham's posterous

Global Internet Crash Would be 'Doomsday Scenario'

(FOX25, myfoxboston) - In 1969, Nixon became President, the Beatles released “Abbey Road”, and the first transmission over the earliest version of the Internet was recorded. Things have changed a lot in 40 years, what began as a connection between two university computers, now rules the world. Just the thought of life offline is enough to send some off their rocker. Worldwide internet failure would mean faxes instead of emails, maps instead of GPS, cash instead of credit cards, and social networking would actually require face to face meetings.

"It's sounds like a plot for a sci-fi movie. It's a peaceful day all over the world. People are emailing, facebooking and watching youtube when all of a sudden (insert scream) the Internet stops working. People start walking around the streets in a daze as the world comes to a grinding halt."

Read more here

“Within three weeks we would be back to 1840,” says Boston-based computer security analyst, Robert Siciliano, of , who paints a doomsday scenario about the potential crash of the web. “The internet controls electricity, it controls running water, it controls commerce, we have become to rely on the internet in a way. If it were to cease to function today, life as we know it would cease to function,” Siciliano says.

It has been more than 20 years since the last major overhaul of the internet, and the core architecture hasn’t really every changed. Nearly every day there are outages, some bigger than others. Last year an explosion and fire at a large data center in Houston shut down thousands of websites. Hundreds of thousands in the Middle East and India were knocked offline when several underwater telecom cables were damaged. was unavailable for 2 hours when a Turkish telecom company mistakenly claimed their IP address.

“A lot of people who don’t know how the internet is built under the hood will always have fear,” says David Berlind, the Chief Content Officer and Editor and Chief of . He says complete internet failure is not just unlikely, it is nearly impossible.

The internet is a de-centralized system of routers and networks owned and operated by many governmental and private organizations. He says even if there’s an outage or problem in one area of the world, there are millions of other paths the information can travel. Berlind says the companies that provide internet service also have a vested interest in maintaining the infrastructure and the advances are being made to increase capacity every day. As the internet celebrates it’s 40th anniversary, we can remember localized problems will always occur, but a global failure of the internet doesn’t appear likely, at least anytime soon.

interesting scenario to consider, how would we react and survive?

Posted via web from pchaupham's posterous

Monday, January 4, 2010

middle of the day snack: gyoza

i was bored and hankering for homemade potstickers/gyoza, here's the recipe from before except this time, i modified the recipe a bit as well as the cooking technique. i added very very finely chopped savoy cabbage as well as leeks and jalapeno's into the mixture. i also browned them on both sides and used less water to steam. gave the potsticker a chewier texture and much enjoyed. i also picked up a few store-bought gyoza's from the store to do a compare and contrast. those were tasty too, but homemade clearly hit the spot.

homemade vietnamese nem nuoung ...

i love nem nuoung, and for those of you who don't know what it is, it's essentially a vietnamese sausage/meatloaf patty that's sliced and rolled up like a summer roll. contents include cucumber, cilantro, lettuce, sometimes a shrimp spring roll for crunch, chives and then the roll is dipped into a spicy peanut sauce (light on the peanut flavor though).

my mother usually makes me a large batch, it's put into the freezer and i slowly enjoy the fruits of her labor. well, a short while ago, i decided to make them myself, and during my two weeks off i re-stocked the fridge. i of course bastardized my version, my mother already shakes her head at my variation. in addition to the pork, garlic and spices, i add in chopped cilantro, chopped and sliced garlic, both granulated sugar and honey, and green onion directly into the mixture, definitely a big no-no in terms of authenticity. i enjoy it, i think it's a good addition.

the pork patty is put under a hot broiler, the outside becomes sticky, sweet and crisp, and when cut, snaps like the casing of a good hotdog. if you want the recipe, you'll have to ask, but i may not give it to you ... it does involve: pork, garlic, cilantro, garlic, fish sauce, garlic powder, sugar, honey, did i mention more garlic ...

here's the final product before being rolled up:

kitchen doorknobs: fudge

visit kitchen doorknobs for this month's fudge challenge ... white chocolate peanut butter oreo fudge. sticks to the top of your mouth goodness:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

a spot of pho ...

a quick review: pho so 1, dorchester, ma ... at the corner of dorchester ave and adams street on the south side of boston. a couple of weeks ago, i took a quick road trip down to the dc area and when i'm in the area, i usually always hit up eden center in falls church va. it's the mecca in the dc area for all things vietnamese. thousands upon thousands of square feet of edible vietnamese goodness, it's like an amusement park of food. i usually always have a good time there, and leave with a very fully belly, but for some reason this time, something was quite lacking. i cam back to boston still hankering for vietnamese, and when that's the case, pho usually hits the spot. i went searching, and ended up on yelp. there are a number of pho/vietnamese places in boston - specifically in allston or chinatown, but there's also a large concentration in dorchester. i took a ride down to dorchester one monday during the week and found pho so 1, from a picking of about 5 different places on yelp. it was a cold bitter day, pho hit the spot, pho so 1 definitely hit the spot. the restaurant itself is pretty clean, tables are set, and my feet don't stick to the floor, nor the chairs, a good sign. the menu itself isn't as expansive as other vietnamese places i've been, worrisome? i think not, it may just mean they do the few things they serve well, at least i hope. the pho came out, and i had no complaints, broth was clear, aromatic, thinly sliced top round mixed with the right amount of beef balls. the obligatory plate of bean sprouts, asian basil were crisp not wilted ... i of course consumed this xlarge bowl of pho with reckless abandonment ... and subsequently came back a few more times for more. i've tried a few other things on the menu, worth trying but stick to the pho.

if you want another place for pho not in chinatown, head for pho so 1.