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Is there a secret problem with depth maps?

It sounds like a great idea to utilize a depth map to extract information and control the depth depicted in an image or series of images. It sounds great for converting a 2D image into a 3D image. It sounds like a great tool for plenoptic cameras to interpolate the data into imagery with depth. Alpha channels are great to use for transparency mapping – so a depth map should be equally useful, shouldn’t it?

Take a look at this depth map:

icedepthmapThis is a depth map created from a plenoptic camera shot of a bunch of ice bits. It is a grayscale image with 256 shades of gray to depict the parts of the ice that are closer to the camera and the parts of the ice that are farther away from the camera. This information is used to adjust the depth of those bits that are closer and farther away by stretching or compressing pixels.

Now check out a rocking animation that uses motion parallax to depict the depth (items closer to you appear to move differently than items that are farther away).


Right away you can notice a few errors in the depth map, and for complex images this is typical and can be edited and “corrected”. But there is something else. Take a close look at the parts of the image where the depth map is seemingly correct. Sure, you can see the depth but does it really look like ice? If you are like me, the answer is no. Ice reflects and scatters light in a way that is unique for each perspective. Indeed, there IS binocular rivalry where one eye sees light reflection and distortion that is not present in the other eye’s perspective. This disparity tells us something about the texture and makeup of what we are looking at. Stretching or compressing pixels eliminates this information and only provides depth cues relating to the spatial position of things. For most people, I suspect it is reasonable to assume that this creates a perception conflict in their brains. There is something perceptually wrong with the image above. It does not look like ice because the light coming off of the two perspectives looks the same. A depth map does not provide information regarding binocular rivalry and creates errors as a result. Errors that can’t be fixed. Herein you see the flaw in using a depth map. It throws away all of the binocular rivalry information. In other words, it throws away the information between perspectives that is different.

In my opinion, depth maps take the life out of an image. It removes important texture information which, I believe, is gleaned from how light shifts and changes and appears and disappears as you alter perspective.

This is the secret fundamental flaw with depth maps. Now you can subjectively look at the image above and deem it to be cool and otherwise amazing. That is all good and well, but the truth is that, compared with looking at the real ice, it is fundamentally lacking and does not depict what is seen when you look at the ice in real life.

So, people ask themselves if this is important and some will say yes and some will say no. And there are many examples where you could argue both points of view. I don’t have an argument with that. My position is only to point out that this flaw exists and it should not be ignored.


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Concept > Prototype > Manufacturing

Serial numbers 1, 2 and 3. A completely new way to think about signs, presentation, information portals and public access interactivity. I believe the digital signage industry mindset is wrong. A poster is a thoughtful artistic creation of photographer, art director, graphic designer, copy writer, production staff and marketing specialist. Current digital signage is a bad PowerPoint presentation combined with useless information and no thought given to its purpose and what it should accomplish.

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We don’t see with our eyes? What?

Ladies and gentlemen, we do not see with our eyes. Indeed, humans can see without eyes.

That sounds pretty idiotic doesn’t it?

But it is a true and proven fact as compared with opinion. Some elaboration: Our brains are responsible for our perception of vision. Our eyes are only data collection devices that transmit information to our brain for interpretation. Without a conscious brain, we see nothing. With a conscious brain, amazing things are possible. Take a look at this:

Scientists are currently hard at work finding ways to interface data collection devices to the brain. I could site numerous examples of people perceiving vision where electrical impulses activate regions of the brain. One experiment had a profoundly blind person “see” braille patterns. Other experiments using cameras as eyes are currently under way. Another experiment made it possible for a person to see color using audio stimulus from a resonating implanted chip to bone interface.  We can extend our ability to perceive things beyond the limitations of the data collection devices we are born with.

There are human instincts motivating us to extend our perceptions as they relate to self-preservation, pro creation and nutrition. Without those instincts we would surely be extinct by now. Our ability to perceive the space between things is extremely useful. Eyes spaced apart facilitate increased recognition of motion, useful to determine potential threats. It widens field of view and aids in our ability to reduce near field of view obstructions like leaves and vines by having two eyes horizontally spaced apart. Ever notice how the brain automatically prioritizes the eye that has a less obstructed view?

An important point is that the brain adapts to the data collection devices that we have. Where they deviate from the norm the brain adapts and we resist naturally anything that challenges our perception of the world, even if it differs from that norm. That’s why you hear people with compromised stereovision say that there is something wrong with 3D motion pictures. Their norm could be that they can’t easily fixate both eyes on a single point in space. Perhaps they have compromised accommodation adaptation. Most will argue strongly against any suggestion that their perception of the world is compromised (ego/emotion).

What’s this have to do with 3D glasses? 3D glasses facilitate data collection for those with the ability to process the data (which is most of us). Of course, there will be push back from those without this capability and the bias will be to say there is something wrong with the glasses or 3D and not something deficient with the person! That’s one part of the push back and it is significant. The second part is related, and it has to do with the benefit and reward associated with going to the trouble of putting the glasses on. Movies that force the eyes to splay apart or remain crossed for extended periods over the course of a 90 minute movie will create discomfort because the brain doesn’t like that. It deviates from the norm. Eyestrain is brain induced in the same way stress creates back pain. The brain likes to tell us when things aren’t right. It’s called self-preservation and has helped to keep us from going extinct. Last, but not least, going to the trouble of putting on 3D glasses must offer a return on that investment in the same way any other add on device to our data collection apparatus would do. The benefit must be strong enough, or we will push back against it.

What are the signs of a low return on investment? If you hear: “wow that was cool” don’t be suckered into thinking you have a success. Anyone can have a “wow” reaction the first time they experience it. After some repetition, “wow” can quickly become boring. “Wow” does not equal long term value. “Wow” is fleeting. This is a partial explanation why 3D gains popularity and then wanes and then gains popularity and then wanes.

But getting back to the issue of the glasses… If there are superior data collection devices that are less cumbersome and provide greater accuracy and provide superior brain engagement then glasses will eventually be replaced by that method. Could it be hologram technology? Sure! Could it be something else? Absolutely! Predicting the future is a tricky thing. The superiority of any given enhancement for our perception data collection devices can be highly subjective and not always predictable. I read somewhere that Benjamin Franklin talked about the superiority of contact lenses and that someday everyone would wear them. Contacts have been perfected and perfected and are quite amazing. Why would anyone still choose to wear glasses when contacts are clearly superior?

Guess what? Most of the time we use emotion to decide things. Emotion can be irrational and go counter to logic. Ego and emotion are extremely powerful determiners of behavior. Emotion explains unexpected behavior and stereovision is tied to emotion in a different way than when we look at flat imagery. Generally speaking, the human brain has not fully adapted the illusion of motion picture 3D as it differentiates from everyday 3D perception. It is similar and dissimilar at the same time which can create perception conflict.

To the extent that, as artists, we can exploit human data collection devices, we can create art that engages in amazing ways. If it is compelling enough, people will find a way to pursue it!

Technology is a tool to use to achieve a goal. Where technology is lacking, humans will find a way to make it better if it is required to achieve a goal.  Each idea creates a new goal. If the technology isn’t working for you, get off your butt and do something about it! Everyone reading this has the opportunity to make a difference. Life is short – get busy!

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Finally, after years of work and waiting for technology to catch up with our requirements, the AMPED 360 interactive display system will begin shipping in September, 2014.

The AMPED 360 interactive display can be categorized as fitting between a printed sign or poster and an internet device. Actually, it is suitable as a replacement in many cases for a printed sign because it can perform the same function – only better.

Take a look: amped360display

The system includes a professionally framed 4k high resolution monitor approximately poster sized (24″x36″), (The monitor is 39″ diagonal.) easel, high performance computer, and interactive control panel which has a push button and knob.

The most exciting part is the cost. The system rents for what amounts to less than $5 a day after a two month commitment where the system is loaded with content and programmed. Programming and content creation are priced separately. It is easily updated and can hold an enormous amount of content including graphics, animation, text, and high resolution video all beautifully displayed at 4k resolution (also referred to as ultra HD).

We just finished the last prototype before going into full production and will have video information and kickstarter information soon. We also have a team of video production professionals, graphic designers, photographers and a studio with a 50 camera circular array for taking high end rotational imagery. We are committed to helping people create content that generates results on a system that revolutionizes what digital signage can be.


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My Response To Affirmative Action For Women.

My friend Arlene recently posted an article she wrote about mandating that 50% of Congress should be women. I don’t normally comment too much politically, but in this case I was inspired to express my opinion and vent some of my growing frustration with the priorities that are being set by our representatives in government. Priorities that I see as highly misguided.  So, what would be my priorities? Here is my comment to her post:


In my opinion, It is the large corporations that hold the purse strings to choose who gets funded to run for political office and it is the media that feeds the populace with who to vote for. I’ve read that the fastest growing religion in the U.S. is Muslim and that religion has a history of not being pro woman as far as I can tell. There seems to be a bias towards money and power, not fairness.That coupled with the dumbing down of the population and the results speak for themselves.

Mandating women is an idea, but there are plenty of examples that women can be as corrupted as men. Perhaps mandating superior state-of-the-art education with a return to massive support for the arts is the answer. Don’t we need smart people, especially women, to solve the growing complexities of the world? If we rise up for better education for all children and enrich the culture with massive support for the arts, wouldn’t that make a more effective difference? What if the highest paid in a society were teachers and artists? Isn’t it these people that make all things possible?

In my opinion, we need the best and brightest to lead, not the person with the right skin color or gender. Those that believe affirmative action has been a success ignore that a disproportionate number of people with a darker skin color are sent to jail in growing numbers, they ignore the disintegration of a stable two parent family, they ignore growing poverty for people with darker skin color, they ignore the highest dropout rate and highest unemployment and on and on in favor of putting all of their emphasis on numbers.

Instead of affirmative action, how about affirmative education from the highest paid most qualified and capable teachers who inspire learning and seeking knowledge in all areas of endeavor? What would happen if we would foster creativity and understanding through massive support of the arts? In the end, I don’t believe that mandates achieve fairness and opportunity – I believe it is education and the expansion of creativity and understanding through artistic expression.

Our ever expanding culture of pornography, violence, conflict, addiction – these are the things that our society supports through the culture of motion pictures and music. What are the most popular TV shows, musicians, actors? It would seem we have not grown as a society to question views on mental illness. We prefer to blame inanimate objects as the cause: guns. But logic tells me that a mentally ill person can get their hands on a bomb, a cross bow, chemical weapons, fire – why focus on guns over a focus on mental illness? Perhaps we are to stupid to focus on the problem of mental illness and the problem of lack of education and the problem of enriching cultural activities through the support of artistic expression and creativity. It is easy to simply blame a gun.Get rid of all the guns and problem fixed. Right? That would also eliminate mental illness wouldn’t it?

No, our priorities are to spend the country’s treasure growing more corn. Spend the country’s treasure buying high tech equipment for the military, spend the country’s treasure funding dictator controlled countries. Let’s spend the country’s treasure having a military presence in Germany and Japan. Let’s spend over a trillion on Iraq and Iran. Let’s ignore fraud and continue to send money to criminals. Let’s spend the country’s treasure propping up corporations so executives can take multi million dollar bonuses. Let’s borrow trillions of dollars so we can pay interest to China. Let’s spend the country’s treasure to spy on it’s citizens and to build drones to kill American citizens in foreign countries without due process. Let’s spend the country’s treasure on an insane system of intrusion at airports that only creates the illusion of security. Let’s spend trillions of dollars on rules and regulations that even the writers of those regulations don’t understand and the politicians don’t even read.

So, when you say [Arlene] the country is out of balance and spinning out of control – I would agree with that opinion. But I don’t believe the problems are skin color or gender solvable. I propose education is the great equalizer. Artistic expression and culture norms guide a society. Seeking the best ideas, the most creativity and well thought out solutions might make more sense than mandating skin color or gender. One never knows where talent, genius and beauty might come from. Shouldn’t we be educated enough to recognize those things? Perhaps we could start with the media. What are the most important stories of the day? Is opinion more important than a presentation of facts?

In my opinion we don’t need to be told what to think, we need to acquire the ability to think for ourselves and make thoughtful choices and priorities that make sense.

But what do I know?

Should the above be ignored because I’m not the right skin color or gender? Do you really believe that [Arlene]? If so, I just wasted my time. But at least I made an effort. Most now don’t bother.

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Why Stereoscopic 3D Fails

Why doesn’t the world embrace the illusion of S3D?

It is perhaps the most compelling visual effect that exists for cinema. We have many examples of illusions that become giant successful adaptations. What is it about S3D that keeps holding it back and generates considerable negative press and reviews?

In my opinion there isn’t a singular simple explanation. That is probably the reason for varying degrees of failure in a world of elevator pitches and split second decision making.

Two views, while sufficient to create a compelling illusion, do not fully satisfy the confusing foray S3D makes into the blurring of referential imagery and what I call experiential imagery. We are used to seeing multiple perspectives and on being able to converge our eyes and focus on a specific point in space (unless, like this fellow you are crossing your eyes).

We are used to having multiple confirming points of reference substantiating what we are looking at to be what we think we are looking at.

Some of the many simple explanations are:

–when the reason for looking at something isn’t compelling enough to look at it, then it is going to fail to get attention

–many people do not have normal stereovision

–the ability to suppress perception conflicts is not uniform across the population

A more complex explanation:

–requires education in the field of neuroscience.  The following questions must be addressed:
–How does the brain fuse the input from two eyes into a singular image that depicts space?
–Do we perceive the space between things or do we truly experience it with our vision system?

Many scientists argue that our entire visual system is an illusion that the brain creates, and doesn’t represent reality in the way we think that it does.

The mistake of picking a single simple explanation in terms of success or failure is perhaps the reason S3D comes and goes. The saying: “if you build it they will come” does not always hold true.

So, why choose a career in 3D?

Given the above, why would I choose a career creating imagery that depicts the space between things? Because it is possible to create compelling images to view. It is possible to suppress perception conflicts. Many people DO have normal stereovision. Using science and knowledge of neuroscience it is possible to take advantage of the illusions of the brain.

But the main reason I go forward: art.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying: The Earth without art is simply “Eh”.


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Think you understand vision? Think again.

This Ted Talk is a must see: 

The demonstration of how motion makes it possible to parse out shapes and objects out of random blobs of color and why newborn eyes present out of focus content to the early brain to make that easier is incredibly enlightening. It opened the door to making it possible for older children to learn to see when they acquired sight at a later age – totally debunking the dogma that once you reach a certain age, development of the vision system stops. Bullcrap. We simply needed to learn how the brain learns. It turns out that the brain is much more clever than many of the egocentric scientists think.

I find it difficult to understand why humans embrace an all knowing attitude. This is true in religion, medicine, science, art, etc. in that people at the top of their game want to demagogue the way things work with some sort of de-fact-o certainty. Think about that religious guy burning a kids abdomen to get the demons out of a kid with cataracs. I’m sure he was absolutely confident that what he was doing was absolutely the right thing. We see this over and over an all of the disciplines. Doctors will express with certainty how long someone has to live when they acquire a certain disease. Indeed, saying any condition is incurable is the height of egocentric dogma. It is preposterous!

Nobody knows anything with absolute certainty. We can surmise expectation based upon study and observation and anticipate that things will continue to happen a certain way. But when you scale things down to the quantum level, anything is possible. Perhaps not likely – but possible. Theories change as new information becomes available. We’ve barely scratched the surface after years of genetic study.

I’m ranting because the human vision system continues to be viewed in such simplistic terms. We have these biomechanical sensors in our head that send electrochemical signals to our brains for processing. The Ted talk above points out that the signals sent mean nothing without the brain sorting the information coming in in a way that can be interpreted and understood. Our eyes don’t see anything. They present blobs of color in the form of electrochemical impulses that the brain interprets. Think about it! Blobs of color and luminance information coming in from two forward facing sensors that the brain converts into tangible perceptions. With stereopsis vision, we think we see the space between things because our brain converts the data into that perception. What we perceive is not real in my opinion. If we really did see all of the space between things that would be so much information that all of the brains on the planet couldn’t process it.  Our brains employ a sort of data compression that eliminates things that evolution deemed unimportant.

The human vision system is miraculous in its complexity and the more we learn and understand, the more we realize just how much we don’t know. This is my point. Indeed, just as we found out with the Hubble telescope when we pointed it to a tiny part of the darkest part of the sky and exposed the image sensors to gather light over a few days – over 2,000 galaxy’s were observed! We begin to realize that all of human knowledge combined is but a spec compared to all there is to know.

I submit that we should reflect on our ignorance and be humbled along with motivated to seek knowledge with passion while keeping our ego in check. What we discover might be important – but there will always be more to discover. I don’t believe in certainty except that I am certain that there is no certainty.

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