Monday, January 5, 2009

First Lady of the Internet?


Apparently an image of Playboy's Miss November 1972 (Lena Soderberg) was used to test digital image compression and transmission back in 1973.

Playmate Meets Geeks Who Made Her a Net Star
by Janelle Brown

Having graced the desktops of millions of engineers, researchers, and digital imaging specialists for 25 years, Playboy's Miss November 1972 - dubbed the "First Lady of the Internet" - is coming to meet her fans.

Lena Sjooblom became Net royalty when her centerfold was scanned in by programmers at the University of Southern California to use as a test image for digital compression and transmission over Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet. Years later, the "Lena" image (a closeup of her face and bare shoulder) is till in the industry standard for tests. This week, Sjooblom is making her first public appearance at the 50th Annual Conference of the Society for Imaging Science in Technology, as part of an overview of the history of digital imaging.
(from Wired, 1997)

Alexander Sawchuk estimates that it was in June or July of 1973 when he, then an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the USC Signal and Image Processing Institute (SIPI), along with a graduate student and the SIPI lab manager, was hurriedly searching the lab for a good image to scan for a colleague's conference paper. They had tired of their stock of usual test images, dull stuff dating back to television standards work in the early 1960s. They wanted something glossy to ensure good output dynamic range, and they wanted a human face. Just then, somebody happened to walk in with a recent issue of Playboy.
(excerpt from a May 2001 article in the Newsletter of the IEEE Professional Communication Society by Jamie Hutchinson)

For those of you who are uninitiated in this brouhaha, let me provide a few facts. The original Lena image was a photograph of a Swedish woman named Lena Sjooblom, which appeared in the November 1972 issue of Playboy Magazine. (In English, Lena is sometimes spelled Lenna, to encourage proper pronunciation.) The image was later digitized at the University of Southern California as one of many possible images for use by the research community. I think it is safe to assume that the Lena image became a standard in our "industry" for two reasons. First, the image contains a nice mixture of detail, flat regions, shading, and texture that do a good job of testing various image processing algorithms. It is a good test image! Second, the Lena image is a picture of an attractive woman. It is not surprising that the (mostly male) image processing research community gravitated toward an image that they found attractive.
(excerpt from IEEE Transactions On Image Processing. VOL. 5. NO. 1. January 1996, David C. Munson, Jr.)

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