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Monday, December 19, 2005

Riya - Alpha Release: So alpha it hurts!

After 3 weeks in my draft folder, I finally got around to this today. I was one of the lucky 1000 selected to try the alpha release of Riya. There had been so much buzz about this on Slashdot, Digg and TechCrunch, that I was talking about this application's capabilities to friends and colleagues long before I got to see the application. And I learnt a big lesson. No matter what the experts say, hold off talking about an app, till you have actually test-driven it.

My experience with Riya's alpha release has been very disappointing. Well, to start with, it is probably my fault because I had high expectations, especially after I read this on Wired "Currently in alpha testing, the software has proven sensitive enough to tell the difference between twins and recognize members of the same family.". Forget twins, Riya failed to recognize the exact same snap of the same person. In my testing, Riya failed at some very basic image recognition test cases.

Test approach:
I did not want to upload any of my personal pictures. So I chose to use pictures that are already widely available on the web - celebrities, Bollywood celebrities to be precise! The folks at coolbuddy were kind enough to give me permission to use pictures from their website. 569 photos of Aishwarya Rai, Amisha Patel, Bipasha Basu, Preity Zinta, Sonali Bendre, Tabu, Urmila, etc made their way to my Riya account. And I got started.

Riya automatically recognizes areas of the photograph that appear like a face and marks it for identification. This is however not consistent and many faces were not auto-marked. I had over 50 Aishwarya's pictures and so went about identifying her snaps. The more snaps recognized by the user, the better Riya is trained to recognize the rest of the snaps. I started with recognizing 10 of Ash's snaps and some of Amisha, Amrita, Bipasha and Preity. I then let Riya recognize the rest. The results were rather poor with some of Aishwarya's snaps being recognized as Amrita and Bipasha. So I went through another round of recognizing some more Aishwarya's snaps to better train Riya; but there was little improvement in the auto-identification by Riya. Next, I recognized 31 of Ash's snaps (one more than what Riya considers great for auto-recognition), but this did not change the end results.

Test Case Summary for identification:
1. Identify some images and then let Riya do its magic. Test Result: Poor
2. Use mirror images of the same person. Test Result: Failed
3. Tiled images of the same person. Test Result: Failed
4. Use different size images of the the same photograph. Test Result: Failed
5. Use the same photographs, but with different sharpness. Test Result: Failed

I expect an image recognition application to positively identify the same people with different expressions and also at different ages. But Riya fails at this. In fact, a scaled down version of the exact same snap of Aishwarya was not recognized by Riya even though I identified Aishwarya in the bigger image. Even text recognition works only when the text is crisp and normal.

So IMHO, this alpha release of Riya is ways away from where the Riya team would like it to be.

Here are some actual examples where Riya failed:
  • In this picture, Amisha Patel's picture is tiled multiple times. (i) Riya wrongly identified Amisha as Esha Doel. To be fair, I trained Riya with only 8 Amisha snaps. (ii) Even if this was correct, it should have identified all instances in the image as Esha, but it did not.

  • In this picture, we have mirror images of Twinkle Khanna. Riya identified one of the images as Preity Zinta and the other as Amrita Arora.

  • Same images of Aishwarya - one is a mirror image and the other is brighter. I trained Riya with these 2. But it wrongly identified Asihwarya in this picture as Amrita.

  • Mirror images of Sonali Bendre. I trained Riya by recognizing one and expected Riya to identify the other. But it didn't.

  • Faces are not always recognized. Here are some examples (1 2 3 4). Riya did not think any of these were faces!

Market Perception:
A lot of hype has been generated around Riya by veterans such as Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch and Robert Scoble at Scobleizer. It would be interesting to see some of their test images that went through Riya. In the current form, the only gain for anyone acquiring Riya is getting them for a lot less than when the application actually works! It appears like Google is not interested for now.

The business case for Riya is very strong. There are a lot of uses for a technology such as Riya's - when it works. Here is hoping the next release does better.

Related links:

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Syriana - A movie that could have been. (3/5)

Movie Review - Syriana. My Rating 3/5. Worth a watch, only because it exposes the deep nexus between American businesses and the Government and how political agendas are set based on business interests.

Two powerful scenes that sum up the movie:
On being charged with corruption, a protagonist explodes:
"Corruption charges...Corruption? Corruption is Government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That's Milton Friedman. And he got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing out here instead of fighting for scraps of meat out on the street. Corruption... is why we win."

Prince Nazir in a frustrated moment on being pushed to a corner by the US for accepting the higher Chinese bid for his nation's oil tells Matt Damon:
I want to rebuild my nation, set up an independent judiciary, a parliament, reforms for women. I want to do whatever possible to introduce efficiencies to maximize profitability; profits that would then be used to rebuild my nation. Except your President rings my father and says I have unemployment in Texas, Kansas and Washington state. One phone call later we are stealing out of our social programs to buy overpriced planes. We owed the Americans, but we have overpaid our debts. I accepted the Chinese bid, the highest bid. And suddenly I am a terrorist, a communist.

Here is a movie that could have easily made it to the top; but falls short because of mediocre direction, poor editing and poor screenplay. The movie has been unnecessarily stretched and as a result dilutes a powerful story.

Syriana is about how the West is going all out to exert its influence over the Middle East to ensure the Western oil pipelines never run dry. If it takes assassinations, regime changes to replace moderate elements with corrupt ones that favor the West, payoffs, so be it! The end objective is for the West to have the oil.

But the director loses his bearing with the narration swinging between gripping scenes and meaningless charades. In the end, a good story is floundered and the audience is left with a very watered-down message.

The scenes with the Mid-East workers on the oil rigs is by far the worst. It is almost like these scenes were force-fit into the movie to show both sides of the story. This is followed closely by the CIA agent's (George Clooney) interactions with spooks and terrorists. Very amateurish handling. If this is how spooks work, then the terrorists have nothing to fear! If not for George's acting, this would have taken first spot on worst scenes. Also, for some strange reason, the director has some of the oil-rig workers speaking in Hindi. Hindi in that region?!?!? BTW, I always thought my Hindi sounded real poor because of my South Indian accent, but after hearing these guys speak Hindi, I feel so much better.

All criticisms aside, go watch it to see how the US Government manipulates its people and the rest of the world! If you are only looking for a good "spook" movie, then Spy Game is the one to watch.

Related links:

  • A few key scenes (video).

  • Syriana's website.

  • The movie is loosely based on this book - See No Evil, by former CIA agent Robert Baer.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Yahoooo! Delicious!!!

Tagging is the cool phrase VCs love to hear these days! Close on the heels of CNET acquiring Consumating (!!!), announced that it is now part of the Yahoo family.

Yahoo has had a very aggressive last 2 quarters this year, taking the fight into the Google camp. They have upgraded most of their key services and added new ones to meet Google's challenge - Yahoo Mail, Flickr, Yahoo Maps, RSS feeds from any source to any device, going after Skype and now! Good comeback Yahoo!!! Microsoft is running a distant third in this space, but more the big players, the merrier for us end consumers!

There is some chatter on the web on whether this union is good for users. IMHO, what end-users need is a one-stop shop or a few-stop shops to meet their daily needs. If I can get most of it at either Google or Yahoo, awesome! Consolidation benefits the end-users as much as the companies coming together. Also, both G and Y! are fiercely competing to deliver better services, and both understand the importance of social networking. So, this acquisition can only be good for the end-users.

Here is a good interview on why is useful. Stuart's response to the first question sums it up. And here are some useful tools that extend

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Finally, a useful wiki for travellers

Very detailed wiki for travellers covering most every country on the globe.

Main wiki here. My home town in India - Bangalore. And my home for now - Portland.

One stop shop for Public Transport maps/schedule

Yet another new "beta" service from Google. Provide a start and end address and a time and it will show you the best public transportation combination to get there, ETA and costs. This release only covers the Portland Metro area (OR).

Example: If you have to get from NW 13th Ave to the Airport at 7PM, look up directions using this text: 800 NW 13th ave, Portland, OR 97209 to pdx at 7PM to get these directions. It even shows what the public transport would cost vs driving!

Here is a snippet from the GBlog:
With it, commuters will be able to easily access public transit schedules, routes, and plan trips using their local public transportation options. This first release covers only the Portland, Oregon metro area, but we are working to expand our coverage very soon.

They seem to do better with the 20% projects than their regular day jobs! :)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The magical tapestry they wove!

Watched Dev Anand's CID (again) and the special features section had a documentary on Guru Dutt! Took me thru his movies I have enjoyed over the years, almost every one of them, more than once. Pyaasa, Aar Par, Mr.&Mrs.55, Kaagaz Ke Phool...

When I think of the best Bollywood artistes from that era, quite a few names come to mind, but Guru Dutt and Madhubala remain my all-time favorites! Maybe someday I will write more about them, and also Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman, Utpal Dutt, Vyjayanthimala... The ladies sparkled with their eyes and beauty, while Guru Dutt captured the emotions splendidly on celluloid! The song picturizations are mind-boggling! True entertainers!!

People - Guru DuttPeople - MadhubalaPeople - Waheeda Rehman 02People - Guru Dutt and Waheeda RehmanPeople - Madhubala and Dilip Kumar in Mughal-e-azamPeople - Vyjayanthimala

Thursday, December 01, 2005

And now they "discover" the lies!

Just before the war started, I wrote this post on how the American Government was embracing the principles of Goebbels. And now they talk about investigating the recent allegations of the Pentagon planting stories in the Iraqi media. Who will investigate the lies in the American media?

Related links: BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor.

   Copyright 2005
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