Lena

I ran across this astounding story of Singapore researchers at Singpore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research generating a digital image with 100,000 DPI resolution. This is close to the theoretical maximum resolution and is therefore a significant achievement.

What impressed me, though, is the backstory of the image itself. The picture is of Lena Söderberg, a Swedish model who was a 1972 Playboy centerfold. This picture is a standard digital image that researchers use for experimenting with new digital algorithms and has been used for 40 years. The picture was originally chosen when researchers needed an image to scan for a paper. They looked through the standard stock images but everything seemed boring. At that point, somebody walked in with the current issue of Playboy and the researchers tore off the top third of the image so that it would fit on the drum of the scanner and an icon was born.

In 1997, Lena attended the 50th Anniversary of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology conference and met many of the scientists who have been using her picture for 4 decades. She's now happily married with 3 children and works for the government. It wasn't until 1988 that she first learned what had happened to her picture. She's said to have been pleasantly amused. At the conference she commented to a Wired reporter, "They must be so tired of me … looking at the same picture for all these years!"

None of this is important, of course, but it is a charming story that gives us a glimpse into the real person behind a standard and well known test image. You can read more about Lena's story by following the above links.

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