Crouching Tigers, Hidden Zebras - Lin Yangchen
©Lin Yangchen

previous | next | back to table of contents

The author also ran two-dimensional fast Fourier transformations on the stamp designs. FFT is widely used in time series analysis. It converts temporal oscillations or repetitive spatial patterns into a power spectrum showing the amplitudes of oscillations at different frequencies. This is of more entertainment than analytical value here, since the differences in the designs are easier to see in the original images than in their power spectra.

Whole mint stamps were photographed with a Canon MP-E 65 mm lens mounted on a Canon EOS-1D X single-lens reflex camera. The optical system has a flat field of focus, no distortion and a resolution much higher than the finest engraved line on the stamp. The camera sensor was leveled with a two-dimensional spirit level. The analogue signal was converted to png format through raw and tiff, with no compression at any stage.

Stamp perforations were cropped out, leaving only the printed design for analysis. The images were converted to greyscale and contrast was boosted using Photoshop curves to increase the signal-to-noise ratio without blowing out the highlights.

Signal processing and visualization were programmed using the R Language for Statistical Computing. Each image was converted to matrices of grey pixel values and put through FFT. This produces complex numbers that represent the magnitude and phase shift of the signal. The magnitude component was used to plot the power spectrum.

In the plots, the lowest frequencies are in the centre, increasing outwards. The crossed lines passing through the centre are derived from the edges of the original image. Shown in the following plots are the lowest frequencies from 1 to 250 cycles across each dimension, which exceeds the Nyquist criterion as confirmed by a visual examination of the engraved lines.


I am grateful to Lim Yi Han for turning on a light bulb with her zebra picture.


previous | next | back to table of contents
Powered by SmugMug Log In