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My Career at IBM Research

IBM Watson Lab

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Introduction

I spent 19 years at the T. J. Watson Research facility named after the son of the founder of IBM, T.J. Watson Jr. He pushed IBM into adopting advanced technology and created a first class research facility at Yorktown Hts. NY

- Jan. 2016

- Updated March 2016 (Note that some technical details are included for reference). A glossary of terms is appended at the end to help with understanding some of the jargons.

Background

1983 was a crucial year in my career. I had just got married in 1982, a new baby on the way. An opportunity came that required me to sell my house and relocate 50 miles away. It would involve learning a new system and making new friends. It was a difficult decision but we decided to go for it. It was the best decision I ever made.

My career at IBM is actually two careers. The first was a 9 years period where I worked in a development division as a hardware designer and system Engineer. The second career was as a researcher and programmer working on imaging, compression, color fidelity, digital imaging capture and display and print and on content management and digital library. This second career spans 19 years and cover a wide variety of disciplines. I was not trained in any of these fields. I had to learn on the job and develop the skills needed to rise to the occasion. I went back to school and got a masters degree in Computer Science. My path from one career to the other is not unique in IBM. Many people have been moved from division to division and one location to the next based on the needs of the company. The company paid for relocation and everyone is happy with a changed environment and a fresh challenge. My case was a little unique.

The Research Division of IBM is the most prestigious division. Most people were hired as PHDs from universities. In my case, I was a Staff Engineer transferring from a development division to an Advanced Technology group based in Yorktown Research. This small group was not part of the Research Divison. They were created because there was a need to work on advanced technologies that was present at research and may be applied to improve existing products. A year after I joined the group, a reorganization allowed our group of 8 people to be merged into the Image Technologies Department of IBM Research. It was a lucky break that allowed me to become a Research team member. However, we retained our previous titles where as Research members are known as RSMs.

I'm often asked what's the difference between an RSM and an Engineer. The simple difference is that the scientists deal with theories and formulas and physical laws and complex concepts while the engineer makes things work. They both have overlap in skills and ability. The RSM focus on the big picture and the engineer focus on the details. Both are necessary for a successful project.

CPD(Communication Products Division) - Advanced Technology Group

My first year at IBM Research was working in the Imaging advanced technology group. I have no training in imaging. I got involved with this group through a good colleague that worked with me on the TUSKEN project. A few months earlier, he had transferred to this group and referred me as a potential hire. The manager of the group had some dealings with the Kingston facility and know of our past work. He was impressed by our accomplishments and thought we could help with his new initiative. He was working on improving an IBM product called Scanmaster. It was a first product to handle document imaging and FAX. The idea was to improve the quality of the scanning and processing of the image. They were working on an innovative CCD device using TDI (time delay integration) to improve the capture time and quality of the signal. The improvement would lead to a better quality document on the display and for print. We were able to create a working model but unfortunately, it never made it to the final product.

Even though this project did not succeed, as in many other cases in IBM, it was not a total loss. It paved the way for other projects down the road that took advantage of the lessons learned and new skills. In my own case, I learned about digital imaging, compression, grayscale vs. bi-tone, programming, and working in the Research community. I was encouraged to go back to school at night and earn a Masters degree. This would be advantageous for my career.

Reorganization

After one year, a reorganization allowed our small group to be merged into the Image Technologies department of IBM Research. This larger group included four smaller groups reporting to a second line manager. Our focus was on all aspects of advanced digital image processing encompassing, image capture, image display, image compression/decompression, image printing and various image processing techniques. This created new opportunities and synergy between our small group and the larger Research group.

First page of an 8 Pages Brochure

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IBM 4250 ElectroNEG

The IBM 4250 printer was a new technology using electro erosion technology to put dots on paper. A research project was started to see if that could be adapted to use a special coating onto mylar so that the printer could be used to produce negative plates to be mounted on short term printing press. This would be a revolutionary way to produce print on demand short runs. Our group was given the task to produce the software to create the color separations of CMYK needed for printing. We had no expertise in this area. A few of us were sent to Rochester NY to attend a course given at RIT(Rochester Institute of Technology) on color science and printing techniques. This week long course was very intense but educational. It gave us the knowledge to proceed. There were two parallel groups working on this project. The one scientist was working on the actual chemical coating to allow this to work with the 4250 printer. Our small group was given the task of scanning the original photographs in color and producing the color separations and making the plates and then producing the color proofs. As part of this effort, we had to purchase special equipment such as a Chromalin machine and a Minolta colorimeter and X-rite calibration meter and a viewing booth.

As a promotion of our project, we produced an 8 pages color brochure using this new process.

PRO/3000 Scanner

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PRO/3000 Scanner

In working on the 4250 project, one of our other group was developing a high end digital color scanner as follow-on to the work on the CCD device. Our class in RIT helped in finding the ideal set of color filters to create the most color fidelity scanner at that time period. Combining that with the TDI CCD technology, this group developed a "best of breed" scanner ideal for high end applications. This was the beginning of a long slew of projects having to do with museums and libraries and moved IBM to the world of digital libraries. I was lucky enough to be involved from having been trained on programming and interfaces to this new piece of hardware.

A Memento Replicate Medal

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Andrew Wyeth (Brandywine) Project

IBM Corporate Headquarter is located in Armonk, NY. An important IBM function is the Corporate Community Relations activities. They are the group that funds important projects that help advance IBM standings in the world community. One such project came about from Thomas Watson Jr., the retired CEO of IBM, who happened to be a neighbor of the American renowned artist Andrew Wyeth.

One day, the Wyeths mentioned to Mr. Watson if anything could be done to help with their vast collection of artworks. The retired Mr. Watson called the Corporate office who in turn called on IBM Research (Watson Lab, named after Thomas Watson Jr.) to see if anything could be done. As a friendly gesture and in line with our active research on color capture, we embarked on the challenge.

The ambitious project, with a budget of $6 Million, was to capture the vast collection of Mr. Wyeth which totaled over 10,000 works of art. In addition, we were charged with creating a database to track the provenance information which had existed only on 4x5 index cards. The most challenging piece of the project was to reproduce the color fidelity of Mr. Wyeth's artwork. He is a master at using light and shadows and subtle colors and details in his artwork utilizing various mediums. The struggle was to be able to capture this vast dynamic range in color and to be able to display them on a high resolution CRT monitor.