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Query By Sketching

MysteryLogo.jpgEarlier today, while Carol and I were out on an errands run, we were stopped for a light behind a beat-up pickup truck. On the back of the truck was an emblem on a sticker, and Carol asked me what it was. And in truth, I don’t know, though I’ve seen it a time or two before. It looks like a band logo, though not of any band that I’ve ever listened to.

It was a right profile of a cartoonish man running, with his hair streaming in the wind. In one hand he’s holding a sheet of paper in front of him. The whole thing is in red, inside a red circle. There’s no text of any kind. (The figure is filled in with red; my sketch above is in red Sharpie. Also note the painfully obvious: I’m a words guy, not a pictures guy.)

The challenge intrigued me when I got home. How would I look something like that up? I tried text descriptions in Google Images: “little red guy running”, “red logo running man,” and so on. Saw lots of interesting things, but not that logo. I didn’t spend a great deal of time on it and gave up after a couple of minutes.

We don’t really have a search system for pictograms, and we probably don’t need one all that badly, but it made me wonder how we would make the attempt. Text descriptions? “Right-side profile of cartoon man running, holding a sheet of paper in front of him. Enclosed in circle. Color solid red.” Or perhaps a sort of Visio interface where we could drag across cartoon fragments of describable things and drop them into a rough sketch that the computer could compare against images in its database. This would require machine abstraction, but would be useful for identifying more than just band logos.

As with “query by humming” for music that sticks in your head, it’s a difficult problem computationally, and not as useful. My guess is we that won’t do it, not because we can’t, but because there’s no payoff. And thinking about it for a few minutes reminds me how really really far we still are from genuine “strong” AI.

In the meantime, does anybody know what the little running red guy represents?


  1. Bruce C. Baker says:

    “… but it made me wonder how we would make the attempt.”: Perhaps by extending the rules of heraldry to encompass the 21st century? 🙂

  2. Brook Monroe says:

    It’s the Insane Clown Posse Hatchetman logo.

    In Google Images: insane clown posse hatchetman

    That’s not how I located it–I figured it was an indie band logo and started searching on that basis. Searching using the terms above will get you there faster than any link that I could paste in here.

  3. Ed Keefe says:


    I think it may be the logo of “Insane Clown Posse”.

    Here is a link to an image:

    He is called the “Hatchet Man”. Here is another link:

    Hope this helps,


    1. Ok…that’s definitely the guy. So it’s not a piece of paper or a map (which is what I assumed.) It’s a…hatchet? Wow.

      Hip-hop really really isn’t my thing, so I forgive myself for not knowing this. (Being 58 this coming Tuesday doesn’t help.)

      1. Tony says:

        Happy early birthday!

      2. Rich, N8UX says:

        Yes, happy B-day early, and GL in FD!

        1. Well, we’ve got some possible thunderstorm issues today, but if things clear up a little I’ll be out there working the world (or at least anything within ground-wave distance) after lunch. 73 ET TNX DE K7JPD.

  4. Jonathan O'Neal, WD4DAR says:

    “We don’t really have a search system for pictograms…”

    Actually, there is at least one – Gazopa is in public beta right now. Go to, then click on the “Draw” tab. You’ll be presented with a simple Flash applet with some rudimentary drawing tools. After you’ve drawn your sketch and indicated the key search area, click Upload and wait (it’s rather slow right now). You can refine the results by searching on shape (the default), color, layout, face, or standard (I’m not really sure what those selections actually mean, though).

    Gazopa shows some promise, although it’s clearly not ready for prime time. False positives abound (many of them being rather humorous when compared with the query sketch), and their universe of image samples seems to be several orders of magnitude smaller than, say, Google’s, so some queries (like your Hatchet Man) have little or no hope of being correctly resolved. Still, my crude sketch of my alma mater’s mascot got a valid hit on the first page, and my even cruder sketch of the Miami Dolphins logo managed to get some reasonable misses (e.g. Florida Marlins logo) on the first page and a number of valid hits on the second page.

    With some technical refinement and an enlarged image database, this could be quite useful. I’d love to see Google take it over and incorporate it into their image search page.

  5. Kiril K. says:

    Long time reader, first time comment posting. Actually this comment is not connected to the topic but since I don’t have your email I decided to post it here anyway.
    First of all I like very much your writing and you are inspirational for me. Here is my comment. Recently I bought George Shepherd’s book Microsoft® ASP.NET 4 Step by Step and in the Acknowledgments section I encountered the following sentence: “Thank you, Jeff Duntemann, for buying and publishing my first piece ever for PC Tech Journal.” I was happy to see that you are inspirational for other people.
    Keep the good work and for many more years good health and optimism. I hope you don’t mind posting here.
    Regards, Kiril K.

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