## The Altar of Optimality

Danger Will Robinson! Non-technical post approaching!

When I was a wee engineer, I’d sometimes clash with other engineers that sneered at technical approaches that didn’t set up a linear-algebraic optimization problem as the first step. Never mind that I’ve been relentlessly focused on single-sensor problems, rather than array-processing problems, and so the naturalness of the linear-algebraic mathematical setting was debatable–however there were still ways to fashion matrices and compute those lovely eigenvalues. The real issue wasn’t the dimensionality of the data model, it was that I didn’t have a handy crank I could turn and pop out a provably optimal solution to the posed problem. Therefore I could be safely ignored. And if nobody could actually write down an optimization problem for, say, general radio-frequency scene analysis, then that problem just wasn’t worth pursuing.

Those critical engineers worship at the altar of optimality. Time for another rant.

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## Correcting the Record: Comments On “Wireless Signal Representation Techniques for Automatic Modulation Classification,” by X. Liu et al

It’s too close to home, and it’s too near the bone …

Park the car at the side of the road
You should know
Time’s tide will smother you…
And I will too

“That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” by The Smiths

I applaud the intent behind the paper in this post’s title, which is The Literature [R183], apparently accepted in 2022 for publication in IEEE Access, a peer-reviewed journal. That intent is to list all the found ways in which researchers preprocess radio-frequency data (complex sampled data) prior to applying some sort of modulation classification (recognition) algorithm or system.

The problem is that this attempt at gathering up all of the ‘representations’ gets a lot of the math wrong, and so has a high potential to confuse rather than illuminate.

There’s only one thing to do: correct the record.

Continue reading “Correcting the Record: Comments On “Wireless Signal Representation Techniques for Automatic Modulation Classification,” by X. Liu et al”

## Epistemic Bubbles: Comments on “Modulation Recognition Using Signal Enhancement and Multi-Stage Attention Mechanism” by Lin, Zeng, and Gong.

Another brick in the wall, another drop in the bucket, another windmill on the horizon …

Let’s talk more about The Cult. No, I don’t mean She Sells Sanctuary, for which I do have considerable nostalgic fondness. I mean the Cult(ure) of Machine Learning in RF communications and signal processing. Or perhaps it is more of an epistemic bubble where there are The Things That Must Be Said and The Unmentionables in every paper and a style of research that is strictly adhered to but that, sadly, produces mostly error and promotes mostly hype. So we have shibboleths, taboos, and norms to deal with inside the bubble.

Time to get on my high horse. She’s a good horse named Ravager and she needs some exercise. So I’m going to strap on my claymore, mount Ravager, and go for a ride. Or am I merely tilting at windmills?

Let’s take a close look at another paper on machine learning for modulation recognition. It uses, uncritically, the DeepSig RML 2016 datasets. And the world and the world, the world drags me down…

Continue reading “Epistemic Bubbles: Comments on “Modulation Recognition Using Signal Enhancement and Multi-Stage Attention Mechanism” by Lin, Zeng, and Gong.”

## What is the Minimum Effort Required to Find ‘Related Work?’: Comments on Some Spectrum-Sensing Literature by N. West [R176] and T. Yucek [R178]

Starts as a personal gripe, but ends with weird stuff from the literature.

During my poking around on arxiv.org the other day (Grrrrr…), I came across some postings by O’Shea et al I’d not seen before, including The Literature [R176]: “Wideband Signal Localization and Spectral Segmentation.”

Huh, I thought, they are probably trying to train a neural network to do automatic spectral segmentation that is superior to my published algorithm (My Papers [32]). Yeah, no. I mean yes to a machine, no to nods to me. Let’s take a look.

Continue reading “What is the Minimum Effort Required to Find ‘Related Work?’: Comments on Some Spectrum-Sensing Literature by N. West [R176] and T. Yucek [R178]”

## Elegy for a Dying Field: Comments on “Detection of Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum Signals Based on Deep Learning,” by F. Wei et al

Black-box thinking is degrading our ability to connect effects to causes.

I’m learning, slowly because I’m stubborn and (I know it is hard to believe) optimistic, that there is no bottom. Signal processing and communications theory and practice are being steadily degraded in the world’s best (and worst of course) peer-reviewed journals.

I saw the accepted paper in the post title (The Literature [R177]) and thought this could be better than most of the machine-learning modulation-recognition papers I’ve reviewed. It takes a little more effort to properly understand and generate direct-sequence spread-spectrum (DSSS) signals, and the authors will likely focus on the practical case where the inband SNR is low. Plus there are lots of connections to CSP. But no. Let’s take a look.

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## Some Concrete Results on Generalization in Modulation Recognition using Machine Learning

Neural networks with I/Q data as input do not generalize in the modulation-recognition problem setting.

Update May 20, 2022: Here is the arxiv.org link.

Back in 2018 I posted a dataset consisting of 112,000 I/Q data files, 32,768 samples in length each, as a part of a challenge to machine learners who had been making strong claims of superiority over signal processing in the area of automatic modulation recognition. One part of the challenge was modulation recognition involving eight digital modulation types, and the other was estimating the carrier frequency offset. That dataset is described here, and I’d like to refer to it as CSPB.ML.2018.

Then in 2022 I posted a companion dataset to CSPB.ML.2018 called CSPB.ML.2022. This new dataset uses the same eight modulation types, similar ranges of SNR, pulse type, and symbol rate, but the random variable that governs the carrier frequency offset is different with respect to the random variable in CSPB.ML.2018. The purpose of the CSPB.ML.2022 dataset is to facilitate studies of the dataset-shift, or generalization, problem in machine learning.

Throughout the past couple of years I’ve been working with some graduate students and a professor at Old Dominion University on merging machine learning and signal processing for problems involving RF signal analysis, such as modulation recognition. We are starting to publish a sequence of papers that describe our efforts. I briefly describe the results of one such paper, My Papers [51], in this post.

Continue reading “Some Concrete Results on Generalization in Modulation Recognition using Machine Learning”

## The Domain Expertise Trap

The softwarization of engineering continues apace…

I keep seeing people write things like “a major disadvantage of the technique for X is that it requires substantial domain expertise.” Let’s look at a recent good paper that makes many such remarks and try to understand what it could mean, and if having or getting domain expertise is actually a bad thing. Spoiler: It isn’t.

The paper under the spotlight is The Literature [R174], “Interference Suppression Using Deep Learning: Current Approaches and Open Challenges,” published for the nonce on arxiv.org. I’m not calling this post a “Comments On …” post, because once I extract the (many) quotes about domain expertise, I’m leaving the paper alone. The paper is a good paper and I expect it to be especially useful for current graduate students looking to make a contribution in the technical area where machine learning and RF signal processing overlap. I especially like Figure 1 and the various Tables.

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## Wow, Elsevier, Just … Wow. Comments On “Cyclic Correntropy: Properties and the Application in Symbol Rate Estimation Under Alpha-Stable Distributed Noise,” by S. Luan et al.

Can we fix peer review in engineering by some form of payment to reviewers?

Let’s talk about another paper about cyclostationarity and correntropy. I’ve critically reviewed two previously, which you can find here and here. When you look at the correntropy as applied to a cyclostationary signal, you get something called cyclic correntropy, which is not particularly useful except if you don’t understand regular cyclostationarity and some aspects of garden-variety signal processing. Then it looks great.

But this isn’t a post that primarily takes the authors of a paper to task, although it does do that. I want to tell the tale to get us thinking about what ‘peer’ could mean, these days, in ‘peer-reviewed paper.’ How do we get the best peers to review our papers?

Let’s take a look at The Literature [R173].

Continue reading “Wow, Elsevier, Just … Wow. Comments On “Cyclic Correntropy: Properties and the Application in Symbol Rate Estimation Under Alpha-Stable Distributed Noise,” by S. Luan et al.”

## The Signal-Processing Equivalent of Resume-Padding? Comments on “A Robust Modulation Classification Method Using Convolutional Neural Networks” by S. Zhou et al.

Does the use of ‘total SNR’ mislead when the fractional bandwidth is very small? What constitutes ‘weak-signal processing?’

Or maybe “Comments on” here should be “Questions on.”

In a recent paper in EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing (The Literature [R165]), the authors tackle the problem of machine-learning-based modulation recognition for highly oversampled rectangular-pulse digital signals. They don’t use the DeepSig datasets (one, two, three, four), but their dataset description and use of ‘signal-to-noise ratio’ leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s take a brief look. See if you agree with me that the touting of their results as evidence that they can reliably classify signals with ‘SNRs of $-10$ dB’ is unwarranted and misleading.

Continue reading “The Signal-Processing Equivalent of Resume-Padding? Comments on “A Robust Modulation Classification Method Using Convolutional Neural Networks” by S. Zhou et al.”

## Are Probability Density Functions “Engineered” or “Hand-Crafted” Features?

The Machine Learners think that their “feature engineering” (rooting around in voluminous data) is the same as “features” in mathematically derived signal-processing algorithms. I take a lighthearted look.

One of the things the machine learners never tire of saying is that their neural-network approach to classification is superior to previous methods because, in part, those older methods use hand-crafted features. They put it in different ways, but somewhere in the introductory section of a machine-learning modulation-recognition paper (ML/MR), you’ll likely see the claim. You can look through the ML/MR papers I’ve cited in The Literature ([R133]-[R146]) if you are curious, but I’ll extract a couple here just to illustrate the idea.

Continue reading “Are Probability Density Functions “Engineered” or “Hand-Crafted” Features?”

## All BPSK Signals

An analysis of DeepSig’s 2016.10A data set, used in many published machine-learning papers, and detailed comments on quite a few of those papers.

Update March 2021

See my analyses of three other DeepSig datasets here, here, and here.

Update June 2020

I’ll be adding new papers to this post as I find them. At the end of the original post there is a sequence of date-labeled updates that briefly describe the relevant aspects of the newly found papers. Some machine-learning modulation-recognition papers deserve their own post, so check back at the CSP Blog from time-to-time for “Comments On …” posts.

## Professor Jang Again Tortures CSP Mathematics Until it Breaks

In which my life is made a little harder.

We first met Professor Jang in a “Comments on the Literature” type of post from 2016. In that post, I pointed out fundamental mathematical errors contained in a paper the Professor published in the IEEE Communications Letters in 2014 (The Literature [R71]).

I have just noticed a new paper by Professor Jang, published in the journal IEEE Access, which is a peer-reviewed journal, like the Communications Letters. This new paper is titled “Simultaneous Power Harvesting and Cyclostationary Spectrum Sensing in Cognitive Radios” (The Literature [R144]). Many of the same errors are present in this paper. In fact, the beginning of the paper, and the exposition on cyclostationary signal processing is nearly the same as in The Literature [R71].

Let’s take a look.

## On Impulsive Noise, CSP, and Correntropy

And I still don’t understand how a random variable with infinite variance can be a good model for anything physical. So there.

I’ve seen several published and pre-published (arXiv.org) technical papers over the past couple of years on the topic of cyclic correntropy (The Literature [R123-R127]). I first criticized such a paper ([R123]) here, but the substance of that review was about my problems with the presented mathematics, not impulsive noise and its effects on CSP. Since the papers keep coming, apparently, I’m going to put down some thoughts on impulsive noise and some evidence regarding simple means of mitigation in the context of CSP. Preview: I don’t think we need to go to the trouble of investigating cyclic correntropy as a means of salvaging CSP from the evil clutches of impulsive noise.

## Machine Learning and Modulation Recognition: Comments on “Convolutional Radio Modulation Recognition Networks” by T. O’Shea, J. Corgan, and T. Clancy

Update October 2020:

Since I wrote the paper review in this post, I’ve analyzed three of O’Shea’s data sets (O’Shea is with the company DeepSig, so I’ve been referring to the data sets as DeepSig’s in other posts): All BPSK Signals, More on DeepSig’s Data Sets, and DeepSig’s 2018 Data Set. The data set relating to this paper is analyzed in All BPSK Signals. Preview: It is heavily flawed.

## Comments on “Blind Cyclostationary Spectrum Sensing in Cognitive Radios” by W. M. Jang

We are all susceptible to using bad mathematics to get us where we want to go. Here is an example.

I recently came across the 2014 paper in the title of this post. I mentioned it briefly in the post on the periodogram. But I’m going to talk about it a bit more here because this is the kind of thing that makes things harder for people trying to learn about cyclostationarity, which eventually leads to the need for something like the CSP Blog as a corrective.

The idea behind the paper is that it would be nice to avoid the need for prior knowledge of cycle frequencies when using cycle detectors or the like. If you could just compute the entire spectral correlation function, then collapse it by integrating (summing) over frequency $f$, then you’d have a one-dimensional function of cycle frequency $\alpha$ and you could then process that function inexpensively to perform detection and classification tasks.

## Comments on “Cyclostationary Correntropy: Definition and Application” by Fontes et al

I recently came across a published paper with the title Cyclostationary Correntropy: Definition and Application, by Aluisio Fontes et al. It is published in a journal called Expert Systems with Applications (Elsevier). Actually, it wasn’t the first time I’d seen this work by these authors. I had reviewed a similar paper in 2015 for a different journal.

I was surprised to see the paper published because I had a lot of criticisms of the original paper, and the other reviewers agreed since the paper was rejected. So I did my job, as did the other reviewers, and we tried to keep a flawed paper from entering the literature, where it would stay forever causing problems for readers.

The editor(s) of the journal Expert Systems with Applications did not ask me to review the paper, so I couldn’t give them the benefit of the work I already put into the manuscript, and apparently the editor(s) did not themselves see sufficient flaws in the paper to merit rejection.

It stings, of course, when you submit a paper that you think is good, and it is rejected. But it also stings when a paper you’ve carefully reviewed, and rejected, is published anyway.

Fortunately I have the CSP Blog, so I’m going on another rant. After all, I already did this the conventional rant-free way.

## Textbook Signals

Yes, the CSP Blog uses the simplest idealized cyclostationary digital signal–rectangular-pulse BPSK–to connect all the different aspects of CSP. But don’t mistake these ‘textbook’ signals for the real world.

What good is having a blog if you can’t offer a rant every once in a while? In this post I talk about what I call textbook signals, which are mathematical models of communication signals that are used by many researchers in statistical signal processing for communications.

We’ve already encountered, and used frequently, the most common textbook signal of all: rectangular-pulse BPSK with independent and identically distributed (IID) bits. We’ve been using this signal to illustrate the cyclostationary signal processing concepts and estimators as they have been introduced. It’s a good choice from the point of view of consistency of all the posts and it is easy to generate and to understand. However, it is not a good choice from the perspective of realism. It is rare to encounter a textbook BPSK signal in the practice of signal processing for communications.

I use the term textbook because the textbook signals can be found in standard textbooks, such as Proakis (The Literature [R44]). Textbook signals stand in opposition to signals used in the world, such as OFDM in LTE, slotted GMSK in GSM, 8PAM VSB with synchronization bits in ATSC-DTV, etc.

Typical communication signals combine a textbook signal with an access mechanism to yield the final physical-layer signal–the signal that is actually transmitted (My Papers [11], [16]). What is important for us, here at the CSP Blog, is that this combination usually results in a signal with radically different cyclostationarity than the textbook component. So it is not enough to understand textbook signals’ cyclostationarity. We must also understand the cyclostationarity of the real-world signal, which may be sufficiently complex to render mathematical modeling and analysis impossible (at least for me). (See also some relevant examples of real-world signals here and here.)