efficient running median

1457 views
Skip to first unread message

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 11:22:55 AM10/13/09
to
I'm looking for code that will calculate the running median of a
sequence, efficiently. (I'm trying to subtract the running median from
a signal to correct for gradual drift).

My naive attempt (taking the median of a sliding window) is
unfortunately too slow as my sliding windows are quite large (~1k) and
so are my sequences (~50k). On my PC it takes about 18 seconds per
sequence. 17 of those seconds is spent in sorting the sliding windows.

I've googled around and it looks like there are some recent journal
articles on it, but no code. Any suggestions?

Thanks
Janto

Peter Otten

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 12:12:23 PM10/13/09
to
Janto Dreijer wrote:

If you aren't using numpy, try that. Showing your code might also be a good
idea...

Peter

Paul Rubin

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 12:33:19 PM10/13/09
to
Janto Dreijer <jan...@gmail.com> writes:
> I'm looking for code that will calculate the running median of a
> sequence, efficiently. (I'm trying to subtract the running median from
> a signal to correct for gradual drift).

Is that a known and valid technique of correcting for drift? Maybe
what you really want is a high-pass filter, to remove very low
frequency components (drift) from the signal. You can do that with
standard digital filters. Using something depending on ordering
within the samples (i.e. the median) seems weird to me, but I'm no
expert.

The obvious way to compute a running median involves a tree structure
so you can quickly insert and delete elements, and find the median.
That would be asymtotically O(n log n) but messy to implement.

Dave Angel

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 1:27:22 PM10/13/09
to Janto Dreijer, pytho...@python.org
Since the previous window is sorted, it should just be a "case of delete
one, add one" in the sorted list. And if that isn't fast enough,
consider some form of tree.

DaveA

Ethan Furman

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 1:37:24 PM10/13/09
to pytho...@python.org

You might look at http://pypi.python.org/pypi/blist/0.9.4

~Ethan~

Dale Dalrymple

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 2:29:30 PM10/13/09
to
On Oct 13, 8:22 am, Janto Dreijer <jan...@gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm looking for code that will calculate the running median of a
> sequence, efficiently. (I'm trying to subtract the running median from
> a signal to correct for gradual drift).
> ...

> Any suggestions?

For a reference try:

Comparison of algorithms for standard median filtering
Juhola, M. Katajainen, J. Raita, T.
Signal Processing, IEEE Transactions on
Jan. 1991, Volume: 39 , Issue: 1, page(s): 204 - 208
Abstract

An algorithm I have used comes from:

On computation of the running median
Astola, J.T. Campbell, T.G.
Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, IEEE Transactions on
Apr 1989, Volume: 37, Issue: 4, page(s): 572-574

This is a dual heap approach. No code though. There are some obvious
(yeah, right) errors in their pseudo-code.

The point of the dual heap algorithm (loosely put) is to reduce the
computation to slide the window 1 element to be proportional to 2
bubble sorts of log window size instead of a window size sort.

Good luck.

Dale B. Dalrymple


sturlamolden

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 2:57:33 PM10/13/09
to
On 13 Okt, 18:33, Paul Rubin <http://phr...@NOSPAM.invalid> wrote:

> The obvious way to compute a running median involves a tree structure
> so you can quickly insert and delete elements, and find the median.
> That would be asymtotically O(n log n) but messy to implement.

QuickSelect will find the median in O(log n) time.

Paul Rubin

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 3:59:47 PM10/13/09
to
sturlamolden <sturla...@yahoo.no> writes:
> > The obvious way to compute a running median involves a tree structure
> > so you can quickly insert and delete elements, and find the median.
> > That would be asymtotically O(n log n) but messy to implement.
>
> QuickSelect will find the median in O(log n) time.

That makes no sense, you can't even examine the input in O(log n) time.

Anyway, the problem isn't to find the median of n elements. It's to
find n different medians of n different sets. You might be able to
get close to linear time though, depending on how the data acts.

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 5:15:44 PM10/13/09
to
On Oct 13, 9:59 pm, Paul Rubin <http://phr...@NOSPAM.invalid> wrote:

> sturlamolden <sturlamol...@yahoo.no> writes:
> > > The obvious way to compute a running median involves a tree structure
> > > so you can quickly insert and delete elements, and find the median.
> > > That would be asymtotically O(n log n) but messy to implement.
>
> > QuickSelect will find the median in O(log n) time.
>
> That makes no sense, you can't even examine the input in O(log n) time.

True. I think he means O(n).
I've tried wrapping the lesser-known nth_element function from the C++
STL (http://www.cppreference.com/wiki/stl/algorithm/nth_element).
Unfortunately it seems the conversion to std::vector<double> is quite
slow...I'll have a look again. Will probably have to rewrite my whole
median_filter function in C++ to avoid unnecessary conversions.

> Anyway, the problem isn't to find the median of n elements.  It's to
> find n different medians of n different sets.  You might be able to
> get close to linear time though, depending on how the data acts.

Yes, that's what I've been hoping for. If I want it reeeeaaally fast
I'll have to figure out how to do that.

Thanks
Janto

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 5:23:31 PM10/13/09
to

Thanks. I'll have a look.

I found a PDF by Soumya D. Mohanty entitled "Efficient Algorithm for
computing a Running Median" (2003) by Googling. It has code snippets
at the end, but it's not going to be a simple cut-and-paste job. It
will take some work figuring out the missing parts.

Regards
Janto

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 5:55:35 PM10/13/09
to
On Oct 13, 6:33 pm, Paul Rubin <http://phr...@NOSPAM.invalid> wrote:
> Janto Dreijer <jan...@gmail.com> writes:
> > I'm looking for code that will calculate the running median of a
> > sequence, efficiently. (I'm trying to subtract the running median from
> > a signal to correct for gradual drift).
>
> Is that a known and valid technique of correcting for drift?  Maybe
> what you really want is a high-pass filter, to remove very low
> frequency components (drift) from the signal.  You can do that with
> standard digital filters.  Using something depending on ordering
> within the samples (i.e. the median) seems weird to me, but I'm no
> expert.

Well, I don't have a lot of theoretical reasoning behind wanting to
use a median filter. I have some experience applying it to images with
very good results, so that was the first thing I tried. It felt right
at the time and the results looked good. Also, most of the elements in
the sequence are supposed to be near zero, so the median is supposed
to give the amount of drift.

That said, you're probably right. I should have first tried to apply a
HPF.

> The obvious way to compute a running median involves a tree structure
> so you can quickly insert and delete elements, and find the median.
> That would be asymtotically O(n log n) but messy to implement.

Messy. Yes. I tried and failed :P

Thanks
Janto

Steven D'Aprano

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 6:03:49 PM10/13/09
to
On Tue, 13 Oct 2009 12:59:47 -0700, Paul Rubin wrote:

> sturlamolden <sturla...@yahoo.no> writes:
>> > The obvious way to compute a running median involves a tree structure
>> > so you can quickly insert and delete elements, and find the median.
>> > That would be asymtotically O(n log n) but messy to implement.
>>
>> QuickSelect will find the median in O(log n) time.
>
> That makes no sense, you can't even examine the input in O(log n) time.

If that were a relevant argument, no algorithms would ever be described
as running in O(log n).

Obviously to run in O(log n) you must have already built the tree. If you
include the time required to build the tree, then O(n) is the lower-bound
(because you have to see each element to put it in the tree) but that
applies to any data structure. The point is, once you have that tree, you
can perform repeated calculations in O(log n) time (or so it has been
claimed).

For example, if you want the m running medians of m data points, you
might do the following:

find the median of element 1
find the median of element 1 and 2
find the median of element 1 through 3
find the median of element 1 through 4
...
find the median of element 1 through m

Each median calculation may take O(log n), where n varies from 1 to m,
giving a total order of:

log 1 + log 2 + log 3 + ... + log m
=> O(log m!)

steps, which is much better than:

1 + 2 + 3 + ... + m = 1/2*m*(m+1)
=> O(m**2)


> Anyway, the problem isn't to find the median of n elements. It's to
> find n different medians of n different sets. You might be able to get
> close to linear time though, depending on how the data acts.

But since the data sets aren't independent, a tree structure seems like
the way to go to me. Inserting and deleting elements should be fast, and
assuming the claim of calculating the median in O(log n) is correct,
that's quite fast too.


--
Steven

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 6:04:56 PM10/13/09
to

Very nice! I assume you mean I can use it to quickly insert items into
the sliding window?

Thanks
Janto

Paul Rubin

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 6:13:22 PM10/13/09
to
Janto Dreijer <jan...@gmail.com> writes:
> Well, I don't have a lot of theoretical reasoning behind wanting to
> use a median filter. I have some experience applying it to images with
> very good results, so that was the first thing I tried. It felt right
> at the time and the results looked good.

If this is image data, which typically would have fairly low
resolution per pixel (say 8-12 bits), then maybe you could just use
bins to count how many times each value occurs in a window. That
would let you find the median of a window fairly quickly, and then
update it with each new sample by remembering the number of samples
above and below the current median, etc.

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 6:22:44 PM10/13/09
to

Thanks, unfortunately it's not image data. It's electrocardiogram
sequences. So it's sequences of floats.

Janto

sturlamolden

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 7:20:06 PM10/13/09
to
On 14 Okt, 00:03, Steven D'Aprano
<ste...@REMOVE.THIS.cybersource.com.au> wrote:

> Obviously to run in O(log n) you must have already built the tree.

You don't need a tree. Quickselect is a partial quicksort.

But my memory served me badly, quickselect is O(n).

Raymond Hettinger

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 7:40:35 PM10/13/09
to

Right. See http://code.activestate.com/recipes/269554/ for a sample
implementation in Python.


Raymond

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 13, 2009, 8:30:53 PM10/13/09
to

I placed the test code and its output here:
http://bitbucket.org/janto/snippets/src/tip/running_median.py

I also have a version that uses numpy. On random data it seems to be
about twice as fast as the pure python one. It spends half the time
sorting and the other half converting the windows from python lists to
numpy arrays.
If the data is already sorted, the version using python's builtin sort
outperforms the numpy convert-and-sort by about 5 times. Strangely
satisfying :)

I'm hoping to find a trick to do better than scipy.signal.medfilt.
Looking at its code (PyArray_OrderFilterND in
http://svn.scipy.org/svn/scipy/trunk/scipy/signal/sigtoolsmodule.c)
there may be hope. It looks like they're sorting the entire window
instead of doing a QuickSelect (which I could do with STL's
nth_element).

Janto

Hendrik van Rooyen

unread,
Oct 14, 2009, 2:48:51 AM10/14/09
to pytho...@python.org
Can you not use the mean instead? It is easier to calculate, as you do not
have to work through all the values.

- Hendrik


Peter Otten

unread,
Oct 14, 2009, 10:53:00 AM10/14/09
to
Janto Dreijer wrote:

> On Oct 13, 6:12 pm, Peter Otten <__pete...@web.de> wrote:
>> Janto Dreijer wrote:
>> > I'm looking for code that will calculate the running median of a
>> > sequence, efficiently. (I'm trying to subtract the running median from
>> > a signal to correct for gradual drift).
>>
>> > My naive attempt (taking the median of a sliding window) is
>> > unfortunately too slow as my sliding windows are quite large (~1k) and
>> > so are my sequences (~50k). On my PC it takes about 18 seconds per
>> > sequence. 17 of those seconds is spent in sorting the sliding windows.
>>
>> > I've googled around and it looks like there are some recent journal
>> > articles on it, but no code. Any suggestions?
>>
>> If you aren't using numpy, try that. Showing your code might also be a
>> good idea...
>>
>> Peter
>
> I placed the test code and its output here:
> http://bitbucket.org/janto/snippets/src/tip/running_median.py

That gives me something to tinker ;)



> I also have a version that uses numpy. On random data it seems to be
> about twice as fast as the pure python one. It spends half the time
> sorting and the other half converting the windows from python lists to
> numpy arrays.
> If the data is already sorted, the version using python's builtin sort
> outperforms the numpy convert-and-sort by about 5 times. Strangely
> satisfying :)

I was thinking of using as many of numpy's bulk operations as possible:

def running_median_numpy(seq):
data = array(seq, dtype=float)
result = []
for i in xrange(1, window_size):
window = data[:i]
result.append(median(window))
for i in xrange(len(data)-window_size+1):
window = data[i:i+window_size]
result.append(median(window))
return result

But it didn't help as much as I had hoped.
The fastest I came up with tries hard to keep the data sorted:

def running_median_insort(seq):
seq = iter(seq)
d = deque()
s = []
result = []
for item in islice(seq, window_size):
d.append(item)
insort(s, item)
result.append(s[len(d)//2])
m = window_size // 2
for item in seq:
old = d.popleft()
d.append(item)
del s[bisect_left(s, old)]
insort(s, item)
result.append(s[m])
return result

Some numbers:

10.197 seconds for running_median_scipy_medfilt
25.043 seconds for running_median_python
13.040 seconds for running_median_python_msort
14.280 seconds for running_median_python_scipy_median
4.024 seconds for running_median_numpy
0.221 seconds for running_median_insort

What would be an acceptable performance, by the way?

Peter

PS: code not tested for correctness


Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 14, 2009, 5:54:10 PM10/14/09
to
On Oct 14, 4:53 pm, Peter Otten <__pete...@web.de> wrote:
> Some numbers:
>
> 10.197 seconds for running_median_scipy_medfilt
> 25.043 seconds for running_median_python
> 13.040 seconds for running_median_python_msort
> 14.280 seconds for running_median_python_scipy_median
> 4.024 seconds for running_median_numpy
> 0.221 seconds for running_median_insort
>
> What would be an acceptable performance, by the way?
>

That's great!
Well, the faster it works, the better. It means I can process more
data before getting frustrated. So if you have a faster version I'd
like to see it :)

Thankyou!
Janto

Ethan Furman

unread,
Oct 14, 2009, 6:53:24 PM10/14/09
to Python

I'm afraid I can't help any further. Going from your post, I thought a
quicker list implementation might be useful, but beyond that I have no
knowledge to share.

Who said ignorance is bliss? *hangs head*

~Ethan~

Raymond Hettinger

unread,
Oct 15, 2009, 6:41:40 AM10/15/09
to
[Janto Dreijer]

> I found a PDF by Soumya D. Mohanty entitled "Efficient Algorithm for
> computing a Running Median" (2003) by Googling. It has code snippets
> at the end, but it's not going to be a simple cut-and-paste job. It
> will take some work figuring out the missing parts.

See http://code.activestate.com/recipes/576930/ for working Python
code
adapted from that paper.


Raymond

Janto Dreijer

unread,
Oct 15, 2009, 3:33:21 PM10/15/09
to
On Oct 15, 12:41 pm, Raymond Hettinger <pyt...@rcn.com> wrote:
> [Janto Dreijer]
>
> > I found a PDF by Soumya D. Mohanty entitled "Efficient Algorithm for
> > computing a Running Median" (2003) by Googling. It has code snippets
> > at the end, but it's not going to be a simple cut-and-paste job. It
> > will take some work figuring out the missing parts.
>
> Seehttp://code.activestate.com/recipes/576930/for working Python

> code
> adapted from that paper.
>
> Raymond

Wow! Thanks. I'll have a look.

Janto

denis

unread,
Oct 19, 2009, 10:38:39 AM10/19/09
to
Folks,
approximate medians -- would you settle for 49 - 51 % ? --
open up new possibilities, and there's quite a lot of work on that,
for huuuge datasets.

A class of problems:
from a data stream X1 X2 ... you want, every so often,
a histogram / quantile summary / distribution estimator such that
H approximates the distribution of X, so
median of H(t) ~ median of some of X.
Some parameters of this class:
NH, size of H: 100 => H(p) ~ pth percentile of X
A, how often you want H
window, drop or age old data
runtime, memory of course
accuracy -- in theory, in practice

A histogram viewer in which you can change buckets, colors, zoom,
in REALTIME sounds tantalizing -- fast loop >> fast algorithm + slow
loop.
Anyone know of one off-the -shelf, python or anything else ?

Refs:
Manku et al., Approximate medians in one pass with limited memory,
1998, 10p
under http://infolab.stanford.edu/~manku/papers.html
nice tree pictures
they optimize mem (NH * Nbuf) not runtime, and don't window

Suri +, Quantiles on Streams, 2006, 5p, http://www.cs.ucsb.edu/~suri/psdir/ency.pdf
~ 20 refs zzz

cheers
-- denis

denis

unread,
Oct 20, 2009, 5:28:21 AM10/20/09
to
Yet another link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_filter
--> Perreault + Hebert, Median Filtering in Constant Time,
nice 6-page paper + 400 lines well-documented C code:
http://nomis80.org/ctmf.html
(for 2d images, dropping to 1d must be possible :)

They're also in opencv, which I haven't tried --
http://www.intel.com/technology/computing/opencv
http://code.google.com/p/ctypes-opencv
http://code.google.com/p/opencv-cython

cheers
-- denis

denis

unread,
Oct 26, 2009, 11:28:05 AM10/26/09
to
Based on Perreault + Hebert, here's python code for a rather different
algorithm:
- for quantized e.g. 8-bit data
- runs faster for wider windows / slowly changing medians
- no heaps, no trees: the only import is numpy, and even that's not
essential

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1309263/rolling-median-algorithm-in-c

cheers
-- denis

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages