Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Posting will be light

Due to work-related travel, my posting will be relatively light for the next one to two weeks.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Biometric Products Review

Finally got around to catching up on links I saved during the week that looked like they were worth a second look. Government Computer News (GCN) ran an article back on the 6th of February titled "Biometrics look ready for prime time". I don't have much to say about the title itself as there are many considerations involved in making such a statement that aren't covered in the article, but I can say that the article itself is a useful location marker on the journey. By that I mean that it does a good job of showing what the state of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) products is today as the market for biometric products develops.

GCN evaluated a selection of products and gives a summary of their pros, cons, features, performance, value and even prices. The limited set of products chosen for review ranged from eye scanners to fingerprint-enabled thumbdrives, so it lightly covers the gamut available.

To Read.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mozart's Birthday

In the category of 'Better Late Than Never', I meant to post about Mozart's birthday closer to the time it actually occurred but was on a trip. I hope that these two links will help atone for it:

NPR's Celebrating Mozart's Birthday in Salzburg
British Museum's Turning the Pages

Incredible commercial for Honda Civic

You have got to see (and hear) it to really appreciate it: Honda Civic ad (click on "Watch Civic"). Wins my vote for best audio-related advertising idea for the last year - at least.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Experts Blame Cop Show For Educating Criminals

The NBC TV station in Chicago, Illinois (USA) has an online article about anecdotal evidence that forensic crime dramas, such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", have educated some criminals in ways to limit (the amount of) or destroy the forensic evidence in order to conceal their involvement. This behavior is reportedly seen in planned crimes - typically against family members or business partners - and not in more spontaneous criminal acts.

There are positive benefits from such TV shows, such as
  1. creating positive role models for our youth,
  2. encouraging students in the sciences and mathematics,
  3. educating the public in basic legal and forensic concepts that form the foundation of many investigations and judicial procedings, and
  4. building support for local law enforcement.
That being said, things have probably gone too far. Reasonable people can rightly be troubled by how some vendors and retired law enforcement personnel have willingly divulged and displayed once sensitive technology and techniques. And what for? It is hard to believe that having one's surveillance or forensic product shown on one of these shows really causes any significant increase in sales. Its not like the next day a forensic scientist says "Hey boss, we need that Acme XYZ gadget they had on TV last night to solve this case." Purchasing lab equipment is not typically a spontaneous thing (admittedly, occassionally there is some last minute "found money" at the end of the fiscal year, but I certainly hope for all of our sakes that a television "product placement" doesn't influence the decisions even then).

As a matter of public policy, there is a tradeoff between the benefits I listed above and possibly educating criminals, as well as confusing the public by building up unrealistic expectations for the detectives, forensic scientists/technicians, and prosecuting attorneys (a.k.a. solicitors) to have to meet.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Third type of cell in eye regulates circadian clock

Lots of educators, including me, have got to update their lesson materials and textbooks - cones and rods aren't the only types of cells in the eyes after all. There is a third type that responds to light and then regulates the circadian clock. LiveScience reports on a study recently published in Neuron.

(Image source: LiveScience)

Online Speech Accent Archive

George Mason University (in Northen Virginia, USA, just outside of Washington, DC) has an online archive of numerous examples of accented english. It is an excellent resource of searchable/browseable accented speech recordings. Each recording has data about the speaker (e.g. place of birth, native language, age, sex, age that began learning english and how), as well as the english text that was read with a phonetic transcription. The english text is marked up with linguistic generalizations about consonants, vowels, and syllable structures.

Calendar of Audio, Computer Music, and Signal Processing Conferences & Workshops

Here is a comprehensive on-line calendar put together by the Music Technology Group (MTG) of the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) of Barcelona. I'll also enter it into the Links section on the main page for easy referral.

(Hat tip: Adv Projects in Computer Music)

Powerful sound waves

This has been reported all over the Internet but, for the sake of completeness, I'll link to the PhysOrg article on sonofusion here.
A team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Purdue University, and the Russian Academy of Sciences has used sound waves to induce nuclear fusion without the need for an external neutron source, according to a paper in the Jan. 27 issue of Physical Review Letters.

You Don't Know Jack About VOIP

The title of the article on ACM Que says it all. Good overview of Voice Over IP.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Improving forensic capabilities in other countries

The United States and EU governments frequently help develop the forensics capabilities of law enforcement agencies in other countries (Note: other governments elsewhere may also have similar training and grant programs, but I am drawing only upon my own direct knowledge here).

If you are interested in the international cooperation aspects of law enforcement or want to read a very descriptive article about life in a forensics lab, I can recommend a post found on INDONESIA NOW. I'll excerpt a portion of it here:
Forensics aren’t at the sharp end of police duties. Most who chose a career in crime-fighting prefer the adrenalin rush of a high-speed chase, a shoot out, a dash in the dark to nab a felon.

Laboratory work is quiet and methodical; it’s cerebral, not muscular. It means wearing rubber gloves rather than a holster, peering down microscopes, analysing chemicals, thinking deeply and cleverly to outsmart the cunning crims. It’s often boring and lonely.

But when the results gain convictions even the most heavy-fisted cop from the school of hard knocks has to pause in admiration for his tertiary-trained colleagues.

The Surabaya lab investigates cases from across East Java and much of Kalimantan, a catchment area of more than 42 million people. To handle this workload Bambang has only 40 scientists and technicians, and just a few machines.

But help is on its way. Eighteen months ago experts from the US Department of Justice visited Surabaya and reported on the lab.

They found that while Bambang was respected and his colleagues had depth of experience, knowledge and skill, much equipment was outdated.

This year the lab expects high tech replacements under a program called the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program. (ICITAP)
To read.

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CSI, a clay pot, forensics and ancient audio histories

It is truly amazing what you can do with forensic science these days. I came across this entry in Wikipedia having to do with the popular TV forensic drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation":
A clay pot in the episode "Committed". Crafted while two people were having an argument. Of course, the marks on the pot were vibrating to the argument. When the clay pot is analysed, they shoot a laser at it and get a sound back. Behold! It's the argument being played back - reproduced from the bumps and grooves made in the pot during the argument.
Now, assuming this is accurate (and I did google it to see if other websites had the same info and found other references to it that didn't look like copies of the Wikipedia entries), this could lead to all kinds of fascinating discoveries. Imagine being able to listen to what the slaves and artisans in ancient times were saying around their drying clay pots, bricks, and ovens! Now that old line that goes something like 'the stories these walls could tell' can finally come true!

Of course, forensic filtering will probably have to be applied to reduce the effects of centuries of accumulated dust, grime, and cracks. Hmmm... That probably means hiss, muffling, and pops & clicks, as a minimum, but we've got filters for those - no problem!

If you need me, I'll be down at my local museum (after picking up a laser and an ancient languages scholar from the university on the way)...

(Image source: News in Science article on restoring ancient clay pots - also interesting reading)

Blue light makes people alert at night

Live Science has a write-up on a study by Steven Lockley of the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School that indicates that blue light makes people less drowsy in the middle of the night. The affect also was found to be long lasting - the study tested out to 6.5 hours without identifying the end of it. The research is reported in the February 1 issue of the journal Sleep.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Handwriting Analysis

This is slightly off-topic, but I hope still acceptable as it is regarding forensics.

The January 26th online edition of the Boston Globe has an interesting piece on a modern-day handwriting analyst ('Handwriting analyst has eye for reading between the words'). Handwriting analysis (i.e. graphology) is the study of handwriting and how it relates to character (source: The Free Dictionary).

Graphology is currently frowned on by the forensic community in general. The article mentions that an attempt is underway to get it accredited, however.

I'm not trying to lend credence to this field by mentioning it here. That being said, I did find the article interesting and intend to monitor the progress of the accreditation attempt.

To Read.

(Hat tip: Forensic Files)

What's Next - Cameras

The online edition of the International Herald Tribune on February 2nd has an article about the upcoming annual Photo Marketing Association convention and where the camera market is going next (For cameras, it's a digital world) . The highlights are:
  • The market for film cameras is (almost) dead - 92% of all cameras sold now are digital.
  • Digital cameras are evolving away from looking like film cameras.
  • Multiple lenses - dual built-in zoom and wide-angle lenses are available.
  • The end of the megapixel race - similar to what happened in the PC market, most people have enough pixels to do what they need.
  • Wireless - some models will lose their cables in favor of wireless downloads/uploads.
  • Image stabilization - "steady shot" comes to still cameras to eliminate problems with shaky hands, high zoom ratios, and holding the camera away from the body, all of which cause jittery images.
  • Video/still combos - already available but coming even more common to have video capable 'still' cameras.
  • Bigger, faster, better - larger image sizes and faster video frame rates on some makes/models.
  • GPS - automatically tag each image with location (along with traditionally time/date).
  • "Blink Shot" - recognize when subject's eyes are closed and prevent the picture from being taken.
The article is written for the non-technical masses, but still does a good job of capturing and communicating the trends in a clear, accurate manner.

To Read