Thursday, February 19, 2009

Forensics: US National Academy of Sciences report is released

DNA evidence was the pebble in the pond, so to speak, for elevating the "science" in "forensic science" - the scientific rigor that has accompanied this new discipline of forensic science continues to ripple through all of the forensic disciplines and our legal system.  Of course, DNA evidence was not the only motivating factor, but I do contend that it was the most significant and that the mindset that accompanied its introduction also carried over the other disciplines.

The latest ripple was the release yesterday of a report by the US National Academy of Sciences titled "Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward".  You can read it online or pre-order a print copy at this link.

One should keep in mind while listening to or reading press accounts of this report something that Robert Mueller (physicist, USA) once said, and I'll paraphrase: "Everything reported in broadcast or print media is generally correct, except, that is, for what they report on things that you are actually well versed in, which they invariably get wrong."  Such will likely be the case with reporting on this subject.

That being said, how I am interpreting the early press accounts of the report is that this report is another step in this process of bringing the scientific rigor applied to the introduction of DNA evidence into our legal system to all of the disciplines that were already here. In my opinion, this is a worthwhile endeavor.  However, we must all be wise enough to understand that we are humans and that any system we create will not be perfect, but if we design the system correctly then mechanisms will be included to minimize and weed out these natural errors while also minimizing the adverse affects on the ability of the system to perform its intended purpose.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Phonetics: The Sounds of American English

Check out this educational page on the Sounds of American English from the University of Iowa (USA) - complete with cut-away animations of what is happening in the vocal tract and videos of the face during articulation.  My wife is probably tired of hearing me point out over the years that this is exactly what is missing from educational software for learning foreign languages.  Learning to properly articulate a sound element (phoneme) is so much easier if you know what the articulators (i.e. lips, tongue, jaw) are doing!  Well done.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Photography: Automatic panning device for gigabit images

Engadget profiled the GigaPan Epic some time ago. The Epic is a robotic camera mount that holds your point-and-shoot digital camera and then automatically pans the visual scene, taking picture after picture (up to thousands, according to the manufacturer). Software is included that then automatically stiches the individual images into a single digital panoramic image. Very cool. The inventor used it at the recent inauguration to capture a panorama of the mall. Many more images can be found at a community page devoted to these images. Here is a link to the product page with more details (and the sales price).

Why would anyone need so many pixels in an image? Over the Christmas holidays, the pundits were telling us that no one needs more than, say, 6 megapixels in a camera. Two examples where more pixels are needed include when one needs to zoom in to get small details or when one requires very wide angle shots with good resolution (i.e. which is hard to do with a fisheye lens or a dome mirror).

A potential forensics application is crime scene photography, thanks not only to its functionality, but also its modest cost and compatibility with a wide range of digital cameras.


Image Restoration: iMovie Stabilization feature

Despite the best of intentions, I have not yet been able to get around to testing Apple's new iMovie video stabilization feature for the Mac OS (Operating System). I will, however, whet you appetite with a Macworld review I've come across that gives examples.