Friday, January 27, 2012

Night time photography anyone?

Recently, Los Angeles County debated / passed a "Dark Skies" ordinance. Essentially, folks out where I live, and several other rural/agricultural areas in the county, must make sure that their exterior lights don't really illuminate anything - making the area dark.

That got me thinking about long-exposure photography and timesapes. Here's a good link if you're looking to do this type of photography.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Will Houston get a new crime lab next year?

From KHOU.com: "After years of scandal, the police department will no longer run Houston’s crime lab, Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday.

The promise is among the initiatives she will elaborate on next week during her inauguration speech. Parker was reelected in November and will begin her second term in January.

But during an interview Wednesday with KHOU 11 News, Parker stressed that the city would have an "independent" crime lab by the end of 2012.

Since 2002, HPD has faced criticism for thousands of untested rape kits and other mismanaged evidence.

Though the lab has improved in the last few years, Parker said, "it’s as much about perception as reality."

Currently, the lab is downtown at police headquarters in the 1200 block of Travis. The mayor is still deciding where the new one would be located and how much it would cost.

"This is not at all an effort to save money," Parker said. "This is about an effort to achieve objective justice. And when you consider that longstanding problems in the crime lab have cost the City of Houston millions and millions of dollars to fix, this is not something where we can cheap out."

There’s long been talk of a regional crime lab – an option Parker said she preferred—but the city and the county haven’t agreed on how to pay for it.

In the meantime, Parker said the current space within HPD was "inadequate."

Parker said there was a possibility the city and the county could share a location in the future. But even if a deal was reached, she said, the integration would need to be phased in over several years since the county couldn’t handle all of the city’s caseload right away.

"I can have an independent crime lab while we still work toward a regional crime lab," Parker said. "I believe it ought to report to a board of nonaffiliated scientists, who can make sure that the lab does objective work."

But critics are skeptical of whether any appointed board would be objective.

"Just because it’s out from underneath HPD does not mean it’s independent," said Randall Kallinen, an outspoken civil rights attorney. "It would also have to be free from Houston government as well to be truly independent."

Enjoy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Experts in the news

Here's an interesting case involving expert testimony gone really wrong: "... With regard to the judge’s finding that the case was exceptional, the Federal Circuit said it was justified by the facts, explaining that MarcTec: “(1) acted in bad faith in filing a baseless infringement action and continuing to pursue it despite no evidence of infringement; and (2) engaged in vexatious and unjustified litigation conduct that unnecessarily prolonged the proceedings and forced Cordis to incur substantial expenses.”

As part of its finding of litigation misconduct, the Federal Circuit cited MarcTec’s reliance on “untested and untestable” expert testimony. “Although we agree with MarcTec that exclusion of expert testimony under Daubert does not automatically trigger a finding of litigation misconduct, and in most cases likely would not do so, we find that the circumstances of this case were sufficiently egregious to support an award of attorney fees,” the court said.

With regard to the judge’s award of expert witness fees, the Federal Circuit concluded that this was within the judge’s “inherent authority” and that the circumstances of the case justified such an award.

“This is particularly true given that: (1) Cordis was forced to incur expert witness expenses to rebut MarcTec’s unreliable and irrelevant expert testimony which was excluded under Daubert; and (2) the amount Cordis was required to expend on experts was not compensable under § 285,” the court explained. “Because MarcTec’s vexatious conduct and bad faith increased the cost of litigation in ways that are not compensated under § 285, we find that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding expert fees to Cordis.”

The case is MarcTec, LLC, v. Johnson & Johnson and Cordis Corporation, Case No. 2010-1285 (Federal Circuit, Jan. 3, 2012) ..."

Read the whole article by clicking here.

Enjoy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is Quality Assurance Important?

Illinois seems to think that Quality Assurance serves an important purpose: "The Illinois State Police (ISP), Division of Forensic Services, Forensic Sciences Command employs a strict internal quality control program to ensure all ISP forensic scientists maintain proficiency in their forensic specialty and that the quality of their case work is consistent with our high standards.

Through its Quality Assurance Program, the Forensic Sciences Command has identified a potential quality concern that could impact some latent fingerprint analysis. Specifically, the Forensic Sciences Command has identified a quality concern regarding work performed by one of ISP’s forensic scientists. The ISP is currently performing a comprehensive review to determine the scope of the concern and is taking measures to remedy any effect it may have. The cases under review do not involve any fingerprint misidentification.

The ISP has notified all the State's Attorney offices for which the scientist analyzed evidence to make them aware of the situation. As part of our remediation process, analysis previously performed by the scientist will be reviewed, and reanalyzed, as necessary. Results of any reanalysis will be reported to the agency which originally submitted evidence to the laboratory, per our normal reporting protocol."

Enjoy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

John Nack's response to the Creative Cloud issues

Here's the post from John Nack on the Creative Cloud issues: "In November Adobe announced Creative Cloud subscriptions, a new combination of CS desktop apps, cloud services, and touch tools. Unfortunately, on the whole we’ve done a poor job of explaining the real benefits to customers, leading to considerable confusion & concern. I’m sorry for the pain that’s resulted.

First, let’s be clear: Adobe does well when you do well. Subscriptions have to be good for customers, or they’re not going to be good for Adobe–period.

What sucks is that the very real advantages of subscriptions (most notably, faster access to feature improvements) have gotten drowned out by the perceived disadvantages. The whole story is clumsy because Adobe hasn’t announced a CS6 version, or any real details about pricing, etc. Now’s not the time for that (sorry–I wish we could share more right now), so I can only ask for your patience. Subscriptions will be more interesting & attractive than you might think, so please stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say that Adobe has announced a new introductory upgrade offer for customers using CS3/CS4:

The old deal: If you were on CS4 or earlier at the time CS6 shipped, getting a subscription would be the only way to upgrade to CS6.
The new deal: If you’re on CS3 or CS4 when CS6 ships, you’ll have until the end of 2012 to upgrade to CS6. You can of course choose a subscription option, and we think you’ll want to.
Bottom line: During 2012, you don’t have to buy CS5 just to buy CS6 ..."

Bottom line for law enforcement ... start your discussions now on this development. This is far from over.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is The Adobe Creative Cloud?

In case you missed it, here's some info on The Adobe Creative Cloud:

"The Adobe Creative Cloud consists of:

•Desktop Applications — Every tool that is currently in Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection, such as Photoshop®, InDesign®, Illustrator®, Dreamweaver®, Premiere® Pro, After Effects®, as well as innovative new tools that are currently in beta, such as Adobe Edge and Muse.
•Touch Apps – Starting with the six Adobe Touch Apps announced at MAX , 2011 – Adobe Collage, Adobe Kuler, Photoshop Touch, Adobe Debut, Adobe Proto and Adobe Ideas.
•Services – A version of Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite for delivering interactive publications on tablets, a tier of Adobe Business Catalyst for building and managing websites, and access to cloud-based fonts for website design from our acquisition of Typekit.
•Community –Collaboration features that allow members to share their creative work with other Creative Cloud members and forums to discuss and inspire new ideas.

We are excited to announce that membership to the Adobe Creative Cloud will be available in the first half of 2012 at a price of $49.99 per month for individuals and $69.99 per month per seat for workgroups, both for an annual plan."

Law Enforcement and Government users will need to have a serious conversation about Adobe's new direction. Cloud based systems have had some major issues.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kelby talks about Adobe's new upgrade plan

From Scott Kelby's blog back in November: "...it’s my understanding that when the next version of Photoshop and the Creative Suite is released, if you do not already own Photoshop version CS5 or CS5.5 (or the 5 or 5.5 Creative Suite):

(a) You will not be eligible to upgrade to Photoshop CS6 (or the CS6 Creative Suite). Instead the only way to get Photoshop CS6 at that point will be to repurchase the entire product again at its full price (presumably $699 US). If you’re a CS4 Creative Suite User, you’ll have to buy the entire suite all over again to move to CS6.

(b) For Photoshop CS4, or CS3 users, their only real option is to pay to upgrade now to CS5.5 (though you are offering a 20% upgrade discount upgrade until the end of the year), and then to pay again to upgrade when Photoshop CS6 is released, or sign up for your new monthly subscription plan...."

"...Those users who didn’t upgrade to CS5 or 5.5, either couldn’t afford the upgrade, or couldn’t justify the upgrade, or they would already be on CS5 or 5.5. But now you’re kind of holding us hostage—–you’re making us buy something we don’t need now, just so we will still have the option to get something that we may want (CS6) when it is released without buying it all over again from scratch. You’re playing hardball with your customers—either upgrade twice or you’re out. That’s not the Adobe we know.

I have always felt that Adobe was very customer centric, and that their decisions were based on what’s best for their customers, but in this particular instance I can’t see how cutting off CS4 and CS3 users, and making them either pay two upgrades in a row, or pay the full retail price to get CS6, benefits anybody but Adobe ..."

Click here to read more.

Enjoy.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Upgrading CS3 and CS4 to CS6

This from Adobe: "We’re very excited about the upcoming release of Adobe® Creative Suite® 6 software and Adobe Creative Cloud™. CS6 will be a major new release of our creative desktop tools, with huge improvements for every type of creative professional. Adobe Creative Cloud will be our most comprehensive creative solution ever, giving members access to all of the CS6 desktop software plus additional services, new tools, Adobe Touch Apps, and rich community features. In addition, Creative Cloud members will receive continuous upgrades and updates to all products and services as part of their membership.

With these great new releases coming in the first half of 2012, we want to make sure our customers have plenty of time to determine which offering is best for them. Therefore, we’re pleased to announce that we will offer special introductory upgrade pricing on Creative Suite 6 to customers who own CS3 or CS4. This offer will be available from the time CS6 is released until December 31, 2012. More details on this offer, as well as any introductory offers for existing customers to move to Creative Cloud membership, will be announced when CS6 and Creative Cloud are released later this year.

Read the details about our Creative Suite upgrade policy.
Learn more about Adobe Creative Cloud."

Enjoy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Milwaukee hopes images of dead can heat up cold cases

This just in from CNN: "The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office is taking a drastic and admittedly desperate step in its effort to clear cold cases, some stretching back to 1970.

Law enforcement officials have long posted sketches or clay models - and more recently, digital reconstructions - of unidentified persons in hopes that a friend or loved one might recognize the deceased and help police identify them. Taking its lead from Las Vegas, Milwaukee County is taking it a step further and releasing actual photos of the deceased.

It sounds gruesome - and it is, if you peruse the Milwaukee medical examiner's unidentified persons site - but forensic investigator Michael Simley says that in the 17 cases featured, authorities have run out of options.

"They were born with a name, and they deserve to have that name in death," Simley said. "This is the best way to get that information out there to the public."

Just because bodies are found in Milwaukee County doesn't mean the deceased lived there. They may have been a homeless transient or perhaps a visitor, so Simley wanted to create a database anyone could search.

It's a twist on the U.S. Justice Department's NamUs system, which is a database of unidentified human remains. The database, which contains more than 8,000 cases, is searchable by sex, race, body features, dental information or other characteristics.

There are many systems like NamUs. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, South Carolina Coroner's Association, New York State Police, Texas Department of Public Safety and even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are among the law enforcement entities that post their John and Jane Does online, but they rely on reproductions of the deceased.

Milwaukee and Las Vegas appear to be the only U.S. cities whose police are posting photos of the actual bodies. The University of Milan in Italy, via its Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology, also maintains a website that uses actual photos.

A news release from the Clark County, Nevada, Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner states that since 2003, when it launched its own website and designated a group of investigators to handle cold cases, it has identified the remains of 30 people. The site says 152 remain to be identified, the oldest case dating back to 1969.

Milwaukee's site has yet to yield any identifications, but Simley noted it has only been live for a few weeks.

Simley knew the Milwaukee venture "may not sit well with some people," he said, so he took great care in how he arranged the site, putting up two pages of graphic content warnings before a visitor can view photos of the deceased. He decided the actual photos were a necessity after considering that all other leads in these cases had been exhausted and that sketches and clay composites can sometimes be inaccurate.

"Nothing quite describes a face like a picture of a face," he said ..."

Click here to read the whole article.

Enjoy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Judge cites 'unusual' issues, calls off sentencing for Spokane officer convicted in beating

This just in from TheRepublic.com: "A federal judge on Thursday called off the sentencing for a police officer convicted of using excessive force in a mentally disabled man's death, citing "unusual" circumstances for the move.

The order from U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle also paved the way for attorneys for police officer Karl F. Thompson to seek a new trial in the 2006 death of janitor Otto Zehm. The judge said a letter from a forensic video analyst that came "out of the blue" prompted the change.

The analyst, who was retained by prosecutors several years ago, decided that prosecutors had not fulfilled their duty to disclose any evidence he generated that showed Thompson was not guilty, the judge wrote.

In his order, the judge said "the analyst decided that, in his opinion, the government's disclosures are incomplete and inaccurate" but he had signed a confidentiality agreement that prevented him from discussing his work with people not associated with the government.

The court on Dec. 20 ordered prosecutors to release the analyst from the confidentiality agreement.

Prosecutors sent the judge a letter rejecting the allegation that they failed to accurately disclose the analysis to Thompson's defense lawyers. They also refused to release the analyst from his confidentiality agreement.

Van Sickle said "the circumstances giving rise to this order are unusual." There are no established procedures for dealing with a case in which an expert witness seeks release from a confidentiality agreement, he wrote.

But "the analyst's allegations raise serious constitutional issues," the judge said. "(Thompson) is entitled to a reasonable opportunity to investigate them."

Thompson's lawyers already have filed a motion for a new trial, claiming judicial error and juror misconduct during November's trial in Yakima, where the case was moved because of extensive publicity. The case badly damaged relations between Spokane police and residents.

In addition to vacating Thompson's scheduled sentencing on Jan. 27, the judge ruled that Thompson's defense team has 30 days to investigate the issues raised by the analyst, and has until Jan. 24 to supplement its motion for a new trial.

Thompson was convicted of violating Zehm's civil rights by using excessive force and then lying about it to investigators. Zehm, 36, died two days after the beating that involved numerous police officers.

Zehm, a schizophrenic, was the subject of a police search after two teenagers reported he might have stolen money at an ATM. It was later reported he had committed no crime. Thompson, the first officer to respond, found Zehm inside a convenience store. Surveillance video showed Thompson rushing up to Zehm with little or no warning, knocking him to the ground and repeatedly striking him with a police baton.

According to investigators, other officers later hogtied and sat on Zehm, who died without regaining consciousness. A medical examiner concluded Zehm died from lack of oxygen to the brain due to heart failure while being restrained on his stomach.

Thompson, who is free pending his sentencing, faces up to 20 years in prison. The 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran has spent 40 years as a law enforcement officer.

Spokane County officials had declined to press charges against him, prompting the federal government to step in. The case sharply divided Spokane residents, with some saying Thompson acted appropriately and others saying it was a clear sign of a police department that was out of control.

The case was a factor in the November defeat of Mayor Mary Verner, the recent resignation of police chief Anne Kirkpatrick and a recall campaign launched against Tucker ..."

Click here to read the article.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I told you so

Here's an interesting article from the Hartford Courant.

Here's a quote to set the stage: "The top two DNA scientists at the state's embattled crime lab have fashioned robust second careers as expert witnesses in criminal trials by racking up large amounts of compensatory time, then drawing on that comp time so they can pursue their side work on some weekdays." Where's the causality in this statement? Where's the follow-up analysis?

Here it is: "The practice has long been accepted, even encouraged, by former lab directors as a way to bolster the lab's reputation and credibility. But with the lab now (the modifier "now" means that it wasn't always this busy) toiling under one of the country's worst backlogs of untested crime-scene evidence, including DNA from hundreds of rapes and other felonies, Carll Ladd's and Michael Bourke's use of comp time is coming under increasing scrutiny." - the boss approved the practice. It wasn't always this busy. Staff and budgets haven't kept up with requests for service. Where's the story here? Wait, there's more ...

"A review by The Courant of their time sheets shows that Ladd took 64 full or partial days off from the state lab on comp time over the last two years. Bourke took 52 full or partial comp days off during that same period." - which means that Ladd worked at least 42 extra days during that time period (overtime), for which the compensation wasn't cash but time off. Bourke worked 34 extra days (overtime). Notice the complaint isn't that the two aren't working for their OT compensation - it's what they are doing with their free time. Where's the analysis of how many cases were presented years back vs. now vs. staff?

What isn't being said here is why aren't they being paid cash for their OT work? "Ladd said that he had offered to take a lump sum payment for some of the accrued time instead of taking it off in comp days, but that the state refused." When government goes broke, they pay OT in time instead of cash. Why are they broke? Why can't they hire? That's an easy one ... but is it Ladd and Bourke's fault?

Most civil servants have contractual limits as to how many hours they can bank. At my government job (City of LA MOU 2), I can officially bank 240 hours of comp time. Management will start sending people home after banking 150 hours. This means that I work OT for time - not cash. I then get to take it off later when it's convenient for both me and the city. That time off request has to be approved up the chain of command. I assume that Ladd and Bourke have the same situation.

What also goes unsaid in the article's first page (yes, they rather interestingly hide the follow-up on page two ... but you have to find out how to get there) is the fact that there aren't enough experts to go around. Think of the amount of cases that there are out there. The trier of fact needs as much help as it can get. You couple that with a trained expert idling at home burning comp time and ... I fail to see the correlation between sending the two experts home because the agency can't pay for OT (and what they do with their free time) and the agency's backlog. Clearly they're working a bunch of extra hours. Either appropriate more money for cash OT or hire more analysts (or contract out to a private lab).

I'm hearing more of these types of stories lately. There's no easy fix. But the solution isn't to go after folks for what they do with their free time.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

U.K. shows way forward on expert accountability

From the LawTimesNews: "... According to a recent Law Times story, Canadian lawyers are split over a British ruling that abolished the rule granting expert witnesses immunity from lawsuits (see “U.K. ruling spurs debate on expert immunity,” April 18).

But on which side of the debate do the experts fall in the ensuing discussion over Jones v. Kaney? As an orthopedic spine and trauma surgeon who has been an expert medical witness for both plaintiffs and defendants, I say bring it on.

I agree with Victoria lawyer Erik Magraken, who told Law Times the decision “is a welcome development from the perspective of accountability. . . . Being an independent expert can be lucrative and plays an important role in our system.”

In short, Britain has lifted the 400-year-old old rule decreeing that expert witnesses were free from the threat of liability if they made a mistake in their testimony. Now they can be liable. I like Britain’s approach because everyone, including expert witnesses, should be responsible for their actions.

That may seem simplistic, but if Canada adopted this approach, I would have no problem. It’s only fair. For example, if I assault someone on the street, I should pay the price.

By the same token, if I make an error or I provide care that’s below standard, I should be held responsible and I am. I don’t see why that responsibility should disappear because I’m now acting as an expert on the witness stand in court.

Having said that, there has been a development within this area as part of the revised Rules of Civil Procedure enacted Jan. 1, 2010, related to advocacy and bias. The changes deal with Form 53, something every medical expert witness has to sign before proceeding ..."

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Enjoy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fingerprint evidence called into question again.

From the New Scientist: "Fingerprints were once the cornerstone of forensic identification. Now a report into a miscarriage of justice has renewed pressure on print examiners to improve their methods, while two new studies reveal the extent of their fallibility. The results could change the fingerprint profession worldwide.

The Fingerprint Inquiry was launched by the Scottish government after detective Shirley McKie was acquitted of perjury. Flawed fingerprint analysis was the only evidence against her. The report, published on 14 December, concludes that human error was to blame and voices serious concerns about how fingerprint analysts report matches. It recommends that they no longer report conclusions with 100 per cent certainty, and develop a process for analysing complex, partial or smudged prints involving at least three independent examiners who fully document their findings.

The recommendations lay bare fundamental problems which have demanded attention for decades, says Jim Fraser, a forensic scientist at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, UK. In interviews with 400 fingerprint experts from around the world, he found that 80 per cent believe fingerprint identifications are reliable. And although several recent cases have hinted that fingerprint analysis should be treated with caution, it remains a mainstay of forensic identification.

Following calls to address forensic methods by the US National Academy of Sciences in 2009, a team led by Itiel Dror of University College London has investigated the weaknesses in fingerprint examination. In one study, they looked at whether allowing examiners to see a suspect's print when analysing one taken from a crime scene - common practice in fingerprint labs - would influence their judgement.

They gave 20 analysts from different countries 10 crime-scene prints, five of which were accompanied by a suspect's prints, and asked them to count "minutiae", or distinguishing characteristics, in the crime-scene prints. Seeing a suspect's print usually reduced the number of minutiae found. Examiners also identified different minutiae. Another group, of 10 analysts, differed in their conclusions about 10 prints when shown the same set several months later (Forensic Science International, DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2010.10.013). Dror likens it to a doctor giving two diagnoses - one benign, one fatal - for the same X-ray image.

In a separate study, he looked at how automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS), which are commonly used to trawl print databases and provide a list of possible matches, could sway judgement. He gave 23 examiners a print and AFIS lists of possible matches - but in some of the lists the position of the actual match on the list was changed ..."

Click here to continue reading.

Enjoy.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Discrete Cosine Transform

From MSU: "... Transform coding constitutes an integral component of contemporary image/video processing applications. Transform coding relies on the premise that pixels in an image exhibit a certain level of correlation with their neighboring pixels. Similarly in a video transmission system, adjacent pixels in consecutive frames2 show very high correlation. Consequently, these correlations can be exploited to predict the value of a pixel from its respective neighbors. A transformation is, therefore, defined to map this spatial (correlated) data into transformed (uncorrelated) coefficients ..."

Click here to read more.

Enjoy.