Friday, February 15, 2019

A decade later, still going strong

About a decade ago, Photoshop officially became a verb in Los Angeles and I began my quest for the tool or tools that would replace my old friend. I stumbled upon a small Italian company with an amazing product - Amped SRL and it's flagship product, FIVE. I was instantly a fan. Becoming a customer was a bit more problematic as I wasn't officially a "forensic analyst" yet. As a surveillance / counter-surveillance operator, I used the fact that FIVE could connect to a Milestone Client (my Axis pole cameras) and do all those wonderful "Photoshoppy" things to the live feed. Thus, I pitched my original purchase request noting that FIVE was an ISR tool needed to add capabilities to our night-time surveillance operations.

I finally received a license, getting quite creative in the acquisition process, and began to sort out training. There was no way that my agency would send me to Italy and it was too cost prohibitive to bring an Italian instructor to Los Angeles. Luckily, the North American reseller of Amped's products was about a half-day's drive from LA. I booked a "training session" and headed down the highway.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a friendly face and an outstretched arm that was holding a rather tasty local brew. We discussed the filters, in no particular order. We discussed use cases, in no particular order. That I had existing expertise in photography and imaging helped me to make sense and contextualize the information. But, it wasn't "training" as I recognized it or as CA POST defined it.

I made my host an offer. I'm a trained and educated curriculum / instructional designer. I'm a CA POST certified instructor. I'll design / create / deliver a curriculum for multi-media analysis, based on Amped FIVE, and deliver it to your customers under contract. Given that I often earned about half-again my income as "comp time " (aka furloughed-in-place), and that I had to use that "comp time" rather frequently, I worked out that I could deliver a training session somewhere in North America about once per month. Agreement was reached and the relationship with Amped Software, Inc. began.

Fast forward to today. I've been all over the US as a contract instructor. I've been to Canada. I've trained agents of more than 50 countries who wanted to come to the US for their training. I've spent an amazing 3 weeks in South Africa working with their police service in modernizing their offerings. A little more than 3 years ago, I retired from the LAPD and joined the staff of Amped Software, Inc, as the Director of Support / Training.

The curriculum that was developed for the North American market is fit for purpose in this market. It's not necessarily applicable for other markets around the world, although there are many similarities. I have found that the modifications made, and the specific curriculum variant created for the US military courts easily accommodates countries with a Magistrate system of jurisprudence. When teaching courses with non-US students, I make every effort to contextualize the offerings to their context.

Whilst the rest of the world moves at a slower pace, the North American market changes quite a bit year-over-year. You might of heard that Amped decided to not continue with Axon as a reseller of it's products in this market last year. What you might not know is how the changes in the latest tax laws (federal and state) have caused significant impact to the market.

To respond to the changes in tax / business law, as well as in response to the economic / market demands, I've made the decision to expand training offerings to the on-line space via a micro-learning model as a separate business entity. Being the rights-holder of my curriculum's IP, I'm able to be flexible in where / how the curriculum is presented.

The Apex Learning portal was launched shortly after the first of this year on the LearnUpon LMS. You can find out more by clicking here. All of the training that I've presented live will eventually be offered on-line via a micro-learning model. The first course is already released - Statistics for Forensic Analysts.

If you're a long-time LEVA member, like me, you might recall my mentioning a "curriculum in a box concept." The "curriculum in box" is an "undergraduate education" in digital multimedia analysis. This will eventually be fully implemented in the Apex Learning portal. The first of these classes, the aforementioned Stats class, is already live. More courses will be released soon. Next up, however, will be a redaction class that is a response to the new laws in California - but applicable to any agency faced with redacting DME under tight budgetary and time constraints.

As budgets tighten, and travel becomes a problem, migrating training and education to the virtual space, facilitated by the micro-learning model, is the logical next step. The cost savings of not having to travel to you, or for you to travel to me, is passed along in significantly lower registration costs. As an example, an undergraduate Stats class offered at Texas A&M University would cost a Texas resident about $1200 (source). This is the base rate for the class. There are also admission fees, the fees to take the pre-requisite courses, and the travel to / from College Station over the semester. Apex is offering the course at $595.

The generic university course in statistics is geared to the academic, interested in the world of objective statistics. This world is entirely different than the statistics that underpin the forensic sciences - subjective statistics. That is why, after a solid introduction, Statistics for Forensic Analysts explores the two types of statistics separately and fairly. This class is for consumers and producers of statistics within the forensic sciences - not for the quants who inhabit the university halls.

Future offerings will be priced in a similar fashion. We're able to pass the savings on to you, and we do.

It's also worth noting that the courses on offer are not "in competition" with the other classes available to analysts. As an example, the Stats class is entirely complimentary to the LEVA Levels courses and serves to further inform these information-dense offerings. The Forensic Photographic Comparison course that will arrive on the portal later this year will similarly serve as an incredible scientific foundation to LEVA's Level 3. There's no way a single vendor can offer everything that you need. We're offering courses not currently present in the market in order to support the community - not to replace offerings from your current vendors.

Finally, I'll be updating the Forensic Photoshop book and the Forensic Photoshop course and offering them via the portal. A complete refresh of the tools and plug-ins will be featured for those who are still using Photoshop. Remember, courses like LEVA Level 3 still feature Photoshop as their platform. If a student is new to Photoshop, they must learn the meat of the course and the platform at the same time. Revamping the Forensic Photoshop course will allow the LEVA student to arrive at that course with competency in the tool, assuring that they can be all-in on the instruction. For those privateers who can't afford expensive tools from government-oriented vendors, tools from companies like Adobe are still popular. DME-specific courses are needed and will be presented in the portal.

It's an exciting time here. I'm thankful that you've been with me for this amazing journey. The next few years will bring so much change to the market. Will you join with me in embracing change and upgrading your knowledge?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Training, training, and more training

With the new year comes new tax laws, new regulations, and new rules that require businesses and individuals to modify their path as they navigate the world of governmental compliance. It's no different here in stormy southern Nevada.

But, with change comes opportunity. 2019 brings change for the better, and more training offerings than ever before.

I've already announced the release of Statistics for Forensic Analysts. This is offered as micro-learning, on-line and on-demand and comes in response to initiatives at the federal and state level. Given that statistics form the foundation of much of opinion based testimony in the digital forensic sciences, as well as the other disciplines that offer photographic comparison evidence (latent print, tool mark, firearms, questioned documents, etc), this class is designed to provide the necessary instruction in statistics - specifically tailored for forensic science practitioners.

With redaction begin the focus of much of the US, as well as being the focus of a new set of laws in California, I've announced a redaction class specific for California agencies to help not only with mastering the technology ... but also navigating complex a legal context. This class comes in four versions, if you will. If you're an Amped Software customer, the hands-on learning will be facilitated with Amped FIVE (video) and Audacity (audio). If you're an Adobe customer, the hands-on learning will be facilitated with the Adobe Creative Suite. If you're a Magix customer, the hands-on learning will be facilitated with Vegas and Sound Forge. And, if you haven't decided on a solution, our general class will provide an overview of all of these solutions, giving you a sense of what may work best for you, your agency, and your legal context. Even if you're not in California, their strict regime's rules help to illustrate the many compliance issues you may not realize apply to you and your agency.

All of these redaction classes will be offered via micro-learning, maximizing your training dollars and offering significant savings over traveling to training. Partnering with LearnUpon for the LMS, these micro-learning sessions are available world-wide with local currency payment options via Square, PayPal, or TransferWise. They will also be offered in Henderson, NV. If you've got a big group, and you'd like a training session at your location, that can be arranged as well. In fact, all of the offerings going forward will be available this way - on-line, in Henderson, or at your location.

It's going to be an exciting year. I'm excited that technology has evolved such that it's becoming easier and more cost effective to offer flexible training options. So stay tuned, it's going to be a fun ride. New offerings will be rolling out each month. In the meantime, head over and sign up for Statistics for Forensic Analysts ...

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Reproducibility

One of the scenarios that multimedia analysts find themselves in when doing casework is reproducing the work of others. Sure, you've been trained on the tools that you use. But, have you been trained on the tools that others use? This is one of the many reasons I have always advocated analysts have a "one of each" mentality. Get all the available tools. Get all of the available training.

If opposing counsel's analyst has used Adobe products, for example, do you the training and experience with these tools? What if the analyst is using an older version of the tools?

As an example of this, I have an old laptop with Photoshop CS2 running the legacy scripts from Reindeer Graphics. Sure, Chris Russ has new tools available, like his new Forensic ID plug-in. I like Forensic ID. I like that I can visually adjust the deconvolution filter, not relying so much on specific numbers and targeting the results. But, there are still times when I'll need the old stuff (cold case work, appeals, etc.). That's why I keep everything.

If you're a Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, you can access older versions of their tools via the web site. The "Other Downloads" page has a complete listing of the legacy versions, each coming with specific warnings about updates and security. I recommend installing these in Virtual Machines so as to not compromise your host OS' security.


Find the needed installer. Install it into a VM (I like VirtualBox). Take the opposing analyst's notes. Attempt to reproduce the work and results. Document your work. Done.

Over at the Amped Support Portal, similar functionality exists for users with current support contracts. You'll find the change log and installers for previous versions.


For other tools, like Doug Carner's Video Cleaner, only the current version is readily available on the company's web site. If you're using a tool from a company that only hosts the current release, you'll want to keep a copy of each version's installer. If you're working the other side of a case, and the analyst is using an older version of VideoCleaner, or similar tool, you'll likely have to reach out to the developer / company for the older version's installer. Whilst Doug is a nice man and will likely send you a download link rather quickly, other companies might not be so accommodating. It may take a request from the court, written to the software company, to get the older installer and a temporary license. Or, as has happened to me, the court may rule that you're not allowed to use your preferred tool as it's not available to the other side (licensing restrictions, cost, etc.).

This year, reproducing others' work in various tools will be the focus of a series of informational videos that I'll be creating and hosting over at Screencast.com. Stay tuned for that.

Enjoy.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Training Notice: Statistics for Forensic Analysts

I'm pleased to announce that Apex Learning, our state-of-the-art learning portal, is officially launching today with our first offering - Statistics for Forensic Analysts.

Statistics play an important and expanding role in criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials, not least in relation to forensic scientific evidence produced by expert witnesses. The Royal Statistical Society (UK) began a process in 2010 to inform and educate stakeholders in the justice system in with their publication of Fundamentals of Probability and Statistical Evidence in Criminal Proceedings. From that original work product, a total of four publications have been produced from the Society’s Statistics and the Law Section. Simultaneously, the National Commission on Forensic Science (US) began to study the issue. Several of its subcommittees have informed the discussion on the use of statistics in forensic science, issuing various guidance documents to the US Department of Justice. In 2015, the US state of Texas passed SB-1287 creating a licensing program for forensic science practitioners and analysts. Within the Texas licensing program, analysts will be tested across a variety of foundational domains in order to obtain licensure, including statistics.

What's different about Apex Learning?

To accommodate learners around the world, we're packaging these courses as micro-learning and delivering them on-line. Upon sign-up, learners have up to 60 days to complete each course.

We're leveraging a state-of-the-art learning management system to deliver quality training and education offerings that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This reduces the cost to train / educate each analyst dramatically. We're passing the savings on to the customer, as you'll see in our first offering's price.

With PayPal, we can accept payment in the majority of the world's currencies. For institutional orders (multiple students from the same agency), we can accept bank transfers in over 30 currencies from our European based TransferWise accounts.

Our courses aren't designed to compete with anyone's offerings. They're designed to complement them by adding depth and breadth, shoring up topics that the average analyst might not be exposed to.

Stay tuned as we roll out more offerings. It's going to be a great year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Training Notice: Redaction for California SB1421 / AB748 Compliance

Training Notice

Recent legal changes in California have impacted the way in which agencies handle video / multimedia evidence requests from the public. Complying with the new laws, and maintaining compliance with state and federal privacy codes requires agencies to manage the processing of requests quite carefully. Requests for records around a critical event can quickly swamp an agency’s staff given the new statutory time frames for the release of data.

Senate Bill 1421, Skinner (D. Berkeley), opens public access to internal investigations of police shootings and other incidents where an officer killed or seriously injured someone, as well to sustained findings of sexual assault and lying on the job.

Assembly Bill 748, Ting (D. San Francisco), requires police departments to release within 45 days audio or video footage of shootings or other incidents involving serious use of force, unless it would interfere with an active investigation.

This in-person course will get the agency and their redaction staff up to speed on the issues and the technology necessary to bring the agency into compliance with the new laws.

Location: Apex Partners, Ltd., Henderson, NV USA

Date: April 2-3, 2019

Product Information: Adobe Creative Suite

Click here for more information and to sign-up for this course.

This course can be brought to the agency. Visit the web site to find out how.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Test your report's readability

One of the concepts that I tend to repeat when training folks in the forensic sciences is that our work should target the last mechanical device that will display or project our work products as well as targeting the combined perceptual abilities of the Trier of Fact. Working in this way, there will be no surprises when it comes to presenting your work.

The same is true for your reports. Your reports will make sense to you. You wrote them. They'll make sense to your quality control staff (your reviewers) as they tend to exist in the same culture and climate as you. But, will they make sense to the Trier of Fact - without you having to explain it to them?

There is functionality within our toolset to help with this question - how readable is my report? If you're using MS Word to draft your reports, it's actually quite easy to set this up.

  • Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  • Click Proofing.
  • Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected.
  • Select Show readability statistics.



After you enable this feature, open a file that you want to check, and check the spelling by pressing F7 or going to Review > Spelling & Grammar. When Word finishes checking the spelling and grammar, it displays information about the reading level of the document.


Each readability test bases its rating on the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence. The following sections explain how each test scores your file's readability.

Flesch Reading Ease test (references)

Originally developed for the US Navy in 1975, this test rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most forensic science processing / analysis reports, you want the score to be between 55 and 70. Given that we'll have to use standard scientific terminology, it will be difficult to achieve readability scores higher than 70.

The formula for the Flesch Reading Ease score is:

206.835 – (1.015 x ASL) – (84.6 x ASW)

where:

ASL = average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences)

ASW = average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

This test rates text on a U.S. school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For your reports, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 10.0. It will prove difficult to bring these values down, as noted above, due to our use of scientific language which gets averaged into the total score.

The formula for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is:

(.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59

where:

ASL = average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences)

ASW = average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)


The Readability Statistics shown above is from a raw authentication report - before editing and before the insertion of the plain English explanations for each of the processes.

Given that about 95% of cases plea and never see the inside of a court room, it's vitally important that your reports be readable.  95% of your reports will be read, interpreted, and acted upon without your being present to help the reader understand what you said / meant. With this simple tool that is built into many word processing applications, you can assure that your reports are readable, and at what grade level.

If you're using Google Docs, you'll need to run your report through another app or web site. Readability Statistics were removed some time ago.

Enjoy.