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Friday, March 27, 2020

A cultural shift in training delivery is happening

First of all, I hope this post finds you and yours in good health. I hope that you have enough to eat and have enough resources to meet your basic needs. I know that many folks have been sent home to work, some have even lost their jobs (some temporarily, some permanently). With courts closing and pushing trial calendars out, most of the legal support world is on hold. It's rough out there. I get it. I'm living it too.

I've had ample time to get caught up on projects, write papers, and fulfill my continuing education requirements. I switched to on-line learning for my own continuing education a while back, going 100% on-line about two years ago. As a consequence, I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of training and education offerings.

With the current crisis, vendors in the forensic science space are stuck. The learner population has, for generations, operated under the belief that they need to be physically present in the room with the instructor and their fellow students. Providers have reinforced this by only offering in-person training. Some occasionally ventured on-line, but the learners weren't there; it wasn't profitable so it wasn't offered again.

Now, travel is restricted. People have been sent home. Without all the usual economic activities, municipalities are seeing gigantic holes in their budget projections. The state and local agencies are appealing to the federal government for help. As of today, that help is still being debated in Congress. What it will look like, what will be prioritized, is yet to be seen. But, if government agencies' reaction to this crisis mirrors that of the 2007-2010 financial crisis, personnel will face pay cuts and only essential functions will be funded. Last time, training was not deemed essential. I'm guessing that will be the case again.

The vendors understand this too. Most have announced changes in their licensing terms as well as updates to their training schedules, moving training on-line. But, it's not that easy to shift paradigms. Organizing and delivering an in-person training session is entirely different that organizing and delivering an on-line training session. I should know, I've done both.

Some vendors are offering "webinar" based training. With these, you log into a portal like Zoom, and you watch as the instructor leads you through a "broadcast" version of the usual in-person training. You might see a split screen with their talking head and their computer's screen. But, Zoom users are facing throttling issues as so many are now working from home. Zoom, and it's competitors, have offered so many "free" accounts that they're now getting swamped. A few instructors are using these "free" accounts to host these "webinars." It's not going well. Added to this is the dispersed nature of the learner population. A 9-5 class, hosted in New Jersey, means a west coast USA learner must be up and ready to learn at 6am. Not optimal. I faced this issue learning SalvationData's VIP. Given their instructor was in central China, the course ran from 6-10pm, then continued in the early morning after I got a rather brief nap. It was crazy.

The other problem is price. If a vendor is utilizing a free or low cost service to host a webinar, do you expect to pay the same price as an in-person training session where you can not only get hands-on help from the instructor, but you can interact with your fellow learners? I should think not. Yet, many vendors do not discount their on-line offerings, or offer minimal discounts. They're counting on the fact that it's often the case that the learner is not spending their own money, but drawing from training funds at their agency. They're not price conscious because they don't have to be. Now, with the current budget uncertainty, learners must be very price conscious if they're going to get their training requests approved.

I share the aspirational goals of my country's leaders in that I hope to see the country back to work by Easter. It's aspirational - a best case scenario. Given the hit that the economy of the world has taken, I don't think the old training model will ever see the light of day again. Vendors must face the reality of restricted funds and restricted travel.

Back when I was working with Amped Software, Inc., and with Axon, many of us saw this problem coming. We saw the mentality of treating training like an extended vacation as unsustainable. Training staff can not be everywhere at once. Staffing costs are quite expensive, as is travel to the training location. In an economic crisis, the first thing to get eliminated was training. It happened before. It would happen again - and it has. I spent about a year researching the best options for moving on-line, eventually arriving at LearnUpon as our LMS provider about time the deal between Amped and Axon collapsed. When Apex was born from this, we were ready to move our offerings on-line. First out of the gate was Statistics for Forensic Analysts, a fully validated course delivered on-line as micro learning. Along the way to that, I earned a Masters in Education - Instructional Design.

All of my in-person courses have been totally revamped and assembled as micro learning offerings. The design and delivery isn't negatively affected by bandwidth problems. Our more popular introductory courses are currently available and have an active learner populations. They're steeply discounted versus in-person offerings. We don't use "free" webinar services, we have invested in a state of the art LMS, which does cost us a bit of money each year. Our more advanced courses will be available soon, now that I have more time to focus on the deliverables. Deliverables? Yes, our Photogrammetry class, for example, includes a complete set of instructions for going to your local building supply store in order to get the materials you'll need to build a reference rig for creating reverse projection recordings. It also includes the printer's template for creating your own resolution / height charts. With the current travel restrictions, as well as business' focus on the current crisis, it's not responsible to require learners to venture out to do these things. Thus, we'll wait until the world recovers.

Yes, we're obviously not offering "official" "vendor approved" courses. But, in fairness, how many vendors have instructional designers on staff? How many have formally validated their on-line courses as fulfilling their stated learning goals? How many have years of experience in the on-line space and utilize the best tools to deliver their training? To that end, how many actually understand how to create learning goals and outcomes for on-line learning events, then deliver upon those goals? Given the amount of grief I'm witnessing - head over to LinkedIn to see the stories - I'm guessing that learners are experiencing pretty terrible courses. Just because one is a subject matter expert, or a good in-person instructor, does not mean that one will be successful delivering upon learning goals in the asynchronous e-learning space.

Once you get settled and are looking for something to distract you from the fact that you've run through the entirety of the Netflix catalog, we're here for you with some amazing learning opportunities. You can sign up and start learning any time, no need to wait or coordinate schedules in order to attend a "webinar" hosted in some distant location. Our learning opportunities fit your schedule, that's the beauty of micro learning.

Have hope, my friends. Make aspirational goals. We'll get through this. Let's utilize the downtime to create good habits of self-care and self-improvement. Let's not waste our most precious resource, time. Have a great day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Working from home? Remember, Alexa hears everything.

As firms and agencies urge their employees to work from home during the global pandemic, their employees’ confidential phone calls run the risk of being heard by Amazon.com Inc. and Google.

Mishcon de Reya LLP, the U.K. law firm that famously advised Princess Diana on her divorce and also does corporate law, issued advice to staff to mute or shut off listening devices like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s voice assistant when they talk about client matters at home, according to a partner at the firm. It suggested not to have any of the devices near their work space at all.

Mishcon’s warning covers any kind of visual or voice enabled device, like Amazon and Google’s speakers. But video products such as Ring, which is also owned by Amazon, and even baby monitors and closed-circuit TVs, are also a concern, said Mishcon de Reya partner Joe Hancock, who also heads the firm’s cybersecurity efforts.

“Perhaps we’re being slightly paranoid but we need to have a lot of trust in these organizations and these devices,” Hancock said. “We’d rather not take those risks.”

The firm worries about the devices being compromised, less so with name-brand products like Alexa, but more so for a cheap knock-off devices, he added.

Like Wall Street, law firms are facing challenges trying to impose secure work-from-home arrangements for certain job functions. Critical documents, including those that might be privileged, need to be secured. Meanwhile in banking, some traders are being asked to work at alternative locations that banks keep on standby for disaster recovery instead of makeshift work-from-home stations to maintain confidentiality.

Smart speakers, already notorious for activating in error, making unintended purchases or sending snippets of audio to Amazon or Google, have become a new source of risk for businesses. As of last year, the U.S. installed base of smart speaker devices was 76 million units and growing, according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report.

Amazon and Google say their devices are designed to record and store audio only after they detect a word to wake them up. The companies say such instances are rare, but recent testing by Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that the devices can activate inadvertently between 1.5 and 19 times a day.

Tech companies have been under fire for compromising users privacy by having teams of human auditors listen to conversations without consent to improve their AI algorithms. Google has since said that users have to opt-in to let the tech giant keep any voice recordings made by the device. Amazon now lets its users set up automatic deletion of recordings, and opt out of manual review.

The law firm’s warning first surfaced on an Instagram account “justthequant,” where people share their intel and struggles of working from home.

This story was originally published on Bloomberg.com. Read it here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Definitions

When creating case reports, I like to use the terms from our discipline as defined in the various standards documents. Here are some of the most popular terms, and their definitions. Saving these here for quick reference.

DEFINITIONS

The following definitions for terms used herein are taken from the SWGDE Digital & Multimedia Evidence Glossary, Version 3.0 (June 23, 2016):

  • Compression - The process of reducing the size of a data file. (See also, “Lossy Compression” and “Lossless Compression”.) 
  • Compression Ratio - The size of a data file before compression divided by the file size after compression.
  • Forensic Photogrammetry - The process of obtaining dimensional information regarding objects and people depicted in an image for legal applications. 
  • Image Analysis - The application of image science and domain expertise to examine and interpret the content of an image, the image itself, or both in legal matters. 
  • Image Comparison (Photographic Comparison) - The process of comparing images of questioned objects or persons to known objects or persons or images thereof, and making an assessment of the correspondence between features in these images for rendering an opinion regarding identification or elimination.
  • Image Content Analysis - The drawing of conclusions about an image. Targets for content analysis include, but are not limited to: the subjects/objects within an image; the conditions under which, or the process by which, the image was captured or created; the physical aspects of the scene (e.g., lighting or composition); and/or the provenance of the image.
  • Image Enhancement - Any process intended to improve the visual appearance of an image or specific features within an image. 
  • Multimedia Evidence - Analog or digital media, including, but not limited to, film, tape, magnetic and optical media, and/or the information contained therein.
  • Native File Format - The original form of a file. A file created with one application can often be read by others, but a file’s native format remains the format it was given by the application that created it. In most cases the specific attributes of a file (for example, fonts in a document) can only be changed when it is opened with the program that created it. [Newton’s Telecom Dictionary] 
  • Nominal Resolution - The numerical value of pixels per inch as opposed to the achievable resolution of the imaging device. In the case of flatbed scanners, it is based on the resolution setting in the software controlling the scanner. In the case of digital cameras, this refers to the number of pixels of the camera sensor divided by the corresponding vertical and horizontal dimension of the area photographed. 
  • Photogrammetry - The art, science, and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the processes of recording, measuring, and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant energy and other phenomena. [The Manual of Photogrammetry, 4th Edition, 1980, ASPRS] In forensic applications, Photogrammetry, sometimes called “mensuration,” most commonly is used to extract dimensional information from images, such as the height of subjects depicted in surveillance images and accident scene reconstruction. Other forensic photogrammetric applications include visibility and spectral analyses. When applied to video, this is sometimes referred to as “videogrammetry.” 
  • Pixel - Picture element, the smallest component of a picture that can be individually processed in an electronic imaging system [The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th Edition 2007].
  • Proprietary File Format - Any file format that is unique to a specific manufacturer or product.
  • Quantitative Image Analysis - The process used to extract measurable data from an image. 
  • Validation - The process of performing a set of experiments, which establishes the efficacy and reliability of a tool, technique or procedure or modification thereof. 
  • Video Analysis - The scientific examination, comparison, and/or evaluation of video in legal matters.
  • Video Enhancement - Any process intended to improve the visual appearance of video sequences or specific features within video sequences.

The following definitions for terms used herein are taken from the SWGDE Best Practices for Photographic Comparison for All Disciplines, Version 1.1 (July 18, 2017):

  • Class Characteristic – A feature of an object that is common to a group of objects.
  • Individualizing Characteristic – A feature of an object that contributes to differentiating that object from others of its class.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Considering forensic science: individual differences, opposing expert testimony and juror decision making

In criminal and civil trials around the world, both sides will often retain experts in various forensic science fields to analyze evidence and present their findings to the jury. In a fair process, and employing science, it's hoped that two similarly trained and equipped will arrive at the same place in terms of conclusions. But, this is often not the case.

When experts disagree, judges (acting as gatekeepers) will often allow both sides to present their witnesses and their evidence, relying upon juries (as finders of facts) to decide on the truth of the matter. One is left to wonder, how reliable are juries in accurately engaging in this essential task?

A fascinating study was published in 2018 that seeks to address this issue. In Considering forensic science: individual differences, opposing expert testimony and juror decision making (link), the authors seek to answer this question.

Abstract: "Two experimental studies examined the effect of opposing expert testimony on perceptions of the reliability of unvalidated forensic evidence (anthropometric facial comparison). In the first study argument skill and epistemological sophistication were included as measures of individual differences, whereas study two included scores on the Forensic Evidence Evaluation Bias Scale. In both studies participants were assigned to groups who heard: (1) no expert testimony, (2) prosecution expert testimony, or (3) prosecution and opposing expert testimony. Opposing expert testimony affected verdict choice, but this effect was mediated by perceptions of reliability of the initial forensic expert's method. There was no evidence for an effect on verdict or reliability ratings by argument skill or epistemology. In the second experiment, the same mediation effect was found, however scores on one subscale from the FEEBS and age also affected both verdict and methodological reliability. It was concluded that opposing expert testimony may inform jurors, but perceptions of the reliability of forensic evidence affect verdict, and age and bias towards forensic science influence perceptions of forensic evidence. Future research should investigate individual differences that may affect perception or bias towards forensic sciences under varying conditions of scientific reliability."

A fascinating and informative read.

Enjoy your day, my friends.

Monday, March 9, 2020

COVID-19 and the cancellation of everything

I received word today that the IWCE 2020 conference in Las Vegas has been postponed. I was scheduled to speak at the conference, so I suddenly a few more free days on my calendar.

Having recently travelled cross country, twice, I can tell you that no one is quite sure what to do or how to act. I think US companies and agencies are acting with an abundance of caution thus far. Meanwhile, according to CNBC, Italy has placed itself on lockdown.

Practice good hygiene. Get plenty of rest. Eat right. Breathe. Remember, we got through SARS, Swine Flu, and Bird Flu in the recent past. We'll get through this.

BTW, if you're looking for something to do whilst self-quarantining, Amped released a new version of FIVE today. Three cheers: along with some UI / UX improvements, audio redaction has finally arrived. Hip hip hooray!

Stay safe, my friends.