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Thursday, August 28, 2008

IE 8 Beta 2 - ready to download

Microsoft has announced that Internet Explorer 8 - Beta 2 is available for download. But, before you rush out and download it, read what others are saying, and why you might want to wait until the full version gets released.

One of the new features, the so-called "porn mode," or private browsing, is an interesting development. Even funnier is that the private browsing feature is the default mode. Just what is Microsoft saying about its customers?

As always, I recommend against putting beta version on your production machines. Use a throw-away computer to test software. Better yet, use a virtual disk or Faronics Deep Freeze. Or ... skip IE altogether and get a Mac.

Say it isn't so

Technology advances, time moves forward, and things change ... I never thought that they'd put lights at Wrigley Field, but they did. Now this. Video replay in baseball? Where will it stop?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Variables part 3 - the set up

Probably the most important thing to remember in using Variables, or data-driven graphics in your workflow is the set-up.

Here's the key: each item that will change needs to be on a separate layer. Those items that do not change can be put on a single layer, if you wish. Here's a sample look at setting up your file.

Background layer (remember - variables can't be defined on a background layer):
  • the poster's header and footer. Those items that are in common across the entire department. This can include the headline (if it doesn't change), department logos, contact information and so forth.
  • the poster's guides, boxes, and other layout aids
Image layers (each item gets its own layer):
  • The suspect, or person of interest's photo
  • Additional photos for tattoos, scars, etc.
  • warning graphics - such as "armed and dangerous", "in-custody," "released" and so forth
  • any other graphic that changes or may change for each poster
Text Layers (each item gets its own layer):
  • Each unique bit of information should get its own layer
  • If the font or style changes, create a new layer
With all of these pieces laid out on your page, you've now created your template. Save the file as a PSD. With the PSD file in hand, we can begin to assign the variable information.

Common Sense

In a recent ruling, the judge called for common sense in dealing with objections to the use of CCTV as evidence in trial.

Raising some key criteria, he indicated among other points the following:

1. Not a single word in the recording had been questioned.

2. That defence did not have another version of what happened, and did not deny that things did not happen in the way portrayed in the recording.

3. That while experts had claimed that digital recording could be manipulated or altered in some way, the defence had failed to show that this had been done.

4. The person collecting the evidence had been accepted as skilled enough to handle and store data.

5. The recordings were audible and clear.

6. The manner in which the information had been generated, stored and communicated has gone unscathed by the defence.

An important point that emerges from this discussion is that just because digital evidence can be altered, it does not mean that it is therefore excluded. The judge above noted “Is it enough to say that it can be altered in the absence of evidence that this actually occurred? (ibid.). There are a number of other criteria by which it may be tested for its authenticity and originality. Even an imperfect CCTV video may be relevant for a case, given the right support. However, some general principles emerge for the case.

* Do not rely only on the video footage unless it has strong technological integrity and has been handled properly.

* Wherever possible, use other sources of evidence to confirm what the video footage is saying.

* Ensure that the person who collected the data can authenticate it and that they are competent in gathering it.

* Minimise any transfer of data and avoid editing data until such time as the status of the original has been confirmed.

* State what the footage is showing and how that is relevant for the case in question – this will determine evidential weight.

* Avoid any potential for sensationalising data or use for publicity purposes as this detracts from the key purpose of the video and suggests alternative interests.

In the judgment discussed above, the judge noted that previous judgments showed that the courts were embracing the digital age with caution ...

Read the rest of the article by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Variables - part 2

The Wanted Poster, an age old concept. The basic look and feel of it hasn't changed in over a hundred years. The Wanted Poster serves a vital function, getting the word out about people who are of interest to law enforcement.

Variables allows us to use data to drive graphics and the creative process. Data ... the who, what, where ... combines with the overall design of the poster. The data may change but the underlying template remains the same. Thus, the Wanted Poster serves as the perfect example of using Variables, using data-driven graphics in law enforcement. Let's take a closer look.

The general steps are as follows:
  1. Create the basic graphic that will serve as your template. Use layers to separate the elements that will change, such as the text layers for name and offense, as well as the mug shot.
  2. Define the Variables. Tell Photoshop which elements will change.
  3. Create or import the data. You can create the data sets within the template. However, as you will be bringing in crime alert data from another program, it is more than likely that you will import them from a text file.
  4. Preview. Test your graphic and text linking. Make sure all Variables have been correctly assigned and the image/text swapping works as you intended.
  5. Export. Create the final graphics by exporting them with the data.
Does all of this seem complicated? It's not. Next, we'll take a look at each step in detail. I think that you'll see just how cool this little known function can be.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Photoshop help from NAPP

If you haven't done so already, check out the Photoshop User web site. It's part of the benefits of joining the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, or NAPP.

Your membership entitles you to a beautiful monthly magazine, access to tons of members only content on their web site, discounts, forums, and much more. I've been a member for years and highly recommend it for anyone interested in taking their Photoshop skills to the next level.

Where everyone learns Photoshop - National Association of Photoshop Professionals

Friday, August 22, 2008

digital vs. analogue - evidentiary issues

What's better, analogue or digital? Is paper evidence better than digital evidence? Do you need the original file, or will "the best evidence" suffice? Who is to say what constitutes "the best evidence?"

"It's potentially the thorniest question in e-discovery, but one that has received very little attention in the courts. Authenticating digital evidence in civil trials has not gotten a lot of judicial attention in part because most civil cases never go to trial, but also because lawyers and judges tend to treat it no different than paper evidence, writes Jason Krause on Law.com.

"The rule of evidence that fits the new paradigm most awkwardly is the Best Evidence Rule, which requires that the original of writing must be admitted into evidence. However, presenting an actual computer file in trial is not always practical, so printouts are generally accepted in lieu of the actual file. But as was noted in Armstrong v. Executive Office of The President, a paper printout of an electronic document doesn't "necessarily include all the information held in the computer memory as part of the electronic document," because essential digital information is stripped away."

"Experts say the best way to avoid problems is to always ask for the original, electronic version of a file, or to at least make sure that the original is available for study if any authenticity questions arise. Simek says that he recently dealt with a case where one side presented a photo for evidence, but once he looked at the original digital file the print was made from, it was very easy to see the photo was taken long after it was purported to have been shot. "I always tell my clients, 'don't ever accept paper,'" he says. "There is metadata, headers, and time stamps all over electronic files that tell you things paper never will."

Read the rest of this outstanding article by clicking here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

RIP Casey Caudle

Please take a moment to remember the life, good works, and good deeds of Casey Caudle, a Forensic Video and Image Analysis Examiner with Target Corporation who recently passed away.

Keep his family and friends in your prayers. 

To read what Casey's friends are saying, click here.

May almighty God, in his infinite mercy, grant that we may meet again, to part no more.

Update: From Dorothy Stout of Resolution Video

In Memory of Casey Caudle
August 20, 2008
We are all saddened to hear about the death of Casey Caudle, Forensic Video and Image Analysis Examiner for Target Corporation, and part-time Instructor for Resolution Video. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.

His Funeral Service will be held Saturday, August 23rd, at 2PM at the 1st Baptist Church in Ardmore, OK. The family is requesting that no flowers be sent. A trust fund for Casey's children will be created and more information will be forthcoming. If you would like to send letters or cards, please send them to:

Craig Thrane
Target Corporation
TPN 0303 
7000 Target Parkway
Brooklyn Park, MN. 55445

I also wanted to let you know that Larry Compton of Media-Geek.com will be providing a collective memorial page on his website. This is wonderful place to share with others your stories about Casey as well as how he impacted your life. I have smiled and found comfort from the few posts that are already there. I hope you will take a moment to share your memories and read the memories of others too.

Below is a small memory of my own: 
I met Casey a while back through the forensic video community and got to know him well over the years. Although I had met Casey before, we had the chance to sit down and talk at a training class in Dallas, TX back in 2004. During the class I teamed him with a student who needed extra time to learn and the student was driving him a bit crazy. I remember telling Casey that out of all the people in the class I knew he was the only one who had the patience to be this student's partner. So I bought him a drink (Jack Daniels of course) to thank him for his perseverance and we talked.

Since that time Casey provided me with much needed support and encouragement. He kept me laughing by teasing me with nicknames and he pushed my intellect by asking too many questions. I appreciated his candor and his wit. But most of all I valued his friendship.

It is difficult for me to express how deeply saddened I am to loose Casey as a colleague and a friend. Let me simply end this message by saying Casey will truly be missed.

Dorothy Stout
Resolution Video Inc.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Variables and the wanted poster

Image>Variables ... what is this? 

So began a question in a recent e-mail. Excellent question. Variables are an outstanding way to create data-driven graphics for law enforcement purposes.

Create a wanted poster template and you can produce dozens of different posters, each with it's unique information and images.

Have I got your interest yet?

We'll explore this cool tool in the next series of posts.

Until then, enjoy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

how did you do that?

Following up on an e-mail, this should help fill in the notes from NATIA.
  • Shift+Cmd+N = Creates a new layer and gives you the ability to name it (at the same time). Neat freaks will like this one.
  • Right click / Control click on the file name on the window bar to reveal its location on your computer.

Forensic Photography Testing - the IAI

For all of those taking the Forensic Photography certification test today at the IAI Conference, the best of luck to you. It's so nice to see so many Photoshop offerings at the IAI. Add to that the new Video/Image Forensics certification under consideration and the IAI is finally starting to look good for Image analysts.

Enjoy the conference.

Monday, August 18, 2008

cruising the blogosphere

Rusty, one of the many non-professionals out there in the blogosphere, took this picture whilst walking around in Los Angeles.

There are so many people walking around with a decent camera. Some of them, like Rusty have a pretty good eye for the shot.

A little colour and detail touch-up work and Rusty's eye for LA really jumps off the screen. Hopefully the positive feedback and encouragement will help this "simple guy" continue to snap and post his work for all to enjoy.

Keep up the good work Rusty!

Using photos to enhance video?

Make sure you get plenty of sleep before reading this white paper. It is a theory heavy look at using photos to enhance video of static scenes. There's a video that goes along with it. It presents some interesting ideas. Equally interesting is who is involved.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

He's watching your every move ... but who is he?

Even the most private of citizens leave an information trail. Just how big is that store of data? Read this interesting article from the UK Telegraph.

In a related story, officials from New York are off to London for a bit of advice. Want my advice, travel to Utah. They seem to know the secret of relatively low crime per capita ... trust your citizens - issue concealed carry permits.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lightroom Certification

I put a post up on the Forensic Lightroom blog yesterday about Lightroom's ACE exam being available. For those interested in certifications, here's another one to add to the list.


There is a new organisation forming in the forensic imaging world. Check out the Association of Forensic Multimedia Analysts at theafma.org.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Job qualifications

I've had several questions about getting work in forensics. Some wanted to know about working for government agencies. Getting a job with the government can be a long process. Some jobs require clearances and lots of paperwork.

Applying for government service jobs can be a very intrusive process. How's your credit? How do your neighbours feel about you? Do you have relatives overseas? What about your medical history?

"You may think that you can just apply for the clearance and in no time the job will be yours, but the process isn’t quite that simple.

You cannot obtain a security clearance for yourself. Your current or prospective employer has to do this for you. Since the process is costly and time-consuming, organizations won’t do it unless it’s absolutely essential. Make sure you arm yourself with the following information so you’re ready to apply for the jobs you are targeting."

Check out the rest of the story by clicking here. PoliceLink has some really helpful information on getting work in government service.

Monday, August 11, 2008

cyber-war affecting services?

I don't know if it's a coincidence, or ??? ... but has this cyber-war affected services. Mail is spotty today. Blogger won't upload photos. The connection is slow. Coincidence ... I sure hope so.

a wee bit of history

Photoshop 1.0.7 Workspace

What a difference a few years makes. At its core, it's still the same program. Check out the history of Photoshop from Photoshop 0.63 to CS2 by clicking here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

when will they learn?

"Ironically, the cameras stopped working not necessarily because of lack of maintenance, that has been the official attitude of government to public facilities, but because of lack of planning and cluelessness."

"With Nigeria’s sorry electricity situation, such a project should not have been contemplated without first solving the problem of powering it after installation. The issue of alternative power supply should have been an important decision to be accorded priority in determining whether the cameras should be bought in the first place and the type to be installed."

Read more here.

Premiere Pro CS3 - exporting still images

So, here we are. We've set up our project. We've imported assets into our bin. Now, we want to get still images out. Here's the quick and easy way.

Double clicking on the clip in the bin loads it in the Preview Monitor. Once there, you can set your In and your Out Points.

Once the In and Out Points are set, click and hold the clip from within the Preview Window and drag it on to the Timeline. You may have to press the Return/Enter key to render the clip on the time line. Setting the In/Out Points within the Preview window will allow you to speed up your work and sets up the next step.

Click on File>Export>Movie. This will allow you to export a sequence of still images (we'll get to the single frame export next). You'll be presented with the following dialog box.

From the File Type drop-down menu, select Tiff. For your Range, select Entire Sequence. Since we trimmed the clip down to only that area in which we are interested, we can export the sequence of stills and get the sequence of stills out of Premiere in a few simple clicks. Select your destination and click OK.

To export a single frame from the Timeline, select File>Export>Frame. Select the destination folder and click OK.

In all, exporting still frames from Premiere Pro CS3 is a relatively easy process. You have the option of exporting a range of frames, or a single frame. Once the image is out of Premiere, it's time to move over to Photoshop to clarify and prepare the images for print / electronic distribution, and/or archival.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

a point of clarification

The topic came up recently, so I thought I should clarify a few points.
  • My blogs and my books are works of my own creation. They do not represent any of my employers or clients, either past or present (see the disclaimer below - which has been there all along).
  • The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent those of any of my employers or clients, either past or present.
  • When I say "we," I do not mean anyone other than those in my employ - me and my business, not my employers or clients, either past or present.
  • The blogs, both Forensic Photoshop and Forensic Lightroom, are free. Google provides the space for free and I (and others) provide the content for free. There are links scattered throughout the many posts and links and ads on the side bar. You are under no obligation to visit any of them. You may continue to enjoy the blogs, free of charge, for as long as they remain posted in this free space.
  • Yes, I work for a large agency in a large city on the west coast of the US. If you wish to reach out to me there, feel free to do so through the Office of the Chief of Police or the Media Relations Office (as several have already done).

If you are reading this blog at work, make sure that you are following your agency's acceptable internet use policy - the last thing I want to do is to get you into trouble for reading this free resource.

Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of you for your continued support of my efforts. I absolutely enjoy writing and sharing what I've found with the community at large. I love the fact that when you feel moved to do so, you share your comments with the rest of us. We've past 300 posts a little while ago. Here's to hundreds more!

Premiere Pro CS3 - Importing Footage

Sometimes even the most basic of functions are difficult when you don't speak the language. Years ago, living in Germany and having a few semesters of college German, getting around town and paying the bills was problematic at times. There were even differences between the "high German" of the north and the stuff I learned in school, and the dialect spoken in the part of the country that I lived in - more of a "country" German. But, you get in there and you learn it. You figure out that zwei and zwo are the same word, and that Tschuss and und Tschuss mean two entirely different things (the latter may get you into significant trouble depending on how may friends you have with you at the time). You don't have much choice.

The same is true for the "language" of software programs. Who knew, prior to getting into this work, that you capture video from a tape, but you import it if it's already been captured somewhere else? Once you learn the language, things start to make sense again.

At NATIA, we didn't have a capture source. Dave held up an ADVC as an exemplar of one of the many possible capture aids. The ADVC, in concept, takes an analog source and digitizes it ... sending the compressed footage (about 5:1) over a Firewire or USB cable to your NLE for processing. For purposes of discussion, we skipped over capturing video and talked about importing clips. 

Once the project is created, importing is easy. Either select File>Import or right-click in the bin and select Import.

Creating your project was hard enough. Importing clips is the easy part, sort of. There are the usual codec problems with AVI files. VirtualDub can help eliminate this problem. VOB files won't go in directly, but you can play with the file extension and get them in as MPEGs (just make sure that your project settings are matched to your source). If you're working with still shots, you can bring those in as well (do yourself a favour and number them sequentially).

Now that our files are loaded in the bin, we'll look at getting still images out for further processing in Photoshop.

Until then, enjoy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Premiere Pro CS3 - New Project Settings

Yesterday we asked some tough questions about our workflow and the choices that we are making when working with digital multimedia evidence (DME). Premiere Pro CS3 is an incredibly robust program. It can help us do some amazing things with video and images. But, many users are frustrated and confused by the many options available in setting up projects. I don't blame them.

One of the things that I've found hilarious over the years is when books are written to help users, and they say things like "you'll be sure to find a pre-set that will match the majority of the media that you'll likely be working with." That statement rarely applies to our work. Where's the preset for "Costco DVR" or "Eyemax 9120?" Readers of other blogs will find comments like "its your camera's problem, not Premiere's" when you are looking to solve problems related to small or odd frame sizes or slow frame rates.

So what are we looking for? What do we do to start with? 

I fired up my Virtual Machine and created a folder to serve as my project files' save location. If Premiere's goal is to work with good video, then do I want to choose some setting that's close to those that I'm bringing in? Or do I want to create a custom set-up for each project? I think that you'll want to set-up each project from scratch based on the unique properties of your media.

Start with changing your Editing Mode to Desktop. Then, you'll want to change the Timebase to reflect your file's frames per second. But, it only goes as low as 10 fps. Oops. What now? What happens if your DME runs at 7.5 fps ("on average") and you drop it on a timeline that's waiting for a 10 fps file? Premiere makes it work. What does that mean? It means different things for different files depending on a number of variables. Ouch! How do I explain that one?

You can hack your Project settings file and change the frame size. It's pretty easy to find. But, since you can change these settings easily enough in the dialog box, this is one of those "emergency" solutions that may come in handy after your project is well underway.

Look again at the project text file (open up the project file in Wordpad). You can clearly make out the frame size settings. But, look at the frame rate entry. Would you believe that this equals 29.97 fps? Want the long answer? We'll get into that in a future post - yes ... there is a way. There's always a way. The short answer to the question is that I haven't found a way around this issue that I'm entirely comfortable with. I've had success with some files, and it's butchered others. 

Premiere Pro CS3 won the informal poll as far as being the most popular video capture solution. But as you can see, it's a product that is designed with specific end-users in mind. There are many uses to the program that can help us tremendously. But is it ready for DME straight out of the box? The jury's still out. As always, I welcome input and user experience. Every little bit helps.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Premiere Pro CS3 - new project

Take a good look at the graphic above. What do you see? This is the New Project / Custom Settings dialog box in Adobe Premiere CS3. What stands out? Let's take a look ...

Let's take a hypothetical situation, you've got some digital multimedia evidence (DME) and you need a still image. Quick, easy, no frills. You just need something quick for a flyer. The first step in Premiere is the New Project dialog. I've seen so many students just bypass this dialog and use the presets, that I thought a little "heads up" was in order.

Start from the top. How many frames per second is this project looking for? Answer, 29.97 fps. What about your DME? Is is running at 29.97 fps? Probably not. So what happens if you import an AVI file that runs at 7 fps or lower? 

Move down to frame size. What is it looking to do? Your project is set to have a frame size of 720x480. What's the frame size of your DME? Chances are, it's one of the CIFs. What's Premiere going to do when you drop that QCIF file onto the timeline?

What about aspect? Do you know in what aspect your DME was recorded? The answer is not always as obvious as it seems. Is a 720x240 file a problem of aspect or interlacing?

What about audio? Does your file contain audio information. Many do. What do you know about the sample rate of the original. Is it important to match sample rates? What happens if you don't?

Now, understand that I am not setting these questions to anger or frustrate folks. I am only attempting to point out the many pitfalls of accepting the default settings upon the creation of the project. We have to know the tools that we use. We should have a good understanding of what's going on under the hood. Whilst we don't necessarily need to know the code or other proprietary info, we should understand the settings, what they mean, how they affect our work, and so forth. 

We are going to start our look at other "helper" programs by looking at Adobe's Premiere Pro CS3. We'll start by looking at the first step in the process, creating a new project. We'll look to answer some of the questions posed here. Many of the answers will depend on the files that you will be working with. But, with an understanding of what each setting does and what it affects, you can be prepared to answer questions about your work. Remember, forensics is not just science. It is also oration and debate. There's what you know, there's what you can prove, and then there's what you can explain about what you know and what you can prove. Often times, experts get tripped up on the explanation - not the facts of the case.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Wanted ...

Wanted: Fuji IS-1 and Fuji IS Pro

These cameras have been out in the press for a while now. But, sales are restricted to certain segments of society. Being a properly certified law enforcement customer, I want them. Problem is ... finding out who to talk to, who to get a price quotation from, and so forth has been quite the mystery.

Be on the look out.

If anyone has information leading to the purchase and enjoyment of the Fuji IS-1 and the Fuji IS Pro, please notify the investigators at Forensic Photoshop.

Thank you. 

Message ends.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Interesting Product Alert

Here's an interesting and handy product: the Bushnell 78-4405 Car Window Mount. How cool is this ... you can mount your camera on the window of your car (passengers only please) and shoot your surveillance photos. No more trying to figure out the footing of your monopod inside of your vehicle.

Check it out and see for yourself. At less than $30, how can you go wrong?

Video Playback Problems?

In order to preview video, Photoshop caches it into RAM. It's not such a bad idea unless you have a minimal amount of RAM or a large clip. Some users cheat a little and select Allow Frame Skipping from the Animation palette fly-out menu. In this way, you won't have to wait until the footage is loaded into RAM to preview your work.

In a funny but annoying case, a reader is trying to diagnose this frame skipping from another perspective. He shares his computer with other users, and can't figure out why the video is skipping forward. Simple enough, one of his co-workers selected Allow Frame Skipping from the menu. The quick fix was to un-select it.

For what we do, we often need to see every frame. Whilst this may be a cool option for video production, for the forensics world ... it's best to leave this option alone.