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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hot off the press

The CS4 info is coming in at a dizzying pace. It's hard to keep track of it all. It is fun to see who is featuring what aspects of the program first, and so on. You can tell what really gets them going.

Check out John Nack's blog for a bunch of cool info on CS4, including some links to Julieanne Kost's work on the updates.

Also, there is a really interesting discussion going on the LEVA web site about membership issues.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Let the discounting begin

It's really hard to be an "early adopter" in our world. We must wait for the retail version, then validate all of our processes with the new version. Sometimes, the approval process for purchasing the newest versions can get sticky ... meaning we get our "new stuff" a year after its been released (or later - if at all).

The good news is that most of the training providers have started discounting their CS3 training products. They've already created the stuff for CS4 and have to move the old product out to make room for the new stuff. So, if you aren't planning on upgrading right away, now is the time to buy your training materials. KelbyTraining, Software Cinema, and many others have offered some pretty steep discounts to get their product out the door.

And ... speaking of discounts ... there's just a few more days left to get a discounted version of the book. Use coupon code friendofblurb08 when ordering. Isn't capitalism great!

Friday, September 26, 2008

iPhone Forensics

If you weren't able to join the web cast for iPhone Forensics 101 - bypassing the iPhone passcode, there's good news. It's now available on O'Reilly's Events site.

Check it out by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Last week for the book discount

This is the final week to take advantage of the Blurb discount coupon. Blurb is offering $10 off the book - Forensic Photoshop. Just enter offer code friendofblurb08 at checkout. Hurry! The offer expires at midnight, Sept. 30, 2008.

Thanks again for all of your continued support.

Verify before you try?

I just wanted to throw in a quick note of caution. Always verify a new piece of software before you throw it into your workflow.

You can be certain that I'll be working through all of the workflow with Photoshop CS4 Extended. Sure, I've seen the betas. But, you never can be sure what you'll get until you see the final shipping version. I'll want to check out all of the features. But for the "forensic" side of things, I take special care to make sure that I can not only reproduce my results and that they are non-destructive - but that I can explain what I've done in plain English.

Naturally, I'll report all of the details here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

CS4 - if you missed the broadcast

If you missed the CS4 broadcast, you can view the new feature demos on Adobe TV. You'll need the Adobe Media Player. Once you've downloaded the player, look in the Adobe TV area and you'll find the new feature videos.

CS4 hits the streets on October 11, so you've got time to get those requests in to get your copy as soon as it becomes available.

CS4 - new and improved features for forensic examiners

You've been asking for the run-down on the new and improved features. Well, we'll take a look at what Adobe is saying and what it means for us.

What they say:
Industry-leading color correction
Enjoy dramatically enhanced color correction with reengineered Dodge, Burn, and Sponge tools that now intelligently preserve color and tone details. Make precise adjustments with Brightness/Contrast and Curves controls, the histogram, color channel lines, and a clipping preview.

What it means for us:
Looks like it's time to redo the lessons again. We used to have to create a gray layer to dodge and burn. We've used the sponge tool for local contrast control. I love what a Curves adjustment layer can do for images. The Histogram tells us a lot about our images.What will the new and improved tools do for us? We'll see in future posts.

What they say:
Improved Count tool
Easily and accurately tally objects or features in scientific images with the Count tool, which eliminates the need to perform manual calculations or rely on visual assessments of changes from image to image. Save even more time by performing multiple counts in a single image. Use separate colors for each count and save your counts in the file.

What it means for us.
Comparisons just got a whole lot easier! Start making plans to revisit Grant's comparison class in Indy.

What they say:
Quantitative data extraction
Easily calibrate or set the scale of an image, including setting measurements to the scale information in the header of DICOM files. Use selection tools to define and calculate distance, perimeter, area, and many other measurements. Record data points in a Measurement Log and then export the data, including histogram data, to a spreadsheet for further quantitative analysis.

What it means for us:
More measuring fun.

What they say:
Scale markers
Easily add scale markers to any image or series of images for presentations or publication.

What it means for us:
Presentations just got a whole lot easier.

What they say:
Edit tracking
Automatically track all editing steps within your files with the Edit History log. Export steps to a text file or save them as part of image metadata for easier documentation of your work, file audits, and more.

What it means for us:
For those of us that turn this feature on (and not everyone does), they've greatly improved the functionality and the relevance of the data that's collected. More good news.

What they say:
MATLAB support
Pass image data directly between Photoshop Extended and MATLAB with the ability to call Photoshop Extended directly from the MATLAB command line. Visualize results of MATLAB algorithms in the software, and combine MATLAB processing with Photoshop Extended image editing to render, test, and refine algorithms for image processing, analysis, and more.

What it means for us:
MATLAB support is huge! I know that we haven't really gone over the benefits of MATLAB here, but we will. How cool is creating your own custom filters and processing tools for those hard to fix images. That's one of the many benefits of MATLAB. In the future, we'll have some examples of custom filters and the code needed to do it yourself. Stay tuned for this one in the early part of next year.

So as you can see from this brief tour, there's a lot to the upgrade ... and this is just the new stuff in Photoshop. I simply can't wait to get my copy.

It's here! CS4 kick-off

It's here! Click here to check out the CS4 launch broadcast.

Kick-off is 9am Pacific.

Might I be so bold as to recommend the purchase of the Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection. Better to have it all and not need it than to need it all and not have it.

For those interested in the new Photoshop CS4 Extended, click here.

ABA News for privateers

The American Bar Association's Section of Science & Technology (ABA Scitech) recently put a resolution forward at their House of Delegates to discourage states from requiring private investigator licenses for computer forensics. This is good news for privateers.

They note correctly (in my humble opinion) that computer forensic examiners should be certified within their discipline and that there is a significant difference between traditional private investigators and computer forensic examiners.

There is significant cross-over between computer forensics and image forensics. Often times, we are tasked with retrieving the relevant data from computer based systems. Many of the techniques employed mirror those of computer forensics. I've watched with great interest as states like Texas and Michigan put the requirement into law. Other states with similar requirements include Illinois, Georgia, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. North Carolina has a law addressing this issue pending approval.

Check it out for yourself. Remember, this effects privateers only ... not law enforcement. But, if you are transitioning from LE to a private practice, it helps to know the law as it will apply to your new career.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Research source

Finding info on case law, legislation, legal/scientific publications, educational sources, and so forth can be a confusing mess. Where do you go? Who can you trust? How much will it cost?

There is a website that puts this all in one place. It's the National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law at Stetson University College of Law. You can find a ton of info at NCSTL, including topics like "Forensic Resources on the Web," "Law 101, Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert," and the Questioned Document article database. Best of all, it's FREE.

Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Photoshop CS4

I've received a ton of mail looking for the scoop on CS4. I don't want to steal Adobe's thunder, so I'll save all of the what's new stuff for after the official launch (sorry, but they did insist rather sternly).

There's likely to be a flurry of CS4 info coming at you from all directions. Naturally, you'll get the "forensic specific" story from yours truly. But if you want to branch out a wee bit, NAPP is gearing up for the release as well.

The National Association of Photoshop Professionals is putting together a special CS4 Learning Center as well as a special edition of their popular Photoshop User magazine (available only to members). If you want to get in on the fun, you'll need to be a member. Click here to check them out. With the ton of helpful tools, merchandise discounts, job board, and much more, I'm sure you'll see why I've been a member for years.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Digital Infrared Photography

Here I was, going about my day, when this little gem of a book landed in the post box.

Digital Infrared Photography by Cyrill Harnischmacher was sent to me for review by the publisher, Rocky Nook.

The author does a great job of setting the stage for learning about this type of photography with an introduction to the theory and equipment necessary to succeed. He then moves into the practical aspects of shooting in IR and finishes with a trip to the digital darkroom.

It is "to the point" kind of book. I was able to digest it in one sitting. I then went back an marveled at the beautiful shots of the German countryside. He's even included the settings used to produce each image (Infrared modified Nikon Coolpix 5400, 28mm, aperture 4, 1/250 sec., ISO 50). Topping this off is a step-by-step project that results in a beautiful photo of Tuebingen.

If you are interested in IR photography, this book is a must for you. Additionally, if you are shooting surveillance photos, an IR camera should be in your tool kit ... as should this book.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hands-on training in Orlando

There are still a few seats left for the 2 day training session in Orlando, Florida, on October 20-21, 2008. Check out the LEVA web site for complete details.

Forensic Photoshop: From Photons to Pixels and Contrast to Convolution

In this two-day course, students will explore the sources of image-based evidence, how to retrieve the highest quality images possible, and enhancement techniques used to reveal hidden details in these images.

Students will rely upon Adobe's Photoshop CS3 Extended for their work and will evaluate a number of third-party tools to be used in conjunction with Photoshop. Students will also explore reliable, repeatable and defensible steps in a forensic imaging workflow that both minimize time spent and maximize results obtained from still image evidence.

Students should bring a laptop to load program demos.

Instructors: Chris Russ and Jim Hoerricks

This is the last week to get your room reservation through the LEVA web site. After this week, if there are still spaces available in the class, be sure to mention the LEVA conference when booking your room to ensure that you get the best rate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What's on the horizon?

Having used PS since version 3, I've seen a ton of new features added to this incredible program. I've probably tried them all at least twice. For image analysis, I maybe use a fraction of them. I've heard the complaints in the many classes that I've taught, "why spend the money if I'm only using a few of it's features." 

The video functionality changed that opinion slightly. Many took a shot at the 3D tools, but gave up when they couldn't make sense of it quickly. I think that's about to change in the next version.

Remember back to April when the NatGeo team (including your humble host) used Maya and Photoshop to some really cool stuff with images - 3D Photogrammetry. From what I've seen in the next version, that process will get a easier. In fact, I've put off doing a feature on the process until CS4 releases.

That being said, I know that many wait and see rather than rushing into an upgrade purchase. Some are still using PS7. I think CS4 will change much of that. So turn in your purchase orders and get the folks at Finance ready to go. Something brilliant is on the horizon.

In other news, I'm getting my calendar together for next year. In May 2009, the tour will be making stops in Australia (and perhaps NZ, if there is enough interest). If you'd like to schedule a stop, send me a note.

Until then, enjoy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Discount Coupon for the Forensic Photoshop Book

Well, we didn't quite make the Blurb's Readers Choice Award. But, as a way of saying thanks to all for your continued support, Blurb is offering $10 off the book - Forensic Photoshop. Just enter offer code friendofblurb08 at checkout. Hurry! The offer expires at midnight, Sept. 30, 2008.

Thanks again for all of your continued support.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten.

iTunes 8 - a warning to Windows users

ZDNet is reporting a lot of issues with the Windows version of iTunes 8. I know that many forensic video analysts have QuickTime installed on their systems. Apple has bundled QT updates with iTunes (though you can find a solo installer if you look hard enough). Be very careful. Check with your system's provider before downloading and installing the update.

Acrobat 9 - more reasons to love this cool program

Layers Magazine (part of the NAPP empire) has a great little heads-up buried within its many pages. Acrobat 9 has added some improvements to the existing Output Preview features (Advanced>Print Production>Output Preview) as well as some new additions.

Acrobat is increasingly being used as an alternative to PowerPoint for presentations in court (as well as Flash). I love it for making enlargements for court exhibits (combined with a RIP). The improvements to the Output Preview functionality will definitely help. Adobe keeps making this product better with each new release.

Let's not forget the addition of ConnectNow - an offshoot of Connect and part of the new Acrobat.com. ConnectNow (File>Collaborate>Share My Screen) is a free service that lets two others look at your screen or even take over your computer (or the other way around - with the proper permissions of course). It's a great tool for training.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Codec Guide Update

The folks at Codec Guide recently added an update to their K-Lite codec pack, which is now at version 4.1.7. While you are there, check out their useful tips as well. A really good tip is the one about using KeepVid.com to download streaming videos.

With KeepVid, you can simply input the address of the streaming video and they give you the download link. It's worth checking out, considering that more and more people are posting to sites like YouTube. You are bound to come across a case that requires you to download the video from YouTube. When you get there and can't find the download link, check out KeepVid.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bento vs. Lightroom - update

I've been testing Filemaker's Bento and Lightroom from a file management, case management standpoint. I got to a certain point and stopped. It's kind of like falling in love ... you know it when you know it. It became an apples/oranges test. I love them both, and for different reasons.

As far as Lightroom is concerned, I've started a Forensic Lightroom blog to discuss the Lightroom issues. I'll be posting there weekly and exploring Lightroom from a LE perspective.

From a file management, case management standpoint, Bento has won - hands down. For a small business like mine, it's perfect. It ties in with all of my scheduling apps, mail, and so forth. I can customise the fields to meet my needs. I can capture all of the necessary data, and use that data to make sense of what's going on within my business. The only downside for most of my readers - it's a Mac-only product.

So I am going to keep using Bento for now. I think that there will be a time in the near future where I will outgrow it. When that happens, I'll move up to Filemaker Pro. I am so impressed with their products, that they've earned a loyal customer.

We'll be taking an in-depth look at Bento in October. I've planned a series out that looks at it from several helpful angles. Until then, enjoy.

Something Brilliant - CS4

It's all over the place. Deke's talking about it. John Nack is talking about it. Rufus is talking about it. What is it? CS4! It's coming very, very soon. Click on the image to register for the web broadcast.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Technology Help

The IACP has a helpful disk that's available to law enforcement agencies. The Technology Desk Reference contains tons of material to help plan and manage your agency's IT. It's one of the many helpful guides put out by the IACP.

This came up in a discussion of the new Acrobat 9. The TDR is a giant PDF file and a reader wanted to split out the portion about Forensic Video Analysis, written by Canada's Jonathan Hak. Acrobat 9 gives you the ability to split the document using its bookmarks. Just click on Document>Split Document. It'll break up the file by top-level bookmarks.

For me, this new feature makes it worth the upgrade to Acrobat 9. Acrobat 9 is now included in the Creative Suites, in version 3.3.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It's for the children

One of the hardest types of cases to work is an analysis of child porn. Frequently, the perpetrators of this horrific crime claim that the police are somehow framing them or that they are otherwise innocent. When it comes to cases that remain within the family, they'll often claim that they "were put in the picture" by the police or by someone out to get them.

As easy as theses claims are to refute, the harm's already been done to some poor innocent child. It breaks my heart to see these cases, and not just because I am a father.

I came across a book from Stephanie L. Jones called The Enemy Between My Legs. In law enforcement, we see people with drug problems, we see prostitutes, we see violence, and so much destruction. We spend so much time addressing the problems ... and we leave the causes to someone else. Think it's not happening around you? Think again.

What if there is a connection? If there is, what can we do about it? What if we could wipe it out in a generation or two just by making subtle changes in our own behaviour? We certainly can't change the past. But, we can make plans for a brighter future.

I, for one, would love to not have to work cases of child abuse. Together, we can make it happen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Variables part 6 - the final installment

Once you've defined the variables and the data sets, you'll want to test drive your image. Choose Image>Apply Data Set and select a data set with the Preview box checked. Click Apply and watch the change in the layer content. With a successful test, you're ready to go.
  • Choose File>Export>Data Sets as Files
  • Enter a base name for all files that will be generated. It's best to use your standard file naming scheme to avoid confusion.
  • Click on the Choose button to select a destination directory for your new files.
  • Choose the data sets to export.
  • Click OK.
A little practice and you'll be using this technique all of the time. It takes a little set-up. But, if you are handling a lot of images like this, you'll save yourself a ton of time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Monetizing your hobby

Several of us go out and shoot events in our spare time. Friends come to us and ask us to shoot their weddings, birthdays, ball games, and so forth. We've spent so much money on our gear, and invested a ton in our training ... why not go out and lend a hand.

Many of the events can not afford a photographer, so how do you recoup your costs? Do you put out a tip jar? There is an easier way ... SmugMug.

Check out Vince Gervasi Photography. Vince was a few years behind me in high school. Fast forward to a month ago and Vince was shooting my 20 year reunion. His model is simple, efficient, and brilliant. Put the photos up on his site, which is powered by SmugMug, and let those that are interested in the photos purchase their favourites. You may end up with a larger take from the event (vs. a flat fee) when you spread out the income stream in this way.

Variables part 5 - the data set

One of the most important pieces of this puzzle is the data set. After all, it's hard to have data driven graphics without data. So how do you get this important information into Photoshop? Choose Image>Variables>Data Sets. This option gets activated after you've defined your variables.
  • Click on the Create New Data Set button. Then, enter a name for your data set.
  • In the Variables section, choose a variable from the Name pull-down.
  • For Value, check the Select File button and locate the appropriate image file that goes with this variable. Repeat this step for each variable on the list.
  • Click Apply.
To create an external data set, use a spreadsheet or database to store all of your information.

Create a unique file for each data set. In this example, I've used Excel 2008 for Mac. Remember that the image path names must be logical for your platform. In my example, I'm using a Mac. But Windows users will have something like C://. The first line in the spreadsheet should match your variable names. When you have your data, export it as a tab/comma delimited text file. 

From the Variables dialog box, just click on Data Sets and select Import (make sure that the Preview box is checked). The Import Data Set dialog box comes up and presents more options. Select your file and leave Encoding set to Automatic. Check Use First Column for Data Set Names and Replace Existing Data Sets ... then click OK.

In the final installment, we'll put this all together and generate our images.

Until then, enjoy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

vote early - vote often

Forensic Photoshop - the book - is entered in the Photography Book Now contest at Blurb. I'm up against over 1700 books. How can I possibly stand out in the crowd?

One of the categories is the People's Choice Award. I need your help and this is where you come in. If you like what you've seen, click here and voice your opinion. Your support is what keeps this blog going strong ... and free.

Vote early and vote often (just kidding ... they've got the cookies set to only allow one vote per person). In this political season, everyone is wondering who will get the vote for President. I'm hoping to get your vote for People's Choice.

As always, thanks for your support.

Variables part 4 - define the variables

Thanks for the patience over the long holiday weekend. Let's take a look at where we are with this project, creating data-driven graphics.

When documents that share common elements, such as wanted posters, the usual way of doing things is to design a document in Word or PowerPoint, make duplicates of it, and manually edit the text information and images for each suspect or person of interest. With Photoshop, there’s an automatic way to generate files that use the same layout but have different images and text. How? Variables, or place holders in the file that maintain position but contain contents that will be swapped out automatically by Photoshop. If you've ever done a mail merge in MS Word, you can do this in Photoshop.

So what do we need? We need a template, the variables, and a data set. Last week, we designed the template in Photoshop using layers that contained text and graphics. Now we'll look at defining the variables.

In an external file, we'll want to set up a data set of text and graphics that uses the names that correspond to the variables that we create. Most of the data that we are working with is already contained within spread sheets - and this data can easily be exported to text files for Photoshop's use.

Look at the template that we've created. I've grouped the elements that won't changed into a folder. Those items that will change are on top, the suspect photo, title, and crime scene photo.

Now, we're up to date.

Let's define the variables. A layer can contain any of three types of variables.
  1. Visibility. This is an on/off option. Is it visible or not?
  2. Pixel Replacement. This option replaces a layer with an image. Perfect for suspect or crime scene images that will change from poster to poster.
  3. Text Replacement. Names and other personal information will be changed. So will titles, from time to time.
In our poster, we have three variables, the suspect photo, the crime scene photo, and the title text. You may have more or less, but three is an easy number to work with.

To define each variable, click on Image>Variables>Define. Within the dialog box, select the layer that will be assigned a variable. Under the Variable Type, click on the check box for the appropriate variable and name it - or select an existing variable. If you are swapping pictures and check the Pixel Replacement box, you'll want to specify how images of different sizes should fit on the layer. The Method drop-down box specifies a resizing method. It's best to resize your images ahead of time. Then, in this box, pull down to As-Is. Resizing all of your images also saves you from the unpredictability of the Alignment and Clip to Bounding Box options. Click Next to assign another variable. When you are done, you can click OK.

Next, we'll look at creating the data-set.

Until then, enjoy.