Monday, July 21, 2014

Video as Evidence: To be evidence, what does video need?

There's an interesting conversation going on over at New Tactics in Human Rights about using video as evidence. Here's the question that kicked it off:

Welcome to the discussion! We want to start this discussion by exploring what we mean by "evidence" and why it's important in seeking justice. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • The term evidence is used often (and somewhat broadly) in the human rights world. What does it take to ensure video documentation is legal evidence? In other words, how can we ensure video that activists sometimes risk their lives to capture, could be admitted into a court of law?
  • At what stages of the criminal justice process can investigators and lawyers use video evidence?
  • How do investigators and lawyers use video captured by activists in their process to seek the truth and secure accountability?
Head over to their site and see how the conversation is progressing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Money for nothing

Marijuana decriminalization is all the rage these days. Regardless on where you stand on this issue, the movement is gaining momentum. Arizona law enforcement recently passed a resolution against decriminalizing pot in Az. The arguments are largely the same as those given in the days leading up to the end of alcohol prohibition.

But, the real - underlying issue isn't safety or health, it's money. According to many studies, asset forfeiture is a huge business. Just about every law enforcement agency has some asset forfeiture fund from which to draw for big ticket purchases. Unfortunately for them, it looks like this honey pot is going away soon.

How does this relate to the topic of DME and forensics? Simple. Our budgets are about to shrink big time - if they haven't already. Access to the easy money of asset forfeiture funds is about to go away, if it hasn't already. LE managers will have to think seriously about their purchases of gear, service contracts, and total cost of ownership.

Vendors like Adobe and Avid are moving to a subscription based software-as-service model. But our forensic tools aren't necessarily priced as such. They're usually very expensive. Those vendors with lower pricing may win out. But, either way, it's time to get frugal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Marketing vs. news you can use

This month, I received a renewal notice for Evidence Technology Magazine. It went straight into the trash. Why? It's not really about cutting edge technology from the standpoint of learning a technique that can add value to your workday - at least from a DME Forensics standpoint. It's a marketing device for manufacturers to get their tools shown in a positive light. I should know, I've written one of those articles (about Ocean Systems' ClearID).

This month's edition features an article titled "Advanced Video Forensics." I'm not sure what's so "advanced" about a tools that are fairly old. Consider the last update to the Omnivore was in May of last year, dTective's last update was more than 2 years ago, and the recent update to ClearID offers "No new features" (it just updates the installer to work with the new Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop. Sure, the Field Kit is "new." But, the tech driving the field kit is old - it's a laptop, an Omnivore, and a scan converter.

An interesting quote from the article, "It is estimated that video evidence is involved in approximately 80 percent of crimes. That staggering abundance of video brings some other complications—namely, the wide variety of video formats, each with its own proprietary characteristics and requirements. To be used, the files must be converted into a standard format that can be read and cataloged, then exported in a compressed format that will fit on a DVD for a courtroom. In the “bad old days,” that could translate into hours of work to parse formats, including some that required technical wizardry just to split different methods of encoding by different manufacturers ...", features a solution that is the absolute slowest solution to this problem - the Avid based dTective plugins.

Another is equally frustrating, "Union County’s four field kits can export instant video copies in file formats that can be played by anyone without needing proprietary equipment. These represent huge advantages for real-world use. The agency still retains the downloadable, native video files so they retain the original evidence, should it be needed." Is it faster to do a "real time" screen capture of the proprietary file with the Omnivore, or to simply work with the file's contents in FIVE or other ffmpeg solution? The real expense of the Field Kit is in the Bridge - the scan converter. It plugs nicely into the Omnivore, but it's still just a scan converter. If all you're doing is taking and working with proprietary digital files, FIVE works on low cost laptops. That means that your license of FIVE and a $1,000 laptop is still less expensive than the Field Kit - and FIVE gives you a ton more functionality than the Omnivore.

Which is a nice transition into this statement, "Union County’s new equipment also features an advanced video-editing platform and software plug-ins that allow technicians to visually focus and clarify an image. For example, they can filter and highlight a specific suspect or victim, magnify or enlarge objects such as an individual or a vehicle, and examine image areas down to individual pixels. There is even a module to remove “noise” such as darkness, rain, and snow. And, with the original video separated, the investigative tools leave the primary evidence untouched.

Union County chose its new system because of those advantages, as well as a highly comprehensive format. “It’s a real turnkey solution,” McCabe said. “It’s really comprehensive.”

Remember, clarification is not analysis. They spent a ton of money on an Avid NLE with some plug-ins that haven't been updated in years. FIVE gives them everything listed, plus gives them the option to do actual analysis - photogrammetry, content analysis, etc., with the report being an automatic function. FIVE is updated several times per year to address the rapid changes in technology and the law.

If this was a piece of journalism, you might expect a bit of counterpoint. There's none here. It's a marketing piece, pure and simple - and well done at that.

Given that many of the vendors in the FVA space have their own PR departments and send out e-mail spam on new products, updates, and etc., I'm going to save a small tree and skip the renewal. I'll get my marketing first-hand.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Did PremierePro just become a verb?

More reason to love your purpose built tools.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Plug-ins vs. a responsive developer

Readers of this blog will know that I've been petitioning, phoning, e-mailing, blogging, about stuff I'd love to see in Photoshop. The big one, FFT, I've been told will likely never be included in Photoshop.

I got to thinking about this after seeing a tweet from one of the Photoshop team about his favorite plug-in.

One line of thinking is that Photoshop is extensible. If there's something missing in Photoshop, a developer can build a plug-in to fill that gap. Some of these plug-ins are free, some are very expensive, some are more than the cost of Photoshop.

Essentially, with each release, Adobe is saying that this is where we are. If you don't like it, get a plug-in. Some think this is cool - opening up the program for developers to fill these gaps. Others think it sucks - that Photoshop is essentially incomplete and will likely never be complete ... and that it's up to the customer to spend more money to gain this preferred functionality. In the case of FFT, the plug in can be very expensive.

The other problem with plug-ins is validation. They're an "as-is" product. How does Blow Up work? I like it, from an artist's point of view. But, I can't defend its use now that Photoshop has become a verb. If it doesn't have a scientific explanation for how it works, I'm going to have a very difficult time defending its use.

Contrast the Photoshop plug-in Blow Up with Amped FIVE's Smart Resize filter. With each of the filters, your get a plain English explanation of what it does, combined with the academic references on which the filter is based.

In the case of Smart Resize, it "Resizes the image with a smart zoom algorithm."

"Details: Smart Resize interpolates the input image by generating an output image of the desired size with an iterative two-dimensional implementation of the Warped Distance algorithm."

For your information, references are provided.

  • Anil. K. Jain, Fundamentals of Digital Image Processing, Prentice Hall, pp. 253-255, 1989.
  • Anil. K. Jain, Fundamentals of Digital Image Processing, Prentice Hall, pp. 320-322, 1989.
  • G. Ramponi, Warped distance for space-variant linear image interpolation, in IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, vol. 8, pp. 629-639, May 1999.
So, plug-ins might be cool for wedding photographers and artists. But they can be problematic for Forensic Analysts.

All this being said, the developers at Amped Software have been very responsive to the Forensic community. If there's something not in the program, and it's a valid addition, they've found a way to get it in the next update. From Color Deconvolution to working with Channels, user submission and solutions to specific problems have found their way into the program sooner rather than later. Best yet, these additions are included in the price of the software - there's nothing else to buy.

As an artist, I still love Adobe products. But as an Analyst, I find myself needing a more purpose built solution. Thankfully, I have one - FIVE.