Week of 13 October 2008
Update: Saturday, 18 October 2008 14:23 -0500
Work on the kitchen proceeds. Yesterday, while Barbara was out working
in the yard, I filled holes. I squeezed plastic wood hole filler into
about a hundred screw holes where the hinges and pulls on the cabinet
doors and drawers had been mounted, and then went out to squeeze
blacktop patching compound into some cracks in the driveway.
week is devoted to writing and lab time. I'm working on the
fingerprinting chapter for the forensics book. Actually doing this
stuff gives me a new appreciation for what real forensic scientists
accomplish. When fingerprints are mentioned, most people probably
think about those nice, clear sets of fingerprints you get by
inking your fingers and rolling the prints onto a card, and they
probably assume that latent fingerprints raised by forensic technicians
at a crime scene are similarly sharp and distinct.
or at least not usually. Other than on glass, polished metal, and
similar materials, what you actually get when you raise latent
fingerprints is often a mess of smeared and/or partial prints, with
some prints overlapping others. Interpreting those prints is an
acquired skill, and it's often a matter of expert opinion as to whether
a particular print found at a crime scene matches a known example.
why fingerprint examiners talk about points of comparison. The number
of points required to constitute a match varies from jurisdiction to
jurisdiction, from as few as four to as many as thirty-six. In other
words, if you leave a partial print at a crime scene, in one
jurisdiction that partial may have enough points of comparison to
convict you while in another jurisdiction it would not. And you can
believe that defense attorneys are quite familiar with this issue and
often argue it at great length in court. If the prosecution brings in a
forensic expert to testify that a partial print found at the crime
scene matches the prints provided by the defendant, you can be sure
that the defense will bring in an equally credible forensic scientist
to testify that the partial print has insufficient points of comparison
to provide a definitive match. And, chances are, they're both telling
My contact at Seagate just emailed me to say that he'd shipped me three
1.5 TB Barracuda drives. Those were the last pieces I was awaiting
before building a new reference system. That system will use embedded
video, because I have no need for anything more, but otherwise it'll be
a kick-ass system. A fast Core2 Quad 9650 processor on an Intel
motherboard with 8 GB of Crucial memory, all in an Antec Sonata case.
I'm going to shoot a video of the build, so I'll have to block out some
time to get that done.
- If you needed any more evidence that PETA members are complete nutters, here's a young PETA member who's changed her name to CutoutDissection.com.
The nutter formerly known as Jennifer Thornburg objects to dissections
in high school biology class. Her mental problems are obviously
genetic, as her father supports her wacko decision.
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
- It's always nice to come across interesting blogs.
Yes, and her friend Breda.
Both women shooters who use pull quotes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
and Firefly. And who both consider bacon one of the essential food
Thursday, 16 October 2008
Before the economic crash, I expected McCain to win in a landslide.
Now, it's more of a race, because most people incorrectly blame the
Republicans for the hard economic times. There's plenty of blame to go
around, of course, but the Democrats deserve the lion's share of the
blame. Still, perceptions matter, and most people wrongly perceive the
Republicans as being primarily to blame.
So our choice is now
between McCain, who is for all intents and purposes a liberal Democrat,
and Obama, who's an ultra-left Marxist. I still think McCain will win,
mainly because I can't believe a majority of voters are foolish enough
to elect a far-left wacko like Obama. We'll see.
Some of my
friends question my sanity for saying nice things about Palin. Let's be
clear here. On a scale of 0 to 100, I put Obama and Biden in negative
territory. McCain gets a 1 or a 2, and Palin maybe a 5. The man I would
like to have seen elected, Ron Paul, gets a score in the high 90s.
Dr. Paul is not one of the available choices. So I'll hold my nose and
vote for McCain/Palin. A McCain administration would be bad, but
an Obama administration would be immensely worse. Benjamin Disraeli
defined the difference: "If Obama fell into the Thames, that would be a
misfortune. If someone pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a
- An old mystery solved.
Yesterday, I had Amarok on random play and the original 1968 version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
by The Band came on. That reminded me of the Joan Baez 1971 cover
version, and something I'd wondered at the time. Why did Baez change
the lyrics, some of them pretty significantly?
In the first
verse, for example, The Band sang "til Stoneman's cavalry came, and
tore up the tracks again", which Baez changed to "til so much cavalry
came". I wondered why Baez dropped the reference to General
Stoneman. Later in the piece, Baez changed Virgil from a farmer to a
laborer: "Like my father before me, I will work the land" to "I'm a
working man", and had him standing in "blood" rather than The Band's
"mud". But my favorite was when Baez changed the South's greatest
general to either a riverboat or a train, I wasn't sure which: "Virgil,
quick come see. There goes Robert E. Lee" to "There goes the Robert E.
So I looked it up on Wikipedia and found the solution to a
mystery from more than 35 years ago. As it turns out, when Baez
recorded her cover she didn't actually have the printed lyrics
available. She did it after listening to The Band's version, and all
the lyrics changes were Mondegreens.
Saturday, 18 October
I'm extremely careful about my sentences, which is why I'm annoyed if a
copy editor, usually a newbie, arbitrarily changes what I've written.
Fortunately, that's almost never a problem with O'Reilly.
some of my sentences seem a bit complex or convoluted, it's because I'm
striving to avoid ambiguity. For example, here's an early draft of the
first three paragraphs of the introduction to the lab session on
developing latent fingerprints with ninhydrin.
Since it was first used for
developing latent fingerprints in 1954, ninhydrin has become the most
common method used to reveal prints on porous surfaces. Nearly all
forensics labs use ninhydrin for this purpose, and some seldom use
anything other than ninhydrin. Ninhydrin is cheap, sensitive, and
commercially available in disposable spray cans. The developed prints
are a high-contrast purple that's readily visible on most paper
backgrounds. If iodine fuming or DFO is to be used, either or both must
be used before ninhydrin, in that order. If it is to be used, ninhydrin
must be used before silver nitrate or PD.
Because the solvent
does not take part in the reaction that forms Ruhemann's Purple, nearly
any organic solvent can be used successfully. We've used ordinary
rubbing alcohol (ethanol or isopranol), acetone, petroleum ether, and
the mixed alcohols recommended by the FBI, and all appear to work
identically. Ninhydrin development occurs slowly at room temperature
and humidity. Although some stains may appear within seconds to minutes
of applying the ninhydrin solution, complete development may take 24 to
48 hours. After the ninhydrin solution dries, the development process
can be accelerated by increasing the temperature and humidity. We used
an ordinary steam iron with the specimen sandwiched between towels, and
found that full development occurs within a few minutes under those
Ninhydrin-developed prints do not fluoresce
inherently (the one real drawback of ninhydrin versus DFO), but the
prints can be treated with zinc chloride reagent or another metal-based
fluorescent reagent to make the prints fluoresce under an ALS. Zinc
chloride induced fluorescence is strongest at low temperatures.
Professional forensics labs sometimes treat zinc chloride enhanced
ninhydrin prints with liquid nitrogen. We didn't have any liquid
nitrogen handy, so we put our specimens in the freezer.
I often do re-write as I'm writing. I rewrote several of the
sentences in this small excerpt. For example, the final sentence in the
first paragraph was originally "Ninhydrin must be used before
silver nitrate or PD." I added the initial clause, "If it is to be
used," because, as written, the sentence was correct but ambiguous.
Although most readers would correctly interpret that sentence to mean
that ninhydrin cannot be used successfully if a specimen has
already been treated with silver nitrate or PD, some
might interpret the sentence to mean that ninhydrin treatment is a
necessary precursor to using silver nitrate or PD, which it is not.
and I are painting the kitchen and dining room today. I've been doing
the cutting in, and she's been doing the rolling. We'll finish the
white parts today and the blue parts tomorrow.
of my friends has a corporate notebook system, around which his work
life revolves. He's on the road a lot and has a home office, and he
connects to his corporate server via a VPN. The corporation uses
Outlook and has a corporate backup system, but he wants to backup his
Outlook .OST files locally, ideally in an industry-standard format
rather than as proprietary Outlook files, so that they could be
accessed by Thunderbird or a similar program on his personal notebook
It's been so long since I've dealt with Windows in
general and Outlook in particular that I have no idea what to suggest.
I seem to remember that Mozilla Mail could do exports directly as long
as Outlook was installed on the system. Is that true of Thunderbird as
well? If not, what's a good way to get his mail and contacts out of
Outlook and into some standard format? Any suggestions would be
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert