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Week of 13 October 2008

Latest Update: Saturday, 18 October 2008 14:23 -0500

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Monday, 13 October 2008
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11:13 - 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.

This 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.

They're not, 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.

That's 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 the truth.

13:35 - 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.


Tuesday, 14 October 2008
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08:13 - 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
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08:18 - It's always nice to come across interesting blogs.

From: Brian Bilbrey
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
  Date: Tue Oct 14 22:42:12 2008
Re: fun
from a link at pournelle's...

I think you'd like this girl:



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 groups.


Thursday, 16 October 2008
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08:11 - 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.

Unfortunately, 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 calamity."


Friday, 17 October 2008
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07:47 - 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. Lee".

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 2008
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14:23 - 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.

If 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 conditions.

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.

Barbara 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.

One 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 system.

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 appreciated.


Sunday, 19 October 2008
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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.