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You feed the document, we do the rest

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

At the FOSE trade show in Washington, amid the new Blackberries and enterprise security software, could scanners have much sex appeal? When you need a production-speed scanner — we’re talking 15,000 sheets a day to 10 times that many — one good place to turn was the Kodak booth. Scanners are the workhorses of any office that needs to take large volumes of paper documents and convert them to digital form.

Scanners don’t get the blood going, but they are indispensable machines in a million government offices. They remind me of other machines Kodak made decades ago — more on that below. At FOSE, Kodak was showing scanners. And because Kodak’s Jack Kaspersky is one my favorite of the old fashioned PR guys, I always look at the new Kodak scanners.

The newest product is the i4000 series, ranging in price from $10,000 to about $15,000. The top model will scan 120 pages per minute, and the pages can be a mixture of regular stationery, cardboard, tissue carbon copies, crinkled stuff, even plastic. And, up to 12-inches wide. It outputs to readable PDFs, Word documents, and a variety of other formats. It will also send the images to e-mail or to printers.

It can also pick faces out of documents and separate out their images, which would be a useful technology for an agency looking for someone from a big pile of documents.

Kodak last year acquired scanning assets from Bell + Howell. Yes, there still is a Bell + Howell, of sorts. Kodak has badged a Bell + Howell scanner into the Truper 3210 , a lower-volume 15,000 page per day scanner that designed to fit into a variety of workflow situations because of the range of document types and sizes you can feed it. At up to 100 inches, Kodak says you could scan an electrocardiogram printout or similar medical documents.

The 3210 incorporates both an automatic  feeder and a one-at-a-time flatbed.

Real power in scanners, after the robustness and reliability of their mechanics, comes with the software they incorporate. In that regard, from what I could see, the creation of many file types was fast. Also noteworthy, according to Kodak officials at the booth, although most scanners are manufactured in China, Kodak builds some units in the U.S. for federal agencies concerned with buy-American procurement provisions.

Now about those machines of yesteryear. My challenge is, when I visit the Kodak booth, my mind invariably wanders back to the many darkrooms I have worked in. I’ve been involved with the Eastman Kodak Company one way or another since, gosh, 1970 or so, when I first took up photography while in junior high school. Lesson one: “The bigger the number, the smaller the hole.”

Kodak dominated the market for silver halide, light-sensitive materials. Their films and printing papers and even their cans and packets of pre-mixed chemicals had exotic-sounding names. Dektol, D-76, Super XX, Ektalure.

Back in those days, Kodak also made and marketed boring-looking but highly useful hardware, like the Ektamatic Processor. In the darkroom, you would feed an exposed piece of photographic paper into the processor, which was about the size of a color photo printer of today, only with two upside-down, quart-sized bottles of chemicals on top. A few seconds later a developed print, still damp, would roll out the other side. Those prints didn’t last long unless you fixed them in a proper hypo bath then washed them thoroughly. (Anyone remember what I’m talking about?) The processor was widely used by newspapers and in graphic arts shops for quick proofs, contact sheets or prints that only needed to last as long as it took to make a halftone out of them. And also by photojournalism students in a hurry to pin up their latest assignments.

Forensic disk imaging in the comfort of your lab

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

When it comes to computer forensics, the chain-of-custody and no-tamper rules of evidence apply just as surely as they do for blood samples, patches of hair or bullets pried out of walls. For the many federal agencies who deal increasingly with computer forensics, there is no magic cure for maintaining chain of custody proof.

But how can an investigator or prosecutor know and prove a drive’s contents have not been tampered with? The answer is to hook it up to a one-way cable equipped with a write-blocking device that prevents writing to the suspect drive, while extracting an image of the drive and writing the image onto a target drive for later analysis.

Now WiebeTech, part of CRU-Dataport, is about to ship a device that can turn a workstation into a wrote-blocked extractor for 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch IDE and SATA hard drives, as well as USB thumb drives, for which a forensic image is needed. Very simply, the Forensic LabDock is a standard, 5.25-inch CD-drive sized bay you install in any PC cabinet. The bay does two things. It incorporates write-block software. And it provides an easy slot in which to plug drives into and pull them out once the forensic image is made. The smaller drives require an adapter tray.

James Wiebe told me he thinks lots of forensic investigators would like to have a workstation or console capability to image hard drives in the convenience of a lab and on a fixed workstation. He was showing a prototype at the FOSE show in Washington today, and said the product will ship in May or June with a retail price of around $450.

The device seems to plug a hole in the forensics field between lab-use external frames for holding bays and completely external cable solutions that connect to laptops. A logical piece of mechanical engineering.

Restoring a real ring tone

March 13, 2010 Leave a comment

As in brass bells.

I’ve had a black, desk rotary phone for as long as I can remember. I think it belonged to my grandmother — insofar as “belong” can apply to a phone that has “BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY NOT FOR SALE” stamped on the bottom. It’s a black Western Electric Model 500, manufactured in 1969, once ubiquitous, when the Beatles were still together. Many years ago I put a modular cord on it. But it never rang, so I kept it in storage.

I don’t know why, maybe because it’s time to get a new cell phone. But I wanted to get that old phone ringing again. A short search turned up a retired police officer near Detroit who is devoted to restoring vintage rotary telephones.

A dozen highly conversational and instructional e-mails later, the replacement of missing gongs for $15, an evening rewiring the WE 500, and now I’ve got a phone that rings like yesteryear.

This is a sound that is largely lost in the world of ersatz downloaded ringtones.

It’s often said that the sense of smell is the most evocative. For me, sound is equally evocative. So many sounds have largely disappeared. My favorites are heavy, piston airplanes like DC-6s and Connies, the chain-drag sound of air-cooled Volkswagens, a room full of typewriters. The fire signal in the town I grew up in sounded both mournful and dreadful at the same time, a doppler-distorted trumpet you could hear miles away. Now decades removed, I can still hear it.