[Paleopsych] NYT: Brighter and Blander: A Feathered Role Reversal

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Thu Aug 11 21:18:54 UTC 2005

Brighter and Blander: A Feathered Role Reversal
New York Times, 5.8.9

[There have been many novels and stories about a device that forces everyone to 
tell the truth. The results are invariably disasterous. The article below is 
yet another one about new technology to ferrett out deception. We should wonder 
whether there will be too much of said technology.]


    A New Kind of Paper Trail

    Companies have gone to great lengths, and expense, to develop
    technologies to assure that checks, credit cards and important
    documents are authentic. Most credit cards carry holograms, and checks
    are often printed with security inks that cannot be easily duplicated.

    But there may be a much easier way to prevent document forgery or
    similar kinds of fraud. Scientists in England have come up with a
    simple technique to scan the surface of paper or other materials for
    the microscopic imperfections inherent in them. These flaws create a
    built-in "fingerprint," a unique digital code that can be used for

    A piece of paper or plastic may look smooth, but under a microscope
    there is a certain amount of roughness. Paper, for instance, is made
    up of tiny fibers that are compressed into a sheet, creating countless
    random high points and hollows. The technique, developed by
    researchers at Imperial College London, Durham University and the
    University of Sheffield, measures this inherent roughness using a
    basic laser with four detectors.

    As a section of material is scanned, the detectors continuously
    measure the intensity of the reflections off the surface at four
    angles. An average intensity is calculated, and changes from this
    average are converted into a short digital code (requiring only about
    200 to 500 bytes of storage space). The researchers, who described the
    technique in the July 28 Nature, said the probability of the code
    being the same for two pieces of paper or other material was basically

    The technique worked even when the researchers crumpled up a sheet of
    paper into a ball and smoothed it out, scorched it in an oven or
    scribbled heavily on it with a pen.

    The researchers say such built-in fingerprints would be highly secure,
    since there is no way to control surface imperfections when
    manufacturing paper or plastic. The technique could even be used with
    cardboard packaging as a built-in tracking code.

    Surf This

    It's not that the world needs any more evidence of the power of
    hurricanes, but scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have
    provided some anyway. Ivan, the storm that killed more than 90 people
    in the Caribbean and United States last September, created waves as
    high as 91 feet when it churned through the Gulf of Mexico, the
    researchers report in the current Science.

    The scientists were fortunate that an array of pressure sensors they
    set up on the seabed some 75 miles south of Gulfport, Miss., for
    another research project were in the path of Ivan. (They were even
    more fortunate that the sensors survived the hurricane, which when it
    passed through the area was a Category 4 storm, the second most
    powerful.) Measurements of the water pressure can be used to calculate
    wave height.

    The sensor data showed that of 146 waves at three of the sensors, 24
    were higher than 50 feet, and the tallest measured 91 feet. But the
    researchers say that the sensors may have missed the biggest waves, as
    the instruments were off when the most powerful part of the storm
    passed overhead. They estimate that some waves could have been 130
    feet high.

    The waves dissipated in the rough gulf waters before reaching shore.
    But waves of such magnitude could easily destroy an oil platform, say,
    or a fishing boat. The largest waves would have peak-to-peak lengths
    of more than 600 feet, and a cargo ship or other large boat caught in
    such a wave likely would break in two.

    Moons of Saturn

    The greatest moments of the Cassini mission to Saturn involved the
    exploration of the moon Titan, which with its atmosphere and lakes of
    methane lakes is one of the most fascinating bodies in the solar
    system. But Cassini has spent time exploring Saturn's more mundane
    reaches. The latest is the moon Mimas, which the spacecraft flew by
    last week.

    Images taken during the flyby show Mimas, which is about 250 miles in
    diameter, to be deader than a doornail and heavily pockmarked with
    craters. The images are available at

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