Fingerprints Change Over the Course of a Person’s Life


Fingerprints may not be the permanent biological signatures we’ve built them up to be.

Since the 1920s, fingerprints have been accepted as evidence in courtrooms due to their uniqueness and permanence. And their uniqueness has been scientifically validated. But what of their permanence? Do those ridges and swirls remain the same from birth to death? According to a new study, our fingerprints do slightly change as time progresses — which could have implications for everything from law enforcement to unlocking your iPhone.

Deepening the Science

Belief in the permanence of human fingerprints largely hinges on evidence gleaned from a handful of case studies. Soweon Yoon and Anil Jain wanted to provide deeper scientific context.

They began by examining 10-print fingerprint records generated from 15,500 repeat offenders in a Michigan State Police database. In case you aren’t familiar, 10-print records are created in a controlled setting by dipping all 10 fingers in ink, and rolling each finger onto a card. Each criminal included in the study had five or more of these records spanning five years to 12 years, which allowed researchers to examine changes in prints over time.

Researchers ran the prints through two off-the-shelf fingerprint matching machines, looking for two separate measures: how well the machines paired different prints from the same person (genuine match scores), and if they could differentiate one person’s prints from another (imposter scores). Then, to investigate what factors influenced the machines’ judgments, they created a statistical model to mimic the machines’ output. The model took into account time between prints, fingerprint image quality, and the subject’s age, sex and race.

Fingerprint Fluidity

It turns out that a person’s age and the time interval between prints significantly affected the machines’ accuracy. Genuine match scores, comparing two prints from the same person, decreased as the time gap between prints grew. In other words, your fingerprints don’t look the same to machines as they did 12 years ago.

However, at 12 years (the longest this study investigated), the error rate was still within the normal margins of error for such machines in real-life, unless one of the prints was of poor quality. And regardless of age or elapsed time, the machines didn’t confuse one person’s prints with another person’s — kind of a big deal if you’re standing trial. The study was published Monday inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This study seems to indicate that, yes, our fingerprints do morph over time. But those slight changes aren’t enough to befuddle the machines in use today, for the most part. More research will need to be done to answer the question of how many years must elapse between prints for the machines to miss the match. For forensic scientists at least, the study is certainly food for thought.



The Typeface



A new school of globalisation studies based on micro-views, rather than macro ones, is yielding beguiling pictures of prosaic subjects. Pietra Rivoli explored wonderfully the global life of a simple product in “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy“. Marc Levinson took on the story of the container in “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger“. Tom Standage of The Economist produced “A History of the World in Six Glasses“, with drinks at its centre.

Gary Hustwit, a producer of documentaries and a former executive at Salon, has made his first foray into directing by a similar route–picking a narrow subject area and using it to illustrate broader truths. The narrow focus of his efforts is the typeface, Helvetica, from which his film takes its name. The broader subject of “Helvetica” is the globalisation of visual culture. Today Helvetica the typeface is everywhere: metro signs, airline logos, street ads, T-shirts, office software. “Helvetica” the film is doing pretty well too. Having premiered at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, it is on course to become one of the year’s top-grossing independent documentaries.

“Helvetica” is built around conversations between Hustwit and prominent figures in the world of type design: Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, and many others.

These conversations take Hustwit beyond the world of visual culture into many tangential areas. “Helvetica” ties together psychology and advertising, marketing and anthropology, cultural and urban studies.

Hustwit’s film marks the year of Helvetica’s 50th anniversary (MOMA has aHelvetica-dedicated exhibition for the occasion). Who could have thought that when Max Miedenger, a relatively unknown Swiss designer, created Helvetica in 1957 using Akzidenz Grotesk as a model, this would become the typeface of record for corporations and governments?

In the next few years Helvetica (known first as Neue Haas Grotesk) was used primarily by a coterie of Swiss designers and their clients. By the 1960s it had acquired its new name (a play on the Latin name for Switzerland, Helvetia) and attracted admirers by virtue of its clean, no-nonsense look.

Hustwit finds that Helvetica has its haters as well as its fans. Its use by governments and corporations has turned it into a target for conspiracy theorists holding it to account for all the pro-establishment messages it has carried. Paula Scher, a New York graphic designer and artist interviewed for the film, recalls how, back in the 1960s, Helvetica became a symbol of the Vietnam War, because official communication relied so heavily on the type.

One of the more plusible adjectives for describing Helvetica to a stranger would be “neutral”. If type is really the perfume of the city–a conceit of the film–then Helvetica has a scent that doesn’t smell. In this respect, “Helvetica” touches upon Foucaultian themes of control and power–threads that may acquire a new life in the subtle context of type design, particularly in the urban environment. Helvetica’s ubiquity on official documents and signs has come to embody a certain sense of stability and confidence in tomorrow. Planes won’t crash, houses won’t be robbed, nothing bad will happen: these are the indirect messages sent out by Helvetica type in the streets or in the office.

Hustwit’s film insists on the ethical responsibilities of designers towards society at large. The decisions they make may incline the people around them to be more complicit or more rebellious, to strive for more diversity or for more neutrality and homogeneity. A typical Western consumer sees more than 3,000 corporate messages per day.

But “Helvetica” is not only about the history and culture of a typeface; it’s also a film about their future. Perhaps the most important non-Helvetica issue addressed in the movie is what kind of impact technology and the Internet will have on the industry. The trade of type design is not immune to the invasion by amateurs, and, as in almost any other industry, the professionals disagree whether this is a good or a bad thing.

As some of the designers interviewed in “Helvetica” acknowledge, there has hardly been time in human history where young designers had more creative ideas and cheap technology available to them. The MySpace generation has grown up editing the graphics and the type in online user profiles. It may yet exhibit a totally different set of attitudes to the cultural monopoly of the Helvetica type.

On a pure visual level, “Helvetica” is a treat as well. It’s not one of those documentaries where you need a day’s supply of coffee to stay awake through a 90-minute stream of dense punditry. Nor is it another “Sicko”: you will not find provocative or shocking scenes. Instead Hustwit treats the audience to an eclectic mix of urban shots and interviews and spiced with charming music. “Helvetica” is what metrosexuals watch to get educated. If a documentary can count as “glossy”, then “Helvetica” is coated to perfection.

Day 4 Of Not Googling for Answers

I had decided that at the end of my semester that I would start studying French and Spanish again. Typically, I go online and google best sites to learn and practice but not this time around. I went through my personal library and found all the French related books that I had acquired. It is a lot. I decided to go with the Reading Expository French from Modern Authors. I should put “modern” in quotes because this book was written in 1965. It covers subjects from Radiation to Existentialism to Art. The best part about reading this book is that I read without stopping to look up a word. If I did not know the word, I underlined it and kept on reading. It is so easy to copy paste a word you don’t know and google it; but this interferes with the organic process or reading. I try harder. I make connections. All of a sudden I remember cognates which makes me question why on earth I use to look up french words that looked like english words. This brings me back to yesterday’s post about trusting my intellect.

Here are a few french cognates: important, flourescent, distinct, captial, photographique, confirmer, announcer, etablir, accumuler and suggerer.



13 Little-Known Punctuation Marks We Should Be Using



Because sometimes periods, commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, hyphens, apostrophes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks, brackets, parentheses, braces, and ellipses won’t do.


You probably already know the interrobang, thanks to its excellent moniker and increasing popularity. Though the combination exclamation point and question mark can be replaced by using one of each (You did what!? or You don’t read mental_floss?!), it’s fun to see the single glyph getting a little more love lately.


The backward question mark was proposed by Henry Denham in 1580 as an end to a rhetorical question, and was used until the early 1600s.


It looks a lot like the percontation point, but the irony mark’s location is a bit different, as it is smaller, elevated, and precedes a statement to indicate its intent before it is read. Alcanter de Brahm introduced the idea in the 19th century, and in 1966 French author Hervé Bazin proposed a similar glyph in his book, Plumons l’Oiseau, along with 5 other innovative marks.


Among Bazin’s proposed new punctuation was the love point, made of two question marks, one mirrored, that share a point. The intended use, of course, was to denote a statement of affection or love, as in “Happy anniversary [love point]” or “I have warm fuzzies [love point]” If it were easier to type, I think this one might really take off.


Bazin described this mark as “the stylistic representation of those two little flags that float above the tour bus when a president comes to town.” Acclamation is a “demonstration of goodwill or welcome,” so you could use it to say “I’m so happy to see you [acclamationpoint]” or “Viva Las Vegas [acclamationpoint]”


Need to say something with unwavering conviction? End your declaration with the certitude point, another of Bazin’s designs.


This is the opposite of the certitude point, and thus is used to end a sentence with a note of skepticism.


Bazin’s authority point “shades your sentence” with a note of expertise, “like a parasol over a sultan.” (Well, I was there and that’s what happened.) Likewise, it’s also used to indicate an order or advice that should be taken seriously, as it comes from a voice of authority.


The SarcMark (short for “sarcasm mark”) was invented, copyrighted and trademarked by Paul Sak, and while it hasn’t seen widespread use, Sak markets it as “The official, easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.” Because half the fun of sarcasm is pointing it out [SarcMark].


This, like the copyrighted SarcMark, is used to indicate that a sentence should be understood beyond the literal meaning. Unlike the SarcMark, this one is copyright free and easy to type: it’s just a period followed by a tilde.


This cool-looking but little-used piece of punctuation used to be the divider between subchapters in books or to indicate minor breaks in a long text. It’s almost obsolete, since books typically now use three asterisks in a row to break within chapters (***) or simply skip an extra line. It seems a shame to waste such a great little mark, though. Maybe we should bring this one back.


Now you can be excited or inquisitive without having to end a sentence! A Canadian patent was filed for these in 1992, but it lapsed in 1995, so use them freely, but not too often.

Big thanks to Scarlett and LeAnn for helping translate Bazin’s notes!

Day 3 of Not Googling for Answers

It is day three of not googling for answers. There was one moment when I wanted to add the Pandora app to my laptop and did not know where to start. I was eager because I had a playlist that I could write to and agitated because it was taking away from time that I could be writing. My fingers itched to just press that Chrome button and google “how to add Pandora to pc” but I did not do it. I took a few breaths and looked at how my desktop was structured and how to access that particular screen. In the end I discover so much more that how to add an app to the laptop.

The fact is I have had this laptop for a few months and and I threw out the manual because I knew that anything I wanted or need to know about it was on google. Foolish me. It is interesting that I take this stance because in my professional life, I keep a physical copy of everything just in case there is a computer failure. It seems in my personal life, My lazy choices is the reason why my brain is failing. This reminds me of an article that my sister sent me Use This Spartan Technique for Increasing Your Mental Toughness. In the article Martin Soorjoo states, “One of the simplest ways to increase your mental toughness is by conditioning your brain to accept and embrace discomfort on a regular basis. By pushing boundaries and introducing new daily and weekly challenges, your nervous system will adapt and you will grow stronger.” There is no doubt that these last three days have been filled with “discomfort” like when I had to look up “confound” or “lymphoma”. The thing is that I know their definition but I was faced with a truth and that is I do not trust my own intellect. I constantly double check what I know I know.

This challenge is teaching me to trust myself. Be confident in the knowledge I have acquired from years of schooling and from years of interacting with intelligent people who have passed on their knowledge to me.

Day 2 of Not Googling for Answers

I already see a pattern emerging during my week challenge in not googling for answers. I find myself accessing data that I haven’t accessed in years. I find myself trying to make connections where there may not be any but it’s worth the chance if it leads me to the answers I am looking for.

I was having drinks with my sister and we are discussing an article I posted about Eartha Kitt’s daughter. I mentioned that Eartha Kitt’s former husband looked like that guy who was married to Natalie Wood. I remembered his last name, Wagner, but could not remember his first name. At first I said Jack Wagner but then I remember that he was Frisco Jones from General Hospital  so wrong Wagner. Then I said John Wagner, no idea who that its. We decided to let it go. After a few minutes my sister shouted ROBERT. It all clicked and that is how we remembered Robert Wagner from Hart to Hart. Oh yes I am going down memory lane.

Later, were were discussing Chanel bags and went on ebay to look a few. I noticed one vendor showed that the bag he/she was selling was made in Italy. This surprised me as Chanel is french brand and I thought was made in France. Is that still the case? Help me. But do not google the answer.

Day 1 of Not Googling for Answers

I noticed that I often find myself going directly to Google for information. It could be something as simple as spelling “itinerary” a word I always seem to misspell, or to confirm the year a film was made. The sad part is that I will google again for the same thing. I have trained myself to not remember because I can always google it. Well this week I am challenging myself to not google anything. I can call a friend, ask a co-worker, go to  the library or use the books in my personal library. The person I ask cannot google the answer as that would be cheating.

So my first challenge today was to date what year the film Soul Plane (yes I was watching it don’t judge me) was released. I had a vague idea that it was about ten years ago but as the film progressed, I used technology to help me. One of the characters had a Palm Pilot and that was all I needed.

My second challenge is still a challenge. I was reciting a poem but could not finish it. I had a friend who did not know the poem but helped me tease it out. I was finally able to finish it but now I don’t remember the author. Can you help me? Do Not Google. The poem is : Never trouble trouble unless trouble troubles you/for you are sure to make your trouble double trouble if you do…