Writers' Police Academy

Is your writers’ toolbox looking a bit tired and used up these days? Do you find yourself recycling stale material no matter how deep you dig for it? Well, if you’ve noticed it, it’s likely your readers are starting to grumble, wishing you’d move on past cordite and terms like flatfoot and gumshoe.

So, here are six brand new and still-shiny facts and ideas you can toss into your toolbox for use in your current work-in-progress. After all, National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner so something new might be just the thing to brighten up a hard to write scene.

Six Facts for Your Writers’ Toolbox

1. Thermal On Demand (TOD) is a new device that allows firefighters to see detailed images—doors, light switches, furniture, victims, etc.—in smoke-filled, pitch-black places.

2. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University have developed a personality profiling technique to assist in identifying potential school shooters. The process uses vector semantics (constructing vectors that represent a variety of known personality disorders and traits) to analyze and gauge the similarities with writings of a suspect/subject. The data analysis is completed automatically via computer.

3. Scientists have discovered a method for dating fingerprints. Using a cumbersome and lab-stationary, imaging mass spectrometer (the device is not a mobile/transportable device), they’ve been able to correctly age prints up to four days. However, the prints tested were single prints deposited on polished silicon surfaces—perfect prints on perfectly-suited surfaces for testing. Experts say their next move is to test over longer periods of time, and to test on more real-life surfaces. But it’s a start. Imagine being able to rule out a suspect because his prints were left at the crime scene two weeks prior to the murder. Or, to arrest a guy because his prints were the only fingerprints left at the scene on the exact day of the homicide.

4. A new device allows the military to better hear incoming radio messages by using bone conduction of vibrations to transport sound, instead of relying on a sound that’s traditionally emitted by speakers. The device is super small, the size of a dime, which is far lighter and less cumbersome than a radio. It’s attached to a wearer’s helmut and transmits messages by turning them into vibrations. The wearer’s skull bones then send those vibrations straight to the inner ear/cochlea, bypassing the ear canal and eardrum entirely. This is an added bonus because the wearer is then free to wear hearing protection and, at the same time, receive important messages.

5. Vienna, Austria is the home of the IMS (International Monitoring System, a first-alert station that monitors nuclear transgressions throughout the world. Receiving daily real-time data from stations in 89 countries, the IMS is able to detect nuclear testing anywhere on the planet. To identify nuclear activity, the IMS analyzes atmospheric gases as well as sensitive seismometers to detect earth movement. Eleven stations monitor underwater sounds and acoustic waveforms. Since sound travels so well underwater, eleven stations are enough to cover the entire world.

6. Smart watches are a source of hacking/mining personal data. For example, a hacker using a camouflaged app could be used to steal information from emails, banking details, passwords, etc. In fact, researchers used motion sensors on smart watches to accurately guess what a user was typing. It was through the use of a homegrown app that caused the data “leaks” produced by the motion sensors.