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Dell Laptop

I just bought a Dell laptop. I generally buy from vendors I know, and St. Thomas has been buying Dell systems for the past several years. I might have bought an Apple, but their lowest base price was $1,000. I knew I could do a little better. In any case, I wanted to run both Windows and Linux. Running OS-X would have been a plus (I'm addicted to Aperture) but not worth the extra dollars.

The hardware seems solid - an XPS 1330 - and it's comfortably compact. It has thumbprint authentication that seems tolerably robust. The major size limiters, the RAM and hard drive, are easy to replace. So is the 802.11g network card. It came with "Windows Home Premium." I'm astonished at the amount of Dell-branded software you have to trim back. And I'm appalled that the default search engine, "Live.com," directs you away from OpenOffice.org when you go looking for it.

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Fingerprint Biometrics

Yesterday the Digital Technology Center at the University of Minnesota hosted a talk by Anil Jain, who has done a lot of work on biometrics, especially fingerprints. He presented some interesting things that were new to me:

1. A recent paper on which Jain is 3rd co-author seems to claim that the classic '12 point match' with a latent print could have an error rate of about 1 in 4,400.

2. If you have a collection of "fingerprint patterns" for biometric matching, you can use the patterns to build fingerprint images that match those patterns. This is something that many biometric companies have claimed to be impractical, if not impossible.

3 . A student of Jain's is working on practical techniques to 'hash' fingerprint patterns. Such a hash would allow a system to match a fingerprint to a hashed pattern, yet not provide the right information for constructing a matchable fingerprint.

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