Technical Overview

The developers are solely responsible for whatever limitation and infirmity this confessional may have and they are willing to remedy whatever needs remedy, as they respectfully submit their work even in its initial stage of development to the proper Church authority for study and evaluation.  In the event that it meets approval it is the earnest wish of the developers that they remain anonymous and that their names not be identified with this special confessional, as what customarily happens with innovations.  Their preference for anonymity is made so that the Saint after which it is named will be known as their source of inspiration.

The following pages will attempt to explain in the least technical language as possible the concept, the soft and hardware used, and the technical guide on how to prepare the computers for the installation of the software itself. To be able to view the StDamien prior to installing it in your own re-configured hardware, simply visit www.StDamien.org  and after scrolling down the page, click on the two links one after the other.

The concept of StDamien

Since the deaf and those with speech impairment cannot hear or speak well, it was deemed necessary that digital technology be used as an option besides the   existing aids already approved by the Church.  It is hoped that with technology at the service of the Church, the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be more frequently used by them. This version of StDamien is primarily for the penitent with disabilities while confessing to a priest who is not similarly handicapped.

The software is designed in such a way as to enable the penitent by the use of a laptop computer to verbalize his or her confession through the use of written words relayed to a priest who is present to them and who reads their confession on the screen of his own computer that is separate from but linked to the penitent’s computer.  The two computers in the same confessional are wired together by an Ethernet cable and not via internet connection, forming one interactive unit.

 

Comparison with electronic chess game

The latest, as well as the oldest and now obsolete mechanisms, were used in the development of the StDamien Confession Box. Patterned after the earliest model of a mechanical chess set which predates the internet and windows era, StDamien does not have the capability of saving sent messages after the confession. It is precisely its similarity to the make-up of the earliest model of this computer chess game that guarantees that its data are free from being stored or saved in the hardware used.  StDamien Confession Box, although designed to run on the modern operating systems Windows 7 and Window 8, has software restrictions configured on the computers that will prohibit the storage and copying of any files out of the computers.

In the earliest model of computerized chess game,   the moves of two players (artificial intelligence versus human intelligence) are automatically erased once the game is over, rendering the machine ready for the next game. In StDamien, instead of two players, one artificial and the other human as in electronic chess, the participants are the penitent and the priest. Instead of using only one computer, they use two which are physically paired by wire, thus in a sense forming one unit.  Instead of chess moves, keyboard-typed words are exchanged between the penitent and the priest.  Just as no record of the moves are stored or saved in the old electronic chess set, making it totally empty and ready for the next game, so also in StDamien where the computers are emptied of previous messages before it is ready for the next session.

The earliest model for the computerized chess game had no memory saving function. Proof of this is when the human player quits before the game is ended and turns off the machine, no memory of the game is stored. In other words the player could not return to continue where he left off.

Now imagine the penitent as the black player and the priest, the white player. Both of them do not see or hear each other, but have in front of them a table-top chess set where they could physically place or record their moves. Both of them can tell each other their moves by means of the laptop computer. When one of them quits, the whole game is finished, with no record at all of the game. That’s exactly what happens in StDamien.

In the confession session, what is written is stored only in the memory of the penitent and the priest. That’s where the record is, not in the machine, not in the computer.  The content of the screen of the penitent and the priest is identical.  What is written by the penitent and the priest appears on their individual screens, with the source of the messages identified by an icon of a priest or the faceless icon of a  penitent. . Once the screen is full it goes to the next blank screen while the previous screen is lost except in the memory of the penitent and priest who have been engaging in confessional dialog.

When the penitent and the priest press “End Confession” the messages are totally inaccessible or deleted. But even before arriving at this point, every message sent or relayed to each other is effectively erased or overwritten by subsequent messages. When the messages disappear from the screen, they also vanish forever without any possibility of retrieval.

The video of pre-recorded instructional messages now embedded in the software is a feature for penitents who prefer visual instructions using sign language. As a possible future enhancement, if necessary, a real-time video of the actual priest hearing the confession doing the sign language for the absolution can be added when this particular technology is possible.  As of this document’s writing, February 2013, such technology – called WebRTC – is still being developed by leading technology companies.  But at the present, since the primary beneficial users are those handicapped penitents confessing to a hearing priest, the current form of StDamien Confession Box is sufficient for the purpose and will be adaptable for such future enhancements.

Since additional written captions and  sound contents of the video footage are not of confessional  nature, they cannot compromise the confidentiality  of StDamien even if such contents are recorded. They are like the standard instructions of a flight attendant in an airplane before the flight that are shown on the screen or live by the flight attendant in actual demonstration.

Also, the hardware used is an inspired innovation from the Motorola plan many years ago, which was referred to as personal phone networks. These phones were meant to operate on a short range basis within shopping malls as a two-way communication between, for example, the store manager and an employee. Technological progress however made that plan obsolete.  Now with the ubiquity of present technologies such as web chatting, and video conferencing, StDamien merges those with the simplistic approach of this obsolete idea to produce a confessional that is inexpensive and easy to set up.

The two computers acting as one unit

The StDamien Confession Box is technically a two-computer system acting as an exclusive network.  One computer functions as a server or host while the other acts as a client connecting to the server.  The computer assigned to the priest is actually a web server (like a micro-sized version of the supercomputer used by large companies like Google in their datacenters) and the computer assigned to  the penitent is a simple computer that connects to the web server to get information (like the computer you use at home to visit a website like that of Google).   The essential difference is that the priest’s computer is the only unique and exclusive server and the penitent’s computer is the only unique and exclusive client and both are in the same area physically very close to each other or even at a whispering distance.  It is a peer-to-peer closed system, with the computer assigned to the priest containing the source code and server technology that makes it possible to work together as a unit with the penitent’s computer.   For security reasons only the priest’s computer has a password while the penitent’s does not. Since many people will be using the penitent’s computer it is not practical to have a password since multiple people are expected to use it.

As stated above the technologies used in the system are nothing new.  In fact, the connectivity method used primarily in this system, peer-to-peer networking, predates the invention of the internet.  The software used are generally available and are open-source.  The computer languages used in the development of the application are PHP, Javascript, HTML, and CSS.

The use of notebooks and all-in-one PCs versus the bulky two-piece desktop computers is for security and efficiency.  Notebooks which are known to be compact with wired connections (including USB and other external output devices) are easily visible to the users, offering assurance to hesitant and privacy-conscious users that the computers are not in any way connected to a secondary recording or monitoring device. The laptop computer used by StDamien must not only be tamper-proof but should also look tamper and hack-proof.

Wired connection

The developers also preferred to utilize a two-way wired connection using a peer-to-peer crossover Ethernet cable connection rather than other more popular technologies like Bluetooth and WiFi.  Again the logic in this choice is the visual assurance of a secured connection and to impose the physical restrictions for the data exchange.  Using the Ethernet cable, which is a two-ended wire, guarantees that only the two connected computers are communicating to each other.  Adding another computer on the line or wire-tapping the Ethernet connection is impossible.   Since commercially available computers have Bluetooth and WiFi built in them, these will be programmatically disabled, uninstalled, or physically removed from the system.   Their adapters  will be physically taken out of the notebook and any software drivers will be removed from the operating system in order to prevent the possibility of them being restored as an  attempt to tamper the system.  The USB ports and external video output interface will be sealed and disabled.  Any media card slots will also be disabled and sealed.

                                                                                           

A “one-trick pony”

The computers are intended to be used for the sole purpose as devices for StDamien.  It is impossible to use them for any other application. The operating system is programmatically locked in so that other non-essential software are uninstalled and blocked for installation.  This protects StDamien from possible malware and virus attacks.

As stated above, the messages are not stored or saved.  They are written as though in water that  ripples out to unrecognizable landscape.  It’s like a teacher who,  after writing on the blackboard, erases whatever is  written on it  after it was read by the students. The only way to record what was written is to  get a physical camera and take a picture of the blackboard before its written contents are erased.

In StDamien Confession Box, the messages sent are actually overwritten by the new ones and are rendered non-retrievable.   Not a single file is saved or stored in any of the computer’s hard disk that can be retrieved or distributed after the confession.  And that is why there’s no need to delete anything because there is nothing to delete!  The messages are being kept on the screen only for both the penitent and the priest to read and carry on the communication process.  When the penitent clicks on the “End Confession” button, the page on the screen is flushed out and previous messages fade out into oblivion and nothingness.

Two computers act  as one unit despite the fact that  the priest’s  and the penitent’s computers  were referred to analogously as  a mini  website like the Google search engine and a client seeking information, respectively.  In a true sense the computers are unique or sui-generis. They exist and are meant exclusively for each other. Their functionality cannot be shared with other computers. They are numerically two but also relationally one. Their ontological functionality  is relational. They need to be related to each other to be useful. In other words, the priest’s computer will be devoid of meaning without the penitent’s. As a “mini web server” it would be totally useless without a client to be served, and vice-versa. The penitent’s computer will likewise be meaningless without the priest’s computer. Both mutually exist for each other in an exclusive or monogamous relationship. 

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