April 30, 2004
Overcoming Wi-Fi Networking Problems
If you've successfully set up a working wireless network, give yourself a pat on the back. Even with all of the security features disabled and using the default settings, they can be tricky little buggers to get up and running. However, if you haven't done much to change those default settings, you're leaving yourself wide open to attacks and other problems. Also, you might have found that your overall Wi-Fi range and user experience could use a little boost, but weren't sure how to do it. That's why I enjoyed PC World's feature article on "Beating the Wireless Blues" from their May 2004 issue.
It addresses a wide range of wireless networking problems and offers a number of troubleshooting ideas and solutions. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves for some of the items mentioned -- but this is why I liked this article over others which merely gloss over only the most common issues, or alternatively get too techie. While I thought the security advice could be a bit more robust, it did offer up some interesting bits.
For one, expect to see Intel 802.11g Centrino laptops this year, which is something I've been waiting for. Second, be extra careful with your WPA passphrase per the article: "Though this privacy standard is highly secure, a researcher reported in late 2003 that a passphrase less than 20 characters long composed entirely of words could be cracked. Use a longer passphrase, and include some punctuation marks or numbers for maximum security."
So how many of you are using 20+ WPA passphrases with mixed characters, case, and punctuation? Probably not enough. If you're still using 802.11b, be aware that newer "b" devices have WPA included, and some older ones have WPA patches available from the manufacturer, generally as firmware upgrades. You should be using this improved security feature over the vastly inferior and insecure WEP at all costs. While WPA isn't perfect, it's definitely better than WEP for encrypting and protecting your wireless network.
As I mentioned, I would have like to see a more complete security checklist, but the article appeared more focused on overcoming other obstacles to achieve a better user experience. Which is why I think it's helpful to include my list of Wireless Networking "Best Practices" for a fuller list of security items to address. Regardless, the PC World article is chock full of links to other great Wi-Fi articles and even provides a handy Wireless Networking Kit -- a list of essential hardware and software tools that no Wi-Fier should leave home without.
April 29, 2004
The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
Many thanks to Dennis Kennedy for the link to "The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities". This is a phenomenal list for anyone who looks for utility programs to fill a niche need. Power users in particular should find these of interest. Included in the list are some which I've previously discussed here, such as Spybot Search and Destroy, MyIE2, YahooPOPS! and others.
The great thing about a compilation like this is that there is always something new that I haven't come across. In this regard, these utilities look worthy to take out for a spin:
PocketKnife Peek, a small free Outlook add-in that allows you to preview your HTML email as text. To fight spam, security and privacy intrusions, etc. this is a must. While Outlook 2003 has some new preview content filtering features (particularly re: third party ad graphics or web bugs), prior Outlook versions do not, and using Outlook's preview pane is just as bad as opening the HTML e-mail itself. Only a few days ago, I mentioned how important it is to view questionable e-mails in a text-only format, so PocketKnife Peek is a timely find.
AM-DeadLink scans your bookmark file for dead links or duplicate links. If you're an early web adopter like me, you probably have hundreds or thousands of bookmarks accumulated, some of which are likely dead links by now. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone else go through them to determine which links are still active?
Gadwin PrintScreen looks to be a good replacement for some of the commercial screen capture programs. I've liked using SnagIt as a well-rounded screencap utility previously, but I don't need all of its bells and whistles, nor the price. Thus Gadwin PrintScreen should come in handy, particularly when I need some control for capturing partial screenshots for documentation and articles. I also find it a great way to document various programs' settings: Just go into the desired Options or Setup menus, and capture them to compact JPEG files or compile them into a single RTF file which can be opened by just about any word processor. It's not the same thing as a full registry or .INI file backup, but it's a quick down and dirty way to document items in a common format.
HTTrack is a free web site capture utility. While there are many excellent commercial products, I have only an occasional need for one, so this one looks like it just might do the trick.
Star Downloader Free may indeed be a rare find: A free download accelerator which purportedly doesn't contain ads, spyware, time limits or other malware found in virtually all other free download accelerators. While I've found some of the Mozilla-based download managers to work well, they are still somewhat basic. Star Downloader adds more features without the nasty side effects.
All in all, this is an impressive list, and while you probably won't have need for all of them, there are most definitely some gems listed. Another diverse resource for freeware programs is NoNags.com, which like its namesake, features free programs without any nag screens. Likewise, I often find many useful free open source programs at SourceForge.net. For Palm users, I also heartily recommend FreewarePalm.com. Just because it's free doesn't mean it's not worth using. Many times, I find the freeware programs easier to pick up and use, simply because they don't have all the bloat, they generally run fairly quickly, and their developers actively listen to their users' suggestions. In other words, software for the rest of us.
April 27, 2004
Treo 610 Resurfacing?
Thanks to Ernie's post today, there's a news update at Mobile9 on the release of the rumored Treo 610 through Verizon in the 2nd or 3rd quarter this year. Considering we're already in the 2nd quarter, and how long it usually takes to get approval, I'd look more for 3rd quarter or possibly longer. Back in January I posted the sketchy information available from various PDA sites and it was unclear whether or not it was more than just rumors. I'm still waiting for more concrete verification before drawing any conclusions.
However, many of these new PDA advance leaks have turned out to be substantiated over time. Let's hope the Treo 610 is too. The Bluetooth capability would be nice for use with a hands-free Bluetooth headset and should double as a wireless modem for a laptop. As I posted earlier today, I think it's pretty clear that the wireless connectivity is going to be a major driving force for these type of devices.
[Update: PalmInfocenter also has a recent post regarding the 610. Given their negative prior post declining to report on the 610, it's interesting that they've changed their tune.]
Is the PDA Dead?
After reading The Dallas Morning News, one might think so. Naturally, PDA enthusiasts at PDABuzz and Brighthand recently discussed whether PDAs' usefulness is waning, in wake of the Dallas Morning News article. I'm inclined to perceive the issue is one of semantics.
After all, PDA stands for Personal Digital Assistant. From the most basic unconnected organizer to snazzier connected devices such as Blackberries and smartphones, the basic functions are still very similar, and I'd say that all of these devices qualify as PDAs. I think what the negative press is centering around is that people generally want more remote connectivity and overall integration, either via their laptops or cellphones. Smartphones like the Treo 600 blur the lines, being a bit of all the above. Wireless connectivity is driving the debate, whether it's Wi-Fi, cellular or other proprietary wireless networks such as Cingular's Mobitex.
On one hand, smartphones are beginning to gain more popularity, but they cost substantially more than the average person wants to spend. Interestingly, I posted recently how the top-selling PDAs were not high end, but instead were basic unconnected models. I know many attorneys who use their PDAs almost exclusively for two functions: calendaring and contacts. Some have found the benefits of having live remote e-mail access via Blackberries, Goodlink devices, and Treos, but I wouldn't say they represent the majority of PDA users in the legal market -- at least not yet.
So I'd say that the reports of the PDA's demise are greatly exaggerated. While smaller, lighter notebooks and tablets are probably eating into some of the PDA market, as well as beefed-up cell phones, I'm perceiving that PDAs are simply evolving. At TECHSHOW, I saw a record number of Treo 600s in one place, especially among the presenters, some of whom were also successful business executives. While it may be more desirable to surf the web and read e-mail and attachments on a laptop, I sure don't want to try stuffing one in my pocket or holding one to my ear. While much of the excitement over PDAs has waned in the press, I see this more as a stage of maturity. People have simply discovered what works for them, and are buying accordingly. About the only PDA that I consistently hear excitement about is the Treo 600, although I've also heard some good things about Goodlink's hybrid messaging devices and underlying platform.
PDAs as pure standalone tools are of limited utility. I strongly believe that one of the keys to having a successful PDA experience is integration with remote systems. It needs to be a seamless extension. How and how often one is able to synchronize and thus integrate the data with one's personal information management system makes a huge difference between being nominally useful and a vital tool. Another problem is that people don't want to carry around four or more gadgets. Thus the basic PDA works well for people who only need some basic information support, while smartphone PDAs are filling the need for more savvy users. Also, I don't think a PDA is for everyone. There are still those who prefer to work with analog tools such as paper, or whose work style just isn't a good fit. How many people still print their e-mails to read them (as opposed to archiving them in hardcopy form for backup)? In those cases, cramming a PDA into their daily routine is going to produce a negative result, and I wouldn't be surprised if their experiences were quite similar to the ones depicted in the news article.
There's definitely a need to have a small, portable device capable of accessing and sharing information such as calendaring, contacts, e-mail, and even web-based information. The instant-on capability is of great use while traveling, just as with a cell phone. With the explosion of spyware infestations, particularly keyloggers on public terminals, one needs to increasingly rely on having their own portable tools. I find it interesting that some of the articles mention that cellular carriers are pushing more advanced cell phones because they find those customers actually use more airtime and data services, which generates more revenue for the carriers. Well, if they're using more airtime and data services, one would think they're actually doing something useful or of interest. I definitely think the PDA market has changed in its dynamics from just a few years ago, but I'm much more likely to attribute it to evolution rather than disinterest. In particular, I believe that wireless connectivity and synchronization has played a huge role in that evolution. Our mobile needs have become more demanding, and we need tools that can keep up with that demand, in turn "enabling" us.
April 26, 2004
What to Make About Spyware Results from Earthlink
The number breakdown from a total of 1,062,756 system scans:
System Monitors (e.g., keyloggers) = 184,559
All for a grand total of 29,540,618 instances of spyware found. Divide this by the 1,062,756 system scans, and one arrives at the average of 27.8 instances of spyware per scanned PC.
However, these results are not empirically helpful. For instance, let's assume my PC had 100 infestations and I used their service to scan it weekly and didn't know how to remove the malware. Now let's compare it to someone who only ran the scan once and then cleaned their system. Wouldn't that skew the results?
Instead, I think the numbers are useful for less stringent scientific study. For instance, adware browser cookies are by far the most common, with adware not that much behind. Fortunately, true spyware (keyloggers, trojans, etc.) is less common in comparison, but I find those numbers quite telling in that it is definitely a problem. However, it's been my experience that users who have spyware on their system have it for the most common reason that they simply don't know how it got there. In other words, they're happily surfing along and downloading malware-ridden programs of interest, without realizing that they are the direct cause of their own infestations. Perhaps they didn't have a firewall or antivirus software installed. It's not uncommon at all to find that such a user has multiple spyware infestations ranging from browser hijackers to trojans, worms and other nasties. All of which would further skew any such "average infestation" analysis. While probably a good number of PCs have some malware installed either by choice or otherwise, I'd bet there are a smaller number of machines with "hyper infestations".
I'm also likely to conclude from the above results and my direct experience that the vast majority of us probably have more undesirable browser cookies than we'd like, but unless our browser is actively blocking them, we just don't have the time to deal with them individually. Running scans from Ad-Aware, SpyBot, PestPatrol and the like is probably the easiest second line of defense after they've made it past any browser defenses, which by default are set to fairly weak protection so that web sites load properly.
I don't see malware going away any time soon, and I'd suspect that the people with multiple infestations are probably not following some basic rules of practicing safe hex:
I could go on, but you get the idea. The reason why malware spreads is collectively "us". Security is a process, not a product, and we remain the weakest link in that chain. While most of an organization could be using the Internet with caution, it only takes a very few uninformed users to unwittingly compromise a system. Thus having good backup/recovery/incident plans and systems are just as important. Perhaps most important might be what I've attempted to achieve via this post: education. Remove someone's spyware for them, and it's clean for a day. Show them how to avoid getting it in the first place, and it just might stay clean longer.
April 23, 2004
CIO Top 10 Drivers for Innovation
CIO.com once again offers great advice in "The Top 10 Drivers for Innovation" in which CIO Executive Council* members offer up their own ways of fostering an innovative culture. There are indeed some wonderful gems in here. Given my extensive technology and business management consulting experience, I can't help but comment on two of the most common issues I've seen in the legal market:
The first one listed is one which many legal organizations would be wise to heed: Delegate the firefighting. I've seen this firefighting issue time and time again, and it's challenging for management to understand: Your best people are often the "go to" gurus to whom everyone runs when there's a problem. While they are an important resource for others, the constant urgent interruptions reduce their effectiveness considerably. In the typical law firm scenario, what do you think will win for attention, the longer-term project work or the litigation crisis for the trial or deposition tomorrow? It's a no-brainer: Project work takes a back seat every time. Upper management then wonders and usually complains about why IT projects are always late, overhyped, underdelivered, and overbudget.
Thus I really like the use of appropriate cross-training to push the necessary knowledge downstream. The relatively small investment now frees up the project worker long-term to keep your projects on schedule and within budget. If you can't spare the training time now, how do you expect the guru to have time to handle all of the urgent interruptions? Constantly switching gears between firefighting and project work is a recipe for reduced productivity, frustration, burnout, and escalating cost variances for organizations. If you hire good people (and if you aren't, there's something seriously wrong), pay attention to their workflow suggestions and implement them the best you can -- they're often in a much better position to know what works and what doesn't.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing drivers is Tighten the Purse Strings. This one should have definite appeal to the ultra-conservative, cost-conscious legal market. "'Constraint breeds innovation,' says Clarke [Dave Clarke, VP and CTO at the American Red Cross]. 'It's very tempting, when money and resources flow freely, to stick with tried and true solutions. When money and resources are constrained, you have to find new and creative ways to solve problems.'"
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Recent years have forced firms to do more with less. Some of the most creative solutions I've worked on or seen firsthand were practically held together by electronic bubblegum and string. Their simplicity was the tipping point -- due to the lack of all of the expensive bells and whistles, regular folks could actually use it (even the MBA in the FedEx commercial ;^). Implementation time was often less, because it was either a new use for existing technology, or a down-and-dirty setup, and in some cases, both.
However, I offer a caution with this driver: Be careful and creative where you tighten the strings. Pinching off a critical path could backfire, like pinching an artery or nerve. Many firms have already cut the fat, yet the problems remain. Why? Take a good look to see if people are hyper-busy but aren't hyper-productive. This is often an indicator that there are inefficiencies in the underlying work structure which need to be examined and addressed before cutting off resources. Look for the bottlenecks in the workload and overall process, and redesign them where necessary and appropriate.
Again, the remainder of the article is highly recommended as an insightful quick read for anyone interested in fostering an innovative culture -- which should be all of us.
[*From the article: "The CIO Executive Council is a professional organization for CIOs. Its mission is to leverage the strengths of a large coalition of CIOs for the purpose of achieving change within our organizations and shaping the framework for the future of IT. For more information about the Council, go to www.cioexecutivecouncil.com."]
April 21, 2004
Blawgers in the Wisconsin Law Journal
I'm pleased to be able to post a set of TechLink articles, "Blogs" by Jane Pribek, and a related piece, "The Future of Law Firm Internet Marketing" by Hank Brigman.
Both are courtesy of the Wisconsin Law Journal, which graciously granted me reprint permission. "Blogs" features commentary by none other than Ernest Svenson ("Ernie the Attorney"), Wisconsin attorney Frank Pasternak, University of Wisconsin Law School Professor D. Gordon Smith, and yours truly on the blogging phenomenon.
We collectively discuss why we blog, marketing impact, our personal experiences, and a provide number of tips for others who might be considering blogging. It came out when I was the new blawg on the block, so it's a nice mix of perspectives across the board. Since then I've definitely learned volumes, and met a lot of incredibly sharp and creative people in the blogosphere along the way.
Hank's Internet marketing article should be of interest to any attorney or firm running a web site. After examining the sites of 30 leading law firms, his firm asked their marketing executives what they are seeking to add during their next site redesign. The result is the included Top Ten Web Site Strategies for Building Your Law Firm.
The TechLink section initially ran as a supplement to the Wisconsin Law Journal in October 2003. The PDF file is just under 1MB in size, so it's an easy download.
April 20, 2004
10 Rules for Blogs and Wikis
MarketingProfs.com recently published "10 Rules for Corporate Blogs and Wikis". While it's focused somewhat on corporate America and branding issues, there are also some gems included regarding knowledge management, online collaboration, content strategy, search engine ranking, and more.
One of the best suggestions is to be "authentic": Don't make up contrived posts. It's one thing to post hypothetical or composite accounts for discussion and/or education. It's another to blog with a phoney baloney PR campaign without any substance. One of the first rules of writing, to which I adhere, is to write about what you know. Due to the popularity of blogging, along with folks like me doing a certain amount of evangelizing about its benefits, I'm seeing a new wave of blogs popping up that appear to be predicated on capitalizing upon the search engine ranking results and increased traffic, than in providing content of true value to the reader.
I think these "me too" bloggers will fail dismally in their efforts, simply because they don't "get it". To me, among other things, blogging is a social and information-sharing endeavor, and as a result it's one in which people are compelled to read one's content and even, I daresay, participate. Think about wikis, which are basically described as collaborative blogs. Yes, there are definitely business implications and benefits, but those should be leveraged secondarily to keep the underlying driving force intact. It's fairly obvious that I'm talking about integrity. If the focus is primarily on the commercial benefits, I think the message will get lost, people will see right through it, and simply move on to other things. There has be a value-add to the reader/participant.
I strongly believe in giving your readers credit for being intelligent -- after all, they're reading blogs and using RSS readers far in advance of its adoption by the general public. This ought to tell us something. If you've read LawTech Guru for any period of time, you know I'm not afraid to post some highly technical how-to's from time to time. While I try to make it easier for everyone to understand and use, some of this stuff is fairly advanced. However, I know many of you are not newbies and are able to implement the solutions you find useful. Many times, you offer comments and suggestions for alternative solutions and things I hadn't considered on first blush. Thus I've learned a lot in return.
In this regard, I'd probably add two "rules" to the above article, which are "know your intended (and unintended) audience", and "don't be afraid to engage them". Blogging -- and online collaboration in general -- is not a spectator sport. Even if someone has never posted a comment here, I know they are mentally in the game or they wouldn't continue reading my posts.
Getting Help Via E-mail Without Being Ignored
"We've all done it. We need a piece of information quickly, or we want to get immediate attention from IT support. So we send off an e-mail to multiple recipients--the more lures in the water, the faster we catch a fish, right?" Wrong, per this intriguing CNET News article, in which researchers explored the effect known as "diffusion of responsibility".
In essence, sending "[...] two individually addressed e-mails would be more effective. Our reasoning was that one e-mail addressed to both recipients could lead to a diffusion of responsibility where each recipient assumes that the other will respond."
"We demonstrated that the more people queried, the lower the proportion of responses. While we were pleased with the clean results, we were not surprised. Social psychologists have been studying the diffusion of responsibility effect ever since Darley and Latane's influential studies that were motivated in part by the murder of Kitty Genovese in full view of 38 bystanders who did nothing to help. It seemed natural for us to assume that the effect could be generalized to e-mail requests."
In my humble opinion, there's a flip side to their theorizing: What if one or both people you send the e-mail to are not available, not checking their e-mail, and you have an urgent request? Then your request could sit for hours or days unanswered, especially if the recipients forgot to turn on their auto-responder. For formally organized support organizations or departments, sometimes sending the e-mail to "HelpDesk" actually helps in that it gets noticed and routed in the normal course. Conversely, bypassing the system can backfire, and I've seen it happen on numerous occasions.
Of course, we've all seen our e-mail go into the tech support black hole, never to be seen again. To which I think a hybrid approach may be beneficial: E-mail tech support through the normal channels, and if it is sufficiently urgent, send separate messages to your select "go to" people indicating that you've sent it through normal channels but would appreciate it if they'd oversee that it was handled timely. I also see these types of requests as Monopoly "Get out of jail free" cards: You only get a few, so save them for when you really need them. No one wants to respond to someone who regularly asks everyone to drop everything just for them. Also, making the e-mail more personalized may increase the chances for a response.
The article also talks about addressing this group behavior by designating responsibility and rewarding responsive behavior. A particularly interesting tidbit was that "[...] requests sent under a female name had a slightly, but significantly, higher response rate than requests sent under the male guise [...] This finding is consistent with Eagly and Crowley's metaanalysis on the effect of gender on helping behavior. Specifically, they found that people tend to help women more than men. Our study cannot conclusively support this result, since we examined only two senders' names."
Hmm -- sounds like I might need to come up with a good feminine pseudonym for the big crunches. After watching Phoebe on "Friends" change her name, I know it definitely won't be Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. ;^)
April 19, 2004
Free E-mail Utilities for Your PC
When traveling, I've often used web-based e-mail services to check and respond to e-mail. It's handy and ubiquitous, but the problem is that unless I remember to CC: myself, my outgoing messages are saved somewhere else (unless I happen to be using an integrated system like Outlook and Outlook Web Access, in which case it's all stored on the same Exchange server). In some cases, however, it's just plain convenient to send e-mail from your regular e-mail program.
If you're a mobile user and use a standalone e-mail program like Eudora, you may eventually encounter the need to turn your PC into your very own outgoing mail server without having to be a certified network engineer. This is useful if your ISP locks its outgoing e-mail server and you're trying to access it without being logged in their system. For example, you might be trying to send e-mail from within another network (corporate LAN, Wi-Fi, hotel broadband provider, etc.) and denied access. Some ISPs do this to prevent spammers from accessing their e-mail servers from the outside and exploit them as open relays. Another reason could be that you need to do some mass-mailing of e-mail newsletters, and some systems put limits on the number of concurrent recipients per e-mail.
I'll describe the above mail server software in a moment, but here's yet another goodie I recently discovered: YahooPOPs!. Yahoo! Mail disabled free access to its POP3 service in April 2002, which left a number of people with e-mail stranded on their system unless they wanted to ante up for the paid service, or manually forward all of their Yahoo! e-mails. From its web site:
"YahooPOPs! is an open-source initiative to provide free POP3 and SMTP access to your Yahoo! Mail account. YahooPOPs! is available on the Windows and Unix platforms.Now with this said, I'm not an IP attorney, nor do I play one online. It's possible that YahooPOPs! usage could be adverse to Yahoo!'s terms of service, especially since Yahoo! provides POP3 access as a paid service (and frankly, the paid service is not that expensive). So I'm going to let you, the reader, make the call for yourself and even go so far to tell you to obtain legal advice at your option. All I'm saying is that it's available for download as an open source SourceForge project. I haven't tried it myself yet, having just stumbled across it while searching for free SMTP software, and found it to be sufficiently interesting to comment upon here.
Getting back to the mail server programs for your PC: There are two free programs, Free SMTP Server and the freeware version of the PostCast Server. Both are SMTP server programs for your PC, which means that you can send e-mails directly from your PC without needing to connect to your ISP's or web host's outgoing mail server. (SMTP = Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). After installation all you generally need to do is change a single setting in your desired e-mail program: Change the SMTP server name to "localhost" (without the quotes), and you're ready to go. Need to change it back? Just type back in the setting you used previously (usually something similar to smtp.yourispdomain.com).
I tried both Free SMTP Server and the free PostCast Server. Free SMTP Server is tiny and basic, doesn't muck up system files, and works on all flavors of Windows (95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP). It only has two sets of options, one for the DNS server, and one for the SMTP port to use. As such, it doesn't put any noticeable strain on the PC. It was drop-dead simple to use and it worked well. I just needed to configure a very simple firewall rule to let Free SMTP Server send data out port 25, the standard port used for sending e-mail. For security reasons, I did not configure it to allow any incoming traffic.
However, you may have more sophisticated needs depending on the network you're using and your particular setup. In that case, the free PostCast Server may be worth a look. Like Free SMTP Server above, it runs on Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP. It is definitely more fully-featured and sports a familiar Outlook-style interface. However, I noticed it uses more CPU resources by comparison and its 15MB program download installs many Windows system files. But if you're looking for a free SMTP server option for your PC with some flexibility and muscle, you might just want to check it out.
Both of these freeware programs have even more fully-featured commercial versions, Advanced SMTP Server and PostCast Server Professional. You may have need of these if your environment is more sophisticated. For example, Advanced SMTP Server provides the following features not found in the free version, but these generally require a higher level of tech knowledge:
- SMTP gatewaysBy the way, it's easy to forget which e-mail server types are for sending or receiving e-mail. For a very quick primer on e-mail server jargon, here's an easy mnemonic: SMTP servers start with an "S" which I remember for "Send". Conversely, you "Pull" (or download) e-mail from a POP server, which starts with a "P". And as you learned here, you don't need to use servers from the same provider to use e-mail bi-directionally. Sending and receiving e-mail messages are two independent functions, which is why these the above programs can come in handy. Of course it helps if you're also somewhat tech savvy.
April 16, 2004
Top 10 Selling Handhelds
It's interesting to note that devices topping the list were not the uber-gadgets at the high end, but rather fairly basic Palm OS-based handhelds such as the palmOne Tungsten E, Sony Clie SJ22, and palmOne Zire 21. This indicates to me that more people are interested in using the basic organizer functions at an affordable price than having all the latest doohickeys. While I'm a PDA power user, I certainly can understand that choice: My highest use is still looking up and entering appointments and contacts, followed by digital note-taking and playing a few games to fight off boredom while traveling, sitting in waiting rooms, etc.
Get Started With Legal RSS News Feeds from Ernie
Ernie Svenson just did the blawg reading community a nice service: He posted instructions on how to get started using a news aggregator and even better, provided his list of legal blawgs and news sites in the standard OPML file format, which just about every decent aggregator can import. I'm honored to be included in his list, and nice going Ernie! So if you're relatively new to blawg reading and want to start with a respectable list of blawgs and legal news feeds without having to search the blogosphere, here you go.
April 14, 2004
Gadget Update & Tomorrow's Office
It's been awhile since I linked to some cool gadgetry, so this is a long overdue treat: Mobile surround sound, tiny big hard drives, and cool peeks at the office of the future.
1) Surround Sound Headphones: Love your 5.1 surround sound system at home, but miss it on the road while watching DVD's on your laptop? Fret no more. The 5D1 USB headphone looks promising. It generates surround sound by adding more speakers that pop out like little wings to surround your head. Don't have a 5.1 sound card in your laptop? No problem: The 5D1 includes its own via the USB connection, so it bypasses the normally mediocre ones included in many laptops. The corded remote control includes buttons to control the surround effect, volume, and muting. One of the drawbacks is that the extra speakers are not the "closed" type, so they leak sound that others in the area could hear. Another is that they don't appear to be noise canceling, a must when traveling.
So far, the various gadget sites are pointing to a Japanese web site via Babelfish translation, so they're probably difficult to get. I'd love to try them out, just to see if they really deliver on the hype. If anyone spots one here in the states, let me know. [Links courtesy of Engadget and The Red Ferret Journal.]
2) IVDR: Yet another "universal" portable hard drive standard is being released. It stands for "Information Versatile Disk for Removable". With a catchy name like that, clearly no one bothered to get the marketing department involved. The Register has a nice summary of the new cartridge format that was "formulated by 38 companies, led by Japanese giants Fujitsu, Pioneer, Hitachi, Sanyo, Sharp and JVC, but backed by storage specialists like LaCie, Seagate and Maxtor." Now there's a lot of electronic heavyweights, so it will be interesting to see if this thing catches on. Remember IBM's Microdrive? The first IVDR device is being shipped by Japan's IO Data, so it may be some time before it's available in the states.
Per The Register article, the new format was designed to make it easier to transfer very large files between computers, automobile entertainment systems, home audio and entertainment systems, and TVs. The cartridge slides into an adaptor (which looks akin to an external USB flash card reader) that in turn hooks up to whatever system via a USB 2.0 port, where it gets its power. Here's a big drawback: This particular device will work with a USB 1.1 bus, but you'll need to use the bundled AC power adaptor, IO Data said. The big plus is its relatively large storage capacity for its diminutive size: IO Data's version provides 20GB of unformatted storage capacity in a 1.8 inch hard drive. The general idea is that you can load it up with audio and video files, and plunk it into whatever player system you're using at the time. It's definitely priced a lot cheaper than the largest capacity flash drives, which are currently only a few Gigs. [The Register link courtesy of Engadget.]
3) Tomorrow's Tech: Last but certainly not least: Business Week offers us "Sneak Peeks at Tomorrow's Office". Now this is truly cool technology if any of these actually ever make it to market: Giant wrap-around displays, stress-sensing chairs, 360-degree view videoconferencing, and more sound compelling. Microsoft is working on a system that enables "an e-mail or voice-mail message to arrive at whatever computer or phone you're closest to. Drop your cell phone on your desk when you arrive at work, and special chips in it will route cell calls to your office number." Of course, one of the reasons for using a cell is to have those private conversations or voice messages you don't want to have on the office phone system.
I particularly liked the idea of auto-summarizing software, if it actually works well enough:
"A more advanced version of this software would realize that you've gotten distracted during a conference call (sensors in your office might notice that you've been swinging around in your chair), and then give you a typed summary of the most important points the callers discussed. Essentially, it would act as a personal assistant, says Forsythe, who uses the software already and believes it will be commercialized within two years.Perhaps the scariest one is the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to sense when you arrive in your office, thus alerting your computer (and your boss?), which boot ups and opens to the page you last looked at the night before. Just a couple of problems with this one: First, I'm not a fan of having any RFID devices on me at any time. If it's not embedded in my clothing, then it could be something I might lose, which gives rise to all kinds of nasty security and privacy issues unless there's some additional authentication required. For now, I'd rather see this genie staying put in the bottle.
Lastly, I loved the ideas relating to the displays. Large wraparound monitors sound very useful, although I'm still waiting for the Minority Report-style virtual displays. Computer displays built into restaurant tables (think Starbucks) is another -- although I'd be leery of using any public terminals due to lurking malware such as keyloggers that snatch up vital login names and passwords. But the unsuspecting general public would probably eat it up -- almost literally.
Keep in mind these are "incubator" ideas and technology. Some may eventually make it to market after undergoing usability testing and modifications to make them "consumer-friendly". In the meantime, it's fun to consider what our workplace may be like in five to ten years. [Business Week link courtesy of Gizmodo.]
April 13, 2004
Why Content Management (& KM) Fails
With respect to web site content, many organizations complain that their sites are "woefully out of date, growing out of control, and generally a complete mess. Almost unanimously, these companies have chosen to solve the problem by handing it to their IT departments." However, the business units don't want to ask for IT help for every little change, so they turn to content management. According to Veen, Jupiter Research found that ď[o]f just under 100 companies Ö only 27 percent of companies surveyed planned to continue using their Web content management systems as they do now.Ē
So Veen asks: "So why do these CMS projects almost always fail?" The answer is not surprising, and it reminds me of an old Pogo comic strip: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Content management and knowledge management are people-driven systems, not technology-driven. Technology can aid us, but we can't just slap a new program on the system and expect people will change their long-ingrained work patterns.
"People ProblemsUnfortunately content and knowledge management systems are often perceived as silver bullets, and just as likely to be delegated to the IT department to implement. The problem is that however good a job the IT department does, they aren't the ones who will be primarily using, driving, and consuming it. As much as busy knowledge workers don't have the time to spend on it, unless they actively and agreeably participate early on, my opinion is that they're probably better off not even attempting it in the first place. The resulting system needs to be baked into and utilizes their normal work habits or they just won't use it. For this discussion, I'm equating content management as a subset of knowledge management.
I'm not sure I agree with Veen's solution to send a team of reporters out into the field to write about everything and submit it back to the "editorial staff" for publishing. A number of law firms I know just don't have the human resources to pull it off. Besides, have you ever tried to read very specialized knowledge after it's been digested by a reporter? Sure, it's easy to read, but you can lose a lot in the translation. Frankly, I'd rather the have the person with the knowledge pass it on directly so I know it's valid and accurate, and therefore reliable.
The real trick is trying to make that process as easy and productive for the knowledge owners to use, or they'll feel they're being penalized with additional work -- without the associated incentives and rewards. Perhaps another way would be to adapt Veen's editorial approach to the established partner-associate mentoring process. As the associate handles a research project, the partner acts as editor in providing direction and suggestions, then reviewing and approving the final work. The next step is making the publication and sharing system attractive to use, so the contributors don't need to take much time to submit previously and currently generated work in other formats. Or even make the system semi-automatic in that it actively culls regularly-entered information into the normally used systems (think document management for example). This can be triggered by specific practice areas, categories, document types, authors, etc., and then the information is sent into a temporary holding bin for a gatekeeper to approve. Obviously, not everything thrown into the system will be useful.
There's no easy answers here, but at least it's one way to approach the people problem. Delegating and automating some of the negatively perceived "contribution" tasks while maintaining the high integrity sources of knowledge can be effective. The trick is finding just the right balance for the existing culture and work habits, and then continually fine-tuning it. Otherwise, if it's off by a sufficient annoyance factor, the whole system is going tip off center one way or the other and end up in the "hardly ever used" pile. In turn this means you've just invested a lot of time and money into something that gave a minimal return at best.
All of which is why I'm heavily inclined to say that the firms who don't get this shouldn't even attempt it. A possible exception here is that firms often have riches in niches -- segments for which it makes sense to to use such a system, but with the expectation that only a limited population will derive any meaningful benefit. With the right approach, that can work.
April 12, 2004
Finding Related Blogs of Interest
If you're looking for blogs that match your interests and/or blogs that cover similar topics between them, then check out BlogMatcher.
The interface is basically a Google knockoff, which makes it drop-dead easy to use. Simply enter the URL of a weblog (called the "Reference Blog") that interests you, and it finds other blogs that appear to discuss similar topics. In a way, it's a little like LinkedIn for bloggers. While Technorati examines which blogs link directly to each other, BlogMatcher examines who's communally linking to the same things.
"It's all really simple. The basic premise of BlogMatcher is that two blogs that link to the same sites share some sort of topical commonality. If you link to an article in your blog, then the chances are, you'll be interested in reading other people's opinions about the same article."
April 09, 2004
Making Sure Your E-Mail Newsletters Get Read
A LawTech Guru feature article by Jeffrey Beard
How many of you send out e-mail newsletters to clients, friends, business acquaintances, and more? Probably some. Now how many of you are absolutely sure that the vast majority of your recipients actually see them? Probably none.
If you could think of a single feature of e-mail newsletters that would dramatically increase the odds that they actually get read, what would you pick? Is it fancy HTML formatting? Compelling subject lines? Savvy content, perhaps? A few years ago, I probably would have agreed with any of these, particularly content. However, in today's world, I just might opt for Getting Past the Spam Filters.
You see, legitimate e-mail newsletters tend to have much in common with spam: They are mass-mailed and often have disclaimers, instructions and links to unsubscribe, suppressed recipient lists, assurances they comply with anti-spam laws, and more. That sounds like spam to me, and more importantly, they look like spam to a number of spam filtering software and services. Unless the recipient "whitelists" your newsletter, thus telling the spam filter it's okay, a good chunk of your newsletters may be filtered into your recipients' e-mail spam folder, or worse, blocked or deleted automatically -- before they ever have a chance to see them.
So what can you do? Well, a little crash course in spam filtering software wouldn't hurt. I'll use SpamAssassin as an example since it's very popular (I personally use and love it). Earlier this year, I showed people how to make it more effective at identifying spam. Now I'm going to give you some insight on how to get past it. Don't worry, I'm not passing along any information that the spammers don't already know. They're waaaaay ahead of us.
First, go read "How to Avoid the SpamAssassin", by Janet Roberts. It's a quick read and it summarizes how SpamAssassin uses weighted characteristic tests to determine whether or not an e-mail is spam. Each e-mail characteristic found (and there are many) is given a differently-weighted numeric value and then all of them are totaled for a given e-mail. If that total value exceeds SpamAssassin's threshold, then it assumes the e-mail is spam and marks it accordingly. You should know that SpamAssassin's default value, one which most people probably do not change, is 5.0. Thus if your e-mail newsletter scores a 5.0 or higher, you're spam baby: Do not pass Go, do not go into the Inbox, do not collect $200, but go directly to jail (the Spam folder), and that's if you're lucky it isn't automatically deleted.
Now notice that Ms. Roberts also shows certain characteristics that SpamAssassin uses to reduce an e-mail's score, which are essentially mitigating factors for e-mail newsletters. That's a good place to start. See how many you could incorporate into your newsletter e-mailing process.
Granted, this is just analyzing a single spam identification program when there are many in use. Some work quite differently than SpamAssassin, in that they block all e-mail until either the recipient whitelists it (marks or approves it as okay) or the sender has to fill out a one-time verification to tell the spam software your e-mail is legit. If you're serious about increasing the fullness of your newsletter readership, it wouldn't be a bad idea to understand their basic principles of operation. An hour or so of Googling could be enough to point you in the right direction.
Here's something else to consider: Depending upon the spam software used on the other end, sending your newsletter as an Acrobat PDF file attachment might be more effective against spam filters than incorporating its entire content into the e-mail body. The flip side is that it introduces several new challenges, both for you and your recipients:
Their e-mail system may block attachments based upon (a) file type (i.e., the .PDF extension) or (b) by file size. Normally, PDF's don't carry viruses, but there have been several PDF viruses for which Adobe has been updating Acrobat to resist and antivirus programs should detect. Thus a network administrator could arbitrarily block PDF e-mail attachments for security reasons. Regarding size, text-based PDFs tend to be relatively small for the typically short newsletter. However, if you're sending longer newsletters or image-based PDFs, then be aware of the potential for your PDF newsletter to exceed your recipients' file attachment size limitation. Many e-mail systems are set to block or truncate file attachments that are larger than 5 or 10 MB, but some may be set to block attachments as small as 2 MB. Therefore, try to keep your PDF newsletter file as small as possible, and preferably under 1MB in consideration of your readers who may still be using slower dial-up connections to the Internet. You also may have a small segment of recipients who prefer to read this information on their mobile e-mail device, including BlackBerries, Palms, PocketPCs, and smartphones such as the Treo 600, where less means more.
Today, most e-mail systems will handle both text and HTML-formatted e-mail newsletters contained in the body of the e-mail message. Once you choose to send a file attachment, and even after you get past their safeguards, your recipient has to be able to view it. One of the largest drawbacks to using PDF newsletters is requirement to have the free Acrobat Reader installed on your recipients' system. Believe it or not, there are still many businesses who do not install it as a matter of course. This is particularly problematic in locked-down environments which do not support it. This situation forces your recipients to either (a) play "Mother May I" with their IT department to get it installed, which naturally doesn't endear you to any of them, or (b) they opt not to receive your newsletter at work.
Do you have a web site, and if so, do you provide your newsletter online? This is yet another good method to get past spam filters and e-mail attachment limitations because it's not e-mail. Key formatting options here are HTML and PDF. But how do you entice people to visit your site on a regular basis? Let's compare: E-mail automatically "pushes" content from you to them once they subscribe. However, traditional web sites function as a "pull" that the end user has to initiate every time to visit the site via a browser. With the growing popularity of news aggregators, you may want to think about providing an RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) feed. This is a specially-formatted XML page (eXtensible Markup Language, which simplistically can be decribed as a cousin to HTML), which allows visitors to "pull" your content down to their PC via a program or service known as a "news aggregator". There are now many such programs and web sites which are able to pull, or aggregate, content from the millions of web sites and blogs featuring RSS news feeds. This information is nicely organized into a single program window on a PC or mobile device (PDA's, smartphones, etc.). News aggregators are commonly set up to automatically poll and download content to the recipient at predefined intervals, say, once every hour or day. Bingo! You've just made it automatic to deliver web content.
Nowadays, folks just don't have time to visit every web site they like. Aggregators allow people to read more of your content in less time and with less effort than manually visiting each site. It's a convenience and time management feature that appeals to an initially small percentage of the population, but which is growing at a good rate for these reasons. Consider this: As people's list of sites in their aggregator is growing quickly, you want to be one of the first ones added so you're near the top of the heap (that is, if they're not sorted alphabetically). Early adopters have first mover advantages here.
Another consideration is that many blogs (web logs) have built-in RSS feed generation features, but many traditional web site operators will need to utilize additional programs or programmers to add an RSS feed to their web site. The downside to generic RSS is that unlike e-mail subscription, you won't get a list of your subscribers, but possibly only their IP address, domain name, and web browser or news aggregator type as listed in your web site's traffic logs. To get user information, some news aggregators support "authenticated" RSS feeds. This is just a fancy way of saying it requires you to set up an RSS delivery system which in turn requires your subscribers to provide a login name and password before their aggregator can download your content. Thus with additional expense and effort on your end, you may get some additional marketing feedback. However, it's a limiting and potentially less convenient route to take for your readership.
Obviously, not all of the above approaches may work for you as a content producer due to the time, expertise, and expense involved. Like everyone else, you probably have a lot of other important things to do. They do, however, bring up a key point that is sometimes forgotten in all of the technology: Approach these issues from the perspective of your recipients. Ask what is going to work best for them, and can you reasonably deliver it? Do what you can without overextending yourself. If you have a very diverse recipient list, then you may want to include an occasional short survey regarding format and delivery. Also consider including an e-mail link so they can easily contact you with problems, questions, or suggestions, while keeping in mind how a spam filter may classify these characteristics when delivered via e-mail.
Indeed, there may be no silver bullet: Considering these issues and your readership's technological diversity, a single newsletter format may not satisfy all of their needs. Thus you may be able to increase your readership and their satisfaction by providing a combination of e-mail, PDF, and web-based newsletters at their option. As mentioned, this needs to be balanced against any additional time and expense required to produce it in multiple formats. Fortunately, this is where savvy product selection can help. Optimally, your publishing tool(s) should be able to generate the required formats directly from the same source, to avoid duplication of work. On the e-mail front, you'll likely need to maintain several e-mail address lists, one for each format. As your subscriber list grows, there are mailing list management programs available to help.
As an online content provider myself, one of my favorite mottos is "Content is King". However, that takes on a new meaning in this spam-infested era. In addition to focusing on the compelling content you want to provide, one also needs to be aware of the content and characteristics you don't. In this regard, a little tech savvy can go a long way -- all the way to your clients' and prospective clients' Inbox.
[Updated 4.10.04 to add further discussion of using PDF and web-based solutions.]
April 08, 2004
Tip: Automate Your IE Favorites Searching (for Free)
I have too many browser bookmarks (or favorites, if you prefer) in IE -- far too many. At home, the problem is magnified due to the addition of my family's bookmarks. Like most people, I have them organized into topical folders and subfolders. That doesn't mean that a particular bookmark is always easy to find. Many times it's just the opposite due to the sheer size of the forest surrounding the one tree I need. Regardless of how your IE favorites are organized, here are some easy tips to help manage the overload:
1) When you bookmark sites, make sure the saved name is descriptive: Include the name of the site, along with several keywords that you'd typically use to find it.
2) Next, you can perform a Windows file search for your IE favorites and save that search as a shortcut. This little-known Windows trick works surprisingly well. After you perform this quick one-time setup and save it, you'll have a built-in search engine for all of your IE favorites, and it's just one click away on your IE link bar.
Please note: Due to the manner in which IE stores each favorite as a separate file, which is often different than how other browsers store them, this tip will probably only work for IE-based browsers (which also includes many of the IE-wrapper browsers, such as my current preference, MyIE2 -- it may not be the fastest browser in the West, but it's definitely one of the most feature-laden for infomaniacs).
The exact procedure may vary a little between Windows versions, so this is generally how you do it. While it may appear to be a lot of steps, trust me, it's not -- most of them are quick mouse selections.
Keep in mind that using the "Named" and "Containing text" fields is cumulative, meaning that filling in both fields is the same as searching for both with an "AND" connector, which further limits your search. Also keep in mind that the "Named" field only searches the characters found in the actual name of the favorites file, which is why it's useful to include keywords when you save each new favorite instead of having many named "Welcome page". The "Containing text" field searches the actual contents of the each saved favorites file, which contains the complete URL of the corresponding web site.
3) You can also go out and download a bookmark manager, which is particularly useful if you find yourself bouncing between different browsers (e.g., IE and Mozilla-based browsers). Several are free, but many are not. I've heard very good comments about Powermarks. This one isn't free but it's database driven and integrates with the most common browsers (IE, Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, and NetCaptor). However, Powermarks is not directly integrated with some alternative browsers, such as MyIE, Firebird/Firefox, Avant, Slimbrowser, etc., most of which use another browser's underlying engine (e.g., IE or Mozilla's Gecko). In this regard they are missing a necessary communication interface which Powermarks needs for integration. There is a workaround available, but it is somewhat limited.
Lastly, if you'd like more information about managing your web sessions, then I heartily recommend Dennis Kennedy's Legal Technology Primer on the subject. For searching IE favorites, I like the solution detailed above because it leverages a feature built right into Windows, and the price was right. However, there are certainly other good solutions available, and the trick is to find one that you'll actually use.
April 07, 2004
What's Your Favorite News Aggregator?
Here's an experiment: It's an open-ended, down-and-dirty survey: If you're using a news aggregator, whether it's PC- or web-based, I'd love to hear about it. I'm not looking for statistical significance, but rather, an indication as to what we're really using. I'm currently writing an article about news aggregators, and I'm curious to see which ones are most popular in the legal market and generally elsewhere as this cuts across all markets really.
If you would be so kind, please take a moment to add a quick comment on this post with the aggregator you use most often. This way we can all see the results in real time. If you'd like to include a link to the service or program, even better. And if the mood strikes you, I'm sure it would be helpful to include a few reasons why you prefer it over others. There are many new aggregators popping up all over the place, and I thought it would be interesting to see what people are really using, what you really like. I appreciate your time, and I think this would provide some very useful feedback for everyone. Thanks!
Blogging is Big
While many blogs are still personal diaries, a small but growing percentage are hitting the big time -- with site traffic surpassing some of the big commercial sites.
Rather than recap the entire article, take a look for yourself. I agree with Rick Bruner, the author, that trying to pinpoint exact numbers is pointless. Rather, "[t]he real question such numbers help answer is, 'Is it bigger than a bread box? Are we talking small, medium or large?' " He provides some exciting examples and winds up the article with a comparison chart illustrating some interesting characteristics of weblog readers from a survey performed last summer.
All of which dovetails nicely into my recent piece: "Online Presence: Considering Blogs Instead of Web Sites", which I believe has struck a nerve as I've noticed it's attracting more inbound links than usual.
Law Firms Embracing Strategic Planning
Here's a good article from the Boston Business Journal which illustrates how law firms are evolving and embracing strategic market planning. As one might guess, in the legal market this is a slow but steady process. I particularly liked Hale and Dorr's attempts to convey that their litigation and business practices are well-integrated. Integration is a key concept. Clients love seamless delivery of services -- it makes them feel comfortable that they're in good hands.
Along this reasoning, the article cites, "[i]n another reorganization, a strategic shift from a geography-based management structure to running each practice group as an integrated national team prompted Holland & Knight LLP to develop strategic marketing plans for each practice group last year." This is a major trend I've been seeing in larger firms who have numerous widespread locations. Think about it: In a developing global economy, large corporate clients (the bread and butter of most large firms) have global issues, so they need a global legal team to handle them. I've also seen a trend whereby in-house lawyers don't want to track hundreds of outside firms -- it just takes too much time. However, with that said, smaller firms do have corporate opportunities in niches.
Another key concept expressed, one that may not sit well with all partners, is that "firms must also dole out money disproportionately to optimize results." "Developing a specialty magazine for a specific practice group, such as Hale and Dorr's IP Business, is one example of such a choice." This can be a difficult concept for many law firms who are organized as partnerships, which can psychologically infer an equal share.
Several years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a local law firm executive director. He explained that one of the virtues of adopting a corporate organization over a partnership was the concept of "retained earnings". That is, taking some of the profits and reinvesting it in the business, as opposed to slicing up and distributing all the pieces of the pie each year. This is perhaps the real gist of the article, as law firms are slowly adopting business practices that have been prevalent in other markets for some time. Glad to see it, although I firmly believe the past several years of rough economic conditions, combined with the globalization of our economy, has definitely forced firms to adopt these practices out of sheer necessity. As it's been said before, during good times it's easier to hide a bad bottom line.
Spring Cleaning for Your Systems
As spring is desperately trying to arrive in Wisconsin (and not a moment too soon!), I'm reminded that it's also a good time to do some electronic spring cleaning.
There's actually a number of simple things one can do to better organize and clean up a cluttered system. Power users have been doing these things for years, but they work and are worth repeating:
1) Run Standard Maintenance Programs:
Run Scandisk (or similar features) to find hard disk errors and reclaim lost space, and a hard disk defragmenter which will definitely help put a spring in your PC's step. A fragmented hard drive is still one the best known performance bottlenecks in PCs today.
2) Bail Your E-mail:
If your e-mail doesn't auto-purge itself or you just save everything, sort it by subject or sender to see which messages and threads you really don't need anymore. Because they are grouped together via the sort, it's very easy to highlight and delete them in one quick click. Don't forget to purge them from the trash. Naturally, be mindful of any document retention policies or regulatory requirements in this regard.
3) Blow the Dust Off:
Literally. Who wants to take computer components apart to clean them? A can of compressed air is by far one of the easiest ways to evict your dust bunnies. Consider it a mini-leaf blower for your PC. Dust is nonconductive, but it is insulative, which means it can contribute to heat build up. Considering the serious heat coming off today's fast CPU's and video boards, blowing out the dust is a cheap and easy way to extend your PC's components.
4) Give Your Eyes a Break:
Clean your monitor. After all, you've probably pointed to it enough times when collaborating, troubleshooting or adjusting it. All those smudges add up and blur the display. My favorite product is the wet/dry wipe combo that quickly dissolves the gunk and leaves it looking brand new, but be careful as some monitors have delicate coatings for which you might just want to use a soft and slightly damp cloth. Ditto for your keyboard and mouse -- let's face it, they're dirt and food magnets. It's also a major turn-off to go into someone's office and see a dirt-encrusted or dingy keyboard, mouse, and/or monitor. Same goes for laptops. Just because you're a road warrior doesn't mean your laptop has to look like the road. It's also a good time to remove all those post-it notes that just seem to breed on monitors. Enter the information into Outlook, your PDA, case management system, or whatever you use. Besides being unsightly, leaving them attached to your monitor or laptop is a huge security risk.
5) Delete Those Temporary Files:
Over time those files add up and can occupy a fair amount of hard drive space. Particularly look for *.TMP files in your temporary directories with dates other than the current date. Sort the files by extension in Windows Explorer, then highlight and delete the *.TMP files in one shot.
6) Empty Your Web Browser Cache:
Over time, these local copies of web site pages can grow and get corrupted, thus adding to some strange results when trying to download web pages. Each browser generally has a feature for deleting this cache, and it's also a good habit to get into for security and privacy reasons. Consider the same for your browser history from time to time, and selectively deleting cookies you don't need.
7) Perform a Full System Scan Using Your Antivirus and Anti-spyware Programs:
While most antivirus "autoprotect" features should stop most things, there's always a chance you have something lying dormant on your hard drive, waiting to "byte" you when you least expect it. I'm partial to Norton Antivirus, Ad-aware, Spybot Search & Destroy, and PestPatrol for these purposes.
8) Limit the Number of Auto-starting Programs:
It seems that nearly every new program I install nowadays wants to run something at Windows startup, usually as a hidden service or visible in my system tray. Take a good look at your Windows Startup group as well as using tools built into Windows for unchecking programs that automatically load from the registry. Obviously things like antivirus are essential, but do you really need all of the multimedia applets (e.g., Real and QuickTime) running in your system tray all the time? Besides freeing up CPU and memory resources (resulting in less hard drive thrashing for swap files), you might actually enjoy having less clutter and more room on the taskbar for the things you do use regularly.
9) Empty Your Recycle Bin:
You know it's there, and it's probably chock full of old files you'll never need again. Time to take out the trash.
10) Run Windows Updates:
With security threats popping up daily, you need to harden your system against those sneaky attacks. Even the best firewall in the world won't stop everything, because we intentionally open holes in it to communicate with the outside world. Windows and Internet Explorer need to be patched regularly, and Microsoft has made it relatively easy via the free Windows Update service. In particular, make sure you have installed the latest cumulative patch for Internet Explorer, which by definition includes all prior patches in one step. Even if you don't use IE for your browser, many of your installed programs do, and that makes them just as susceptible.
11) Don't Let It Get Cluttered in the First Place:
As much as I wanted to end with ten tips, this one is golden. While at TECHSHOW, Fred Faulkner, the ABA's tech guru, mentioned the seven day rule during our blogger dinner: "If after seven days of use on a trial period, if I don't like what I'm using, I will uninstall it to keep my new laptop clean. If I find that I'm using it for those seven days and it is effective, I will purchase the full version." We've all seen what happens to various Windows systems after loading too many programs.
As you can see, none of these items are difficult to do, nor do they need to be done all at once. So the next time you have a few minutes to kill, you might just want to check one of these items off the list.
April 02, 2004
Query to Blawgers: Do You Censor Reader Comments?
I'm faced with a case of first impression for my blog. This week, one of my prior posts attracted an informative and on-topic comment from someone I don't know, which in of itself is nothing out of the ordinary. However, it also had a most pejorative tone and use of questionable verbiage. I counted five such terms.
I usually get professional-sounding comments or the run-of-the-mill spam comments for drug and sex sites. Naturally I delete the latter as a matter of course, and am planning to do some upgrades to prevent them from getting through. But this one post troubled me, being in the gray area, being neither drastically foul but hardly professional-sounding either. On one hand, I'd like to encourage free and spirited feedback on everything I post here, and support freedom of speech. On the other, is it too much to expect people to articulate their ideas in a professional way, particularly on a blog devoted to furthering the development of the legal profession? It's not like this was a bar & grill blog now, is it? There is a certain level of netiquette that should be observed, at least in my humble opinion. And to put a finer point on it, it's my blog.
Since the comment was directly on topic and quite informative with a real-world experience, I don't believe that deletion is the best solution. So, would you (a) leave the comment posted as-is, (b) re-word or (c) delete the few offending words, or (d) convert them to asterisks or similar characters (e.g., **** or #@$%)? Another thought was to turn off the commenting feature X number of days after each post, which would eliminate many of the spam and questionable posts. I've noticed the most on-topic comments were posted within the first week or so after I've posted new material.
Have you encountered this, and if so, how did you approach it?
April 01, 2004
Lexis-West Merger Announced
In breaking news today, Lexis and West stunned the legal community by announcing their plans for merging the two legal publishers. Hot on the heels of their combined ABA TECHSHOW keynote, Louis Andreozzi, president and chief executive officer of LexisNexis North American Legal Markets, and Mike Wilens, president of West, jointly announced the merger in an early press conference today.
The new company will be called, appropriately enough, WestLexOne to convey that it will be the one source for all lawyers' legal research and practice needs. (I would have preferred the simpler "WestOne" myself, but it was probably shot down by the marketing folks due to the possible connotation that "West won".)
As Lou Andreozzi indicated, there has been a solid trend of consolidation within the legal community, both among law firms and their service providers. He pointed to Lexis' very recent acquisition of Time Matters and Billing Matters from DATA.TXT Corporation for practice management, and also of Applied Discovery for serving the increasing need for electronic discovery services. Likewise, West acquired ProLaw and Elite over the past several years. Mike Wilens was quick to allay concerns that any of these products or services would be cut in the merger, citing a strong demand for all of them in their respective markets.
Obviously, it is too soon to tell how this will impact the legal market, so stay tuned for updates. One thing's for certain: Another practice resource is leveraged for offering outstanding legal services.
[Just to be on the safe side, if you read this far and still believe it's true: April Fools. If you're interested in following other April 1st parodies, jokes, and hoaxes, Erik Heels is maintaining a list over at ParodyLaw.com.]