May 25, 2004
Taking Note of OneNote
Mark Voorhees of AmLaw Tech has a nice piece on Microsoft's OneNote. Among its virtues, he writes, "OneNote has almost all the advantage of taking notes on paper without many of the limitations of paper. It's much easier to share, organize, and reuse electronic notes than handwritten ones. OneNote also has none of the disadvantages of taking notes on software designed for other purposes. You can type anywhere on the page, without following the top-down, left-to-right regimen of Word. You can add a new note without creating a new file. And you don't need to save your notes; the program does that for you automatically."
Lindsay Thompson at Thompson Gipe provides yet another positive vote for OneNote.
May 23, 2004
Acrobatics with Adobe
Dennis Kennedy's incomparable web links column is up at ABA Law Practice Today. This month he provides a plethora of PDF resources. As Dennis aptly puts it: "As lawyers, we probably fall into two groups these days: those who have not started to use PDF yet and those who do use PDF but know that they need to learn ways to use it better. The following resources should help both groups."
May 20, 2004
Spybot Search & Destroy 1.3 Released
Spybot - Search & Destroy version 1.3 was released this week. I've been using version 1.2 for quite a while and strongly recommend it as a very effective and free anti-spyware/anti-malware scanner and removal tool. Simply put, it does what your firewall and antivirus programs can't. Nowadays, spyware and malware are just as serious threats to your data and privacy as viruses.
From the download mirror at Download.com: "Version 1.3 adds enhanced immunization features, an improved interface, and integration of BrowserManager for spyware detection, plus the new Hosts File feature and bug fixes.
Download.com's mini-review states:
The latest version of Spybot - Search & Destroy adds some truly useful features to an already excellent app. The program still checks your system against a comprehensive database of adware and other system invaders, but it works much faster now (in our testing, three minutes versus 10 minutes previously). It also features several interface improvements. Scan results now appear arranged by groups in a tree, and a sliding panel lets you instantly view information about a selected item to help you decide whether to kill it or not. The Immunize feature blocks a plethora of uninvited Web-borne flotsam before it reaches your computer. Other useful tools, including Secure Shredder, complement the program's basic functionality for completely destroying files. Hosts File blocks adware servers from your computer, and System Startup lets you review which apps load when you start your computer. The functionality makes Spybot - Search & Destroy a must-have for all Internet users, and this version is a worthwhile upgrade."However, the download mirror at MajorGeeks.com has this caution regarding one of the new features:
Editor's Note: The Resident shield in version 1.3 has an issue allowing certain cookies (Specifically Double Click) when set to notify. If page loading becomes a problem, right click the icon in the Systray, select “Resident IE” and either uncheck “Use Resident in IE sessions” or check "Block all bad pages silently.Due to very high demand, occasionally Spybot's official web site may fail to load, stating that the CGI limits have been reached. Just keep trying to refresh the page, and it will eventually load. However, since you can't download Spybot directly from its site, you may just want to go directly to Download.com or MajorGeeks to get it right away. MajorGeeks advises, "Please uninstall previous versions before installing this one." As with all new versions, don't be surprised if there are some new bugs. Therefore, you'll probably want to run the program's internal web updater to get the latest fixes and malware updates.
May 19, 2004
Palm News: BlackBerry Palms & BackupBuddy 2 Beta
Good news from PalmInfocenter:
Back in December I posted on the Palm/BlackBerry joint venture. Yesterday, PalmInfocenter reported that "PalmSource and Research In Motion (RIM) have completed their distribution agreement to make BlackBerry Connect available to Palm OS licensees. Together, BlackBerry Connect and Palm OS will extend email and corporate data connectivity to Palm Powered smart mobile devices, facilitating workforce productivity while away from the office. [...] PalmSource is expected to make the Palm OS Mail Client that supports BlackBerry Connect available to Palm OS licensees in the second half of 2004, as previously announced." Wireless Palms, particularly Palm OS-based smartphones (like the Treo 600) would hopefully be able to enjoy the best of both worlds when this is released.
However, there's another option well worth considering. I've previously posted on Good Technology's GoodLink technology, and it should definitely be considered in any wireless e-mail project vetting.
Next, BackupBuddy, the best Palm backup program available (in my humble opinion) is getting a major upgrade. BackupBuddy 2 Public Beta is now available for free trial download. There are many new features, particularly the addition of many new restore options: "This updated version of the award-winning BackupBuddy program offers an unprecedented level of protection for your valuable data by maintaining a complete history of your device's files and settings. You can restore an individual database from a backup created a few days ago, return your handheld to the state it was in a week ago before problems set in (but with your newest personal information manager entries intact), or copy the entire contents of a broken/stolen handheld to a replacement unit. You can even restore a mix of files: copy the latest data files from your applications, while restoring your system settings from last month, and reinstalling a program you deleted months ago."
I've heartily recommended BackupBuddy to all Palm OS PDA users as the backup solution for a number of years now, and it looks like this adds new flexibility. For example, what do you do when you install a new Palm program on Monday, and it crashes your Palm on Friday? In the interim you've probably added new calendar, address, to do, and memo entries. Unless you sync daily with a program like Outlook, you'd lose the new entries when you restore from Monday's backup. This new BackupBuddy version appears to address this problem.
However, I'm including a strong caution with this post: This beta version expires on June 15th, and it may still contain bugs. Backup programs need to be rock solid, and therefore I don't recommend anyone install or use the beta as their primary backup solution. It's best to wait until the final release is ready, and even then wait at least a month or two before switching to it (so they have a chance to correct any newly reported problems). The primary purpose of this post is to inform Palm users that a major BackupBuddy upgrade should be available soon, and it looks to be a compelling upgrade. I've found BackupBuddy to be a reliable and solid full Palm backup solution, which the basic Palm software has been lacking. Thus I'm cautiously optimistic that the new version will retain the reliability of its predecessors while providing even more flexibility in restoration options.
May 18, 2004
Plogging for Fun and Profit
You've heard about Blogs (web logs) and possibly even Wikis (collaborative blogs). Both are finding their way behind the firewalls at large companies and law firms. CIO.com just published a provocative article on Plogs (project logs), "The Virtues of Chitchat", by Michael Schrage, codirector of the MIT Media Lab's eMarkets Initiative.
Along the way, he asks:
"Why wouldn't it make sense for an IT project manager to post a blog—or "plog" (project log)—to keep her team and its constituents up-to-date on project issues and concerns? Is it inherently inappropriate for an individual to post constructive observations about a project's progress? IT organizations that can effectively use blogs as managerial tools (or communication resources) are probably development environments that take both people and their ideas seriously. [,,,] Whether management should explicitly encourage, authorize, endorse or simply allow plogs to emerge is a judgment call best left up to the culture of the company and character of the individuals."If a company wishes to utilize such a tool, he adds:
"Inevitably, companies will need to establish guidelines—legal, ethical, editorial and otherwise—about linking to plogs and who should be able to access them. Formalizing the informal is always risky. In fact, perhaps pushing for plog precepts may undermine the very openness and spontaneity that makes the idea seem so potentially powerful and appealing. But that's the nature of the organizational beast. The simple truth is, many organizations may need plogs to discover their own simple truths about how well (or how poorly) their projects are going."
May 14, 2004
Controversy Surrounds Judicial Use of Search Engines
Now here's something to make one think: CNet News reports that "judges are turning to search engines such as Google to check facts, to look up information about companies embroiled in litigation, and to challenge statistics presented by attorneys in court. Dozens of judges have penned opinions describing Google as a valuable--and sometimes crucial--source of knowledge."
The sidebar sums it up: "What's New: Internet search engines are having a profound influence on judicial research--a controversial trend that's so far garnered little attention outside legal circles. Bottom line: Some judges call Web search a crucial research tool, but critics of the trend are warning that searches on Google and its rivals are no substitute for the painstaking process of evidence and testimony."
From the examples given, some judges are taking notice of the results of web search engines and the presence (or lack thereof) of numerous results has influenced decisions: "'If a judge is taking as proof facts that are reported in any public medium that pertain to individual actions by persons involved in a case, that is troubling,' said George Fisher, a Stanford University law professor. 'Those are the sorts of facts that are supposed to be proved in the courtroom under the rules of evidence.'"
Indeed, while search engines are extremely useful for finding information on the web, I would be hesitant to conclude too much from the apparent "raw statistics" they generate. Just as "raw hits" in a web site log do not paint a good picture of the actual number of visits or pages served, the number of Google hits (or lack thereof) are not precise. For one, no search engine can index the entire web, especially since a chunk of it is still hidden in proprietary databases served up in dynamic just-in-time "active server page" (.asp) or similar web pages. Thus each search engine takes its own unique "photograph" or map of the web, akin to the example of ten blind men and the elephant. Each one cannot see the whole, so they report upon what they can sense of it.
For example, let's do a Google link search on lawtechguru.com. When I ran this search, Google listed 353 sites linking to me. Wow, that sounds pretty good, and I'd like to believe that. However, if you take the time and trouble to go through those results, you'll see that many of the links come from a lesser number of sites overall, including links from lawtechguru.com to itself. Perhaps a better tool for this purpose is the Technorati Cosmos search, which reported that I had 52 links from 31 sources when I ran it. Now Technorati.com is geared to tracking blogs, so it may not show the results of non-blog (i.e., traditional) web sites linking to me. I would estimate that the accurate answer is somewhere between Google's and Technorati's results, and this simple exercise demonstrates the dangers of taking raw aggregate search results at face value.
Another point to consider is that none of these measures tells me what my overall site traffic is, or what my relative recognition level is in the legal market. The results may seem to provide an indication to these latter points, but they don't answer these questions with any specificity. Thus one needs to clearly understand how the system works in order to draw informed conclusions.
My point here is that search engines are incredibly useful tools. They provide us with the bridges (links) to the underlying information available. But any good researcher needs to understand the limitations of such data, and to corroborate and confirm the information sought. Naturally, search engines like Google are fast and easy to use, so it's very easy to understand why so many people rely upon them to do so much. However, just because something is published on a web page doesn't mean that it's necessarily accurate -- from my perspective, it depends on the source and method of collection, among others. On the flip side, there is a tremendous amount of useful information at our fingertips on the web, and conventional wisdom makes it so compelling to use.
Probably the largest attraction among the judiciary is that search engines provide what appears to be a "common sense approach" to finding information. I've certainly seen opposing counsel come up with some novel spins on underlying facts, and it's definitely handy to have an independent means to confirm or debunk them. As a heavy user of search engines myself, I certainly don't wish to condemn them. But I have to admit that this is an area in our judicial system that is unclear at best, and subject to abuse at worst -- to use such results as a basis to justify a decision. The decision itself could be sound, but it's the means to the end that concerns me most. As a progressive and savvy technology user, I often seek ways to find new and compelling technology uses in the practice of law. However, the legal conservative in me would like to see that the more reasoned adversarial evidentiary process be upheld and augmented appropriately.
This is going to be a challenging issue for the courts to address. The more tech-savvy our judges become, the more they'll naturally want to use technology in carrying out their duties -- and they should. When used appropriately, it can increase efficiency and accuracy. The big question is under which circumstances is search engine use and reliance thereon justified?
May 13, 2004
Movable Type 3.0 Developer Edition Released
Six Apart has just released Movable Type 3.0 Developer Edition as the latest version of their blogging software. Please note this is not the general release, which is forthcoming.
Along with new features, there's a new pricing and licensing structure that upgraders should review. You'll also want to read Mena Trott's post today regarding their commitment to offering a free MT 3.0 version and the changes in their licensing structure. Some of the heated comments to her post, such as the one on Derek's Rantings and Musings discuss the financial hardship caused by limiting the free version to a single author, three blogs, and a single CPU, (licensing as opposed to physical software restriction?) and the commercial licenses are somewhat more expensive than previously. However, the Personal Licenses are more reasonably priced, especially if one takes advantage of the current introductory pricing offer.
As much as I like to see good free software, I'm also keenly aware of the value good systems like Movable Type provide, and I'd rather see them progress than stagnate or hobble along. I anticipated that as Movable Type matured and succeeded, we would be seeing a more limited approach to the free version for non-commercial use. After all, they have expenses and need to generate revenue to stay in business. However, I too was hoping to see more flexibility on non-commercial blogs that are personal endeavors -- where the blog sites are not generating revenue to cover the blog software expense.
According to Mena's post, right now it appears that only the Developer Edition is being released, and Six Apart will not be offering their paid installation service for it, so it's really only for the die-hard Movable Type users. Six Apart will then be offering the general release with more support. So I'd recommend holding off on any upgrades for now.
However, for new bloggers, I still highly recommend their hosted TypePad service as perhaps the easiest way to put up a nicely featured and professionally-looking blog with little effort and cost.
[Update: TechDirt has a critical post on the new MT pricing structure, and it will be interesting to see how Six Apart responds to the numerous noisy negative posts surrounding their change in pricing structure. Single author MT blogs may not be as directly affected as the multiple-author blogs, but the drastic change in licensing and pricing has many of the latter feeling betrayed by a bait and switch tactic. However, I feel compelled to point out that it appears so far that the previous versions are still free, and that the change in pricing affects version 3.0.]
May 11, 2004
Examining How Information Travels Around the Blogosphere
Sam Arbesman, a Brandeis University senior, "had been reading various studies that looked at historical data on the way information works its way across the Internet. But he was more interested in seeing if he could figure out, in real time, the trajectory of a meme once it hits the blogosphere. So he came up with a plan to find out. He called it the Memespread Project."
The Wired News article recounts what happened to his meme, and how and where spikes in traffic occurred after he posted it to several well-known sites. As the article mentions, the study itself is a bit tainted because the participants knew it was a study and its novelty factor could have substantially influenced others. However, with that said, it's an interesting read to see how viral the information became, with references to cross-infection between sites, people linking to it merely because others already had, etc.
New and unconventional communication methods are, to some extent, supplanting more traditional methods -- thus qualifying as "disruptive technologies". Case in point: Also at Wired News, "Text Messages Killing Radio Star" discusses how "nontraditional communications -- such as cell phone text messages -- are rapidly outflanking radio, television, and print media because of their immediacy and proximity to the public."
It's a new electronic world out there, yet information is still power. Thus finding new ways to obtain reliable information more quickly, and more importantly, having it make sense and getting use out of it while it's still relevant (and thus valuable), are all going to be very beneficial. For example, using a very simple free service like Google News Alerts (Beta) can quickly change how one receives relevant information with virtually little effort required. I fully expect that we're seeing just the tiny tip of the iceberg, and early adopters will reap competitive advantages.
May 10, 2004
Multi-Use Cell Phones Causing Multiple Problems
Sometimes, integration isn't such a good thing. That's a bit of a departure from the times I've emphasized that integration is a key productivity pursuit. Well, as much of a gadget lover and power user that I am, I just haven't had much interest in having a cell phone with an integrated camera. Why? For one, most current camera phones are barely cameras by today's high-tech standards (very low resolution, no flash, pitifully small memory, etc.). I prefer just having a separate pocket-sized and higher quality digital camera, and I'm not alone -- a number of camera cell phone owners have reported the thrill wears off fairly quickly and the photo quality isn't all that hot. Naturally, the drawback with separate devices is that you have to carry more than one. You also lose the instant ability to e-mail the pics unless your cell phone also uses a compatible flash memory card and supports e-mailing photos -- a feature which most non-camera call phones lack unless they have a built-in camera. See the problem?
Second, and more importantly, it's a good way to lose your cell phone and/or your privacy in a number of public places. Engadget posted about an eWeek article, "The Hassle of Built-In Cameras", which does a good job of summing up the issues. There are plenty of public and government locations where camera phones are banned and even confiscated. A little over a week ago, I went to the advance local movie premiere of "Laws of Attraction" and the tickets clearly stated that all video recording devices were prohibited, including camera cell phones. Since most of these devices feature an integrated camera, you can't simply pop it off. Instead, you have to throw the baby out with the bath water in leaving it behind. I put my non-camera cell phone on vibrate mode for a good compromise in the theater. That way I wouldn't bother anyone during the show with annoying ring tones and could easily walk out into the hallway to talk if an emergency arose.
The ability to remove devices is why I still love my trusty Handspring PDA -- it is a consummate technological chameleon. Handspring was definitely onto something important with their Springboard modular approach, and my many modules regularly continue to be of great use. The problem was that it just didn't catch on due to its size, modules' relative expense, and that people thought they wanted everything built-in, including cameras. Well, a number of camera cell phone users have had them confiscated or were told that they can't use them where standard cell phones are allowed. Thus the pendulum is beginning to swing back the other way as I thought it might, especially after reports of camera phone voyeurs popped up shortly after they arrived on the scene.
Another major issue is privacy. Engadget also posted about this serious privacy intrusion at a Pennsylvania high school, where a teacher and assistant vice principal tried to play Starsky and Hutch with a student's cell phone instead of calling in the real police or the parents. A key part of the facts relate not to an integrated camera, but to a text message present in the cell phone -- which the school personnel claimed could have one interpretation of a drug reference by slang use of a common word. Needless to say, the student's parents were not amused and contemplated legal action is mentioned. If filed, this is going to be an interesting test case in trying to balance the relative interests, especially since the Morning Call article mentions that "Pennsylvania is the only state with a constitution that protects privacy rights." Also consider that the more integrated something is, the higher the security and privacy risks become, because there is more information available on the device.
For some time I've been eyeing up the Treo 600 as my next possible PDA upgrade, but the integrated camera is actually holding me back rather than enticing me. Because I can't carry it in a number of places where I'd have a regular cell phone, the low-res camera becomes a liability, not an asset. I'd rather have the camera be an SDIO (Secure Digital I/O) card attachment than fully integrated, and preferably be at least 1.3 to 2.0 megapixels to be of any real use. That way I can leave it behind when prudent or necessary. Apparently others must have made the same comments, since Engadget mentions in the post that "PalmOne is already supposed to be coming out with cameraless version of the Treo 600." TreoCentral also mentions a non-camera Sprint Treo 600 should have been available by April, but I haven't had an opportunity to see if it's been released yet. As there's been several rumors of the Treo 610 being the next minor upgrade model, I'm now waiting to hear reliable information regarding its camera status to see if I can get the best of both worlds.
Don't get me wrong. Mobile digital photography and text messaging are incredibly useful technologies in their own right, and should definitely be used appropriately. I particularly love PDA smartphones due to the fact that we finally have the ability to have one address book -- the cell phone and PDA share the same one internally, and it's relatively easy to sync it up with one's favorite contact manager or groupware software, such as Outlook, on the PC. While smartphone PDA-based web browsing isn't the same experience as PC-based browsing, I've found it to be quite handy.
With that said, having a little too much crammed together into one device occasionally becomes a larger inconvenience -- rather than the ultimate convenience we were expecting. Another downside is that when one loses the integrated device for whatever reason (confiscation, theft, leaving it behind to prevent either of the former), one also loses all of the functionality in one shot. Which leads me to this strange situation where I find these integrated devices attractive and compelling (especially for the integrated address book and wireless access), and yet in some ways more troublesome than having the "standard" standalone devices. The trick is in selecting one which will provide you with more productivity and other gains overall, while keeping in mind that some key or critical uses may be prohibited at an inopportune time and/or place.
I believe we're going to see more instances of camera cell phone prohibitions, and I've already come across news articles reporting that various companies are developing technologies to remotely and automatically disable certain kinds of portable devices within a given area.
To each his or her own, but here is a place where I'd like to see more choice in the market. As camera phones gain higher resolution, functionality, and uses over the next few years, it's going to be very interesting to see how businesses, schools, government agencies, and the users themselves will address these issues.
[Update 5.24.04: The National Law Journal has a very good article discussing the specific problems that cell phones pose in court, ranging from contempt incarcerations to bailiffs dropping phones out of five-story windows.]
May 05, 2004
D.C. District Court Rules Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Beyond FTC's Statutory Authority
The ABA and the New York State Bar just won at the federal district court level (D.C.) in their suits against the FTC regarding the application of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to the practice of law, particularly in "financial activities" which include real estate settlement, tax-planning, and tax preparation services. If the decision ultimately stands, it appears attorneys should have one less regulatory concern regarding privacy notices and related provisions.
ABA President Dennis Archer sent out a mass e-mail to ABA members describing the victory, including the link to the ABA's GLBA web page wherein you can find the D.C. district court decision in PDF format.
Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia signed the order granting summary judgment:
"This is because the case is now in a posture where, for all of the reasons expressed by this Court in its August 11, 2003 Memorandum Opinion, the Court can now definitively conclude as a matter of law, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(C), that Congress did not intend for the GLBA's privacy provisions to apply to attorneys who provide legal services in the fields of real estate settlement, tax-planning and tax preparation, and that, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the FTC's interpretation that attorneys are subject to the GLBA's privacy provisions constitutes "arbitrary and capricious" agency action.[Update 5.07.04: The ABA Journal eReport has a good article discussing the ramifications and issues surrounding these developments.]
May 03, 2004
Manipulating Sounds and People
Wired News reports that "the sound of fingernails scraping a dusty chalkboard makes a listener immediately squirm and cover her ears. One company believes that there is real science behind such a reaction to sounds. NeuroPop is integrating neurosensory algorithms into music to create a certain mood and evoke more intense responses from listeners. The company hopes to market its compositions to the movie industry and video game companies."
But why stop there? If the research ultimately bears this out, one could see all sorts of applications, ranging from sales and marketing to influencing case decisions. Effective trial lawyers and trial consultants have used multimedia to persuade juries for many years. Just over a month ago at Techshow, Craig Ball played a moving slideshow tribute to a deceased husband and father for one of his cases. It included sentimental music and Craig played it to show us the substantial impact such presentations can have. It worked, as there were many misty eyes and sniffling in the audience by the time it concluded.
Now imagine that in addition to the touching photographs and emotion-inducing music, there were also subtle sounds incorporated based upon neurosensory algorithms for added effectiveness. After all, the photographs were chosen to elicit a desired response, as was the music. Would adding other auditory elements be any different, and how far could/should one go? Is it undue influence such as subliminal messages, or conversely, very effective persuasiveness? One thing's for certain: As we advance certain sciences and their applications in law, the lines are going to be blurred even more so.