April 01, 2009
Twittering Away a Job – Infamously
It's all over Twitter and the web - how a Twitterer made a negative Tweet about her new job offer from Cisco. Naturally, someone who identified himself from Cisco saw it and responded. It's now an urban wegend (web legend), dubbed the "Cisco Fatty" incident, in reference to the "fatty paycheck" comment in her Tweet. There are already YouTube videos parodying and discussing it.
Covered in a DailyTech article, the Twitterer identified as Connor Riley explained her situation and intent in why she turned down the job and sarcastically tweeted about it to her friends. But she didn't protect the tweet from others seeing it. She even authored a thoughtful blog post to explain, apologize, and add her thoughts on the subject of social media. But really, the damage is done to her professional and personal reputation. Not exactly how one wants to gain their 15 minutes of fame in transitioning from college into the workforce. The Chicago Tribune also ran an article, "'Cisco Fatty' incident provides cautionary tale to those who tweet about work".
The moral of the story: Think before you tweet.
August 27, 2008
No Love Potion for Proposed FASB Statement No. 5
It's not often you see a proposed change to a financial accounting standard causing a big stir in the legal profession.
For a little perspective, before practicing as an attorney and consultant, I was a tax accountant with one of the Big Four. The combination of my accounting, legal, and technology experience gives me a number of insights on the interplay of these fields and the intended and unintended consequences one has on the other.
I've been following some of the online news regarding the proposed amendment to FASB Statement No. 5, which could have a boatload of unintended consequences to disclosing companies, putting them in can't-win predicament in the interest of financial transparency. To recap, the proposed amendment would require companies to be more transparent in accounting for certain loss contingencies, including pending lawsuits, which on the face of it probably sounds like a good idea: Investors want to know if or when a company may take a significant financial hit from pending litigation.
For a much more detailed explanation of the issues, Wilson Sonsini has an excellent alert on the subject, as does K&L Gates. Mary Mack covered it on her blog, quoting and linking to a WSJ editorial piece which lays out the problems and increased risks such disclosures would bring to complying companies.
The comment period closed on Aug. 8th, and a number of companies have voiced their concerns. Basically, such disclosures, while attractive from a purely accounting and financial perspective, could severely hamper a company's ability to properly defend itself in ongoing litigation, investigations, and settlement negotiations. In other words, such new requirements, without being tempered in some meaningful way, would likely ignore the realities of the current business and legal landscape.
From my perspective, one of the goals of the FASB rules and statements is that the financial statements of a company materially reflect their financial condition. In other words, they need to be sufficiently accurate so that individuals and organizations can rely on them when making various decisions (e.g., investing, lending, etc.). The proposed amendments have been characterized as potentially requiring, in addition to existing disclosures, the disclosure of key elements of a company's litigation strategy, and the possible waiver of attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product protection.
Additional concerns are that the increased disclosure may itself be the source of additional litigation: Estimate the potential liability too high, and the plaintiffs bar can use that against the company in a number of ways, particularly in extracting higher settlements, which would also harm the very shareholders the financial disclosure rules are designed to protect. Estimate it too low and the company could get hit by shareholder suits questioning whether there was intent to mislead investors.
One can certainly understand the financial board's interest in protecting the investing public and others who rely upon a company's financial statements -- particularly after the past ten years have shown us the Dot.com era's wildly inaccurate "pro forma basis" financial disclosures, the dot.com bust, Enron, MCI WorldCom, and the like. I suspect they have heard concerns from investors and are trying to do something, anything, to help increase investor confidence during a particularly turbulent economy. At the same time, the financial standards board should be fully informed as to both the intended and unintended consequences of its proposed changes. Transparency in financial disclosure is generally a good thing, but it needs to be weighed and tempered against the need to maintain the attorney-client privilege and attorney work product protection, which are generally prohibited against disclosure to the public and opposing litigants.
Thus I believe much of the criticism is well-earned at this point, and would expect strenuous opposition from both in-house and outside counsel, and conversely, support from the plaintiffs bar. While some may see this as a form of protectionism, a broader perspective recognizes there is definite merit in these challenges as they voice real-world concerns. While companies should not be allowed to hide wrong-doing from investors, there's a fine balance that needs to be kept to allow for good faith defense efforts, as not all suits have sufficient merit. I'm sure the financial news sites and various blogs will continue to provide updates, as this accounting development could have far-reaching consequences.
[I'll repeat the disclaimer that the posts and opinions expressed on this blog are solely my personal opinions and viewpoints. They do not represent or reflect (nor are they intended to represent or reflect) the positions, opinions, viewpoints, policies and/or statements of my employer or any other entity or person.]
April 25, 2008
Announcing My New E-Discovery Position
I'm very pleased to announce that I've joined Electronic Evidence Discovery, Inc. (EED) as Senior Consultant, reporting directly to the VP of Consulting Services. In my new role, I'll be advising law departments in their overall litigation readiness, legal hold, and e-mail and document retention strategies, processes, and solutions. In addition, I'll be consulting on active litigation matters to provide enhanced strategy and guidance.
On a personal note, I'm pleased to join a company who has been a trendsetter in directing eDiscovery technologies and methodologies for over 20 years, a rarity in this often volatile market. Great company, with fantastic people who really know their stuff. I'm particularly excited as my new responsibilities will draw on my deep experience with corporate legal departments, law firms, and enterprise business units and systems. In other words, I understand their specific challenges as I've been there too, as a practicing attorney, corporate legal IT manager, and large law firm and legal technology consultant. As a law firm executive director recently shared with me, "finding someone who can think like a lawyer and understand 'tech speak' is a rare animal."
I'm also a Six Sigma Green Belt with extensive experience with systems and processes that include e-mail and document retention, electronic invoicing, matter and document management, and enterprise content management. Thus I understand the challenges corporate teams face in managing their data, as well as in designing and implementing effective processes to improve defensibility and compliance. In addition, a number of companies are looking ahead to their "next steps" to proactively address these issues, which include evaluating whether and how to bring more preservation and collection efforts in-house, retooling or refining their data retention policies and practices, and further automating and systemizing their litigation hold processes.
I'll repeat the disclaimer that the posts and opinions expressed on this blog are solely my personal opinions and viewpoints. They do not represent or reflect (nor are they intended to represent or reflect) the positions, opinions, viewpoints, policies and/or statements of my employer or any other entity or person.
As always, if you'd like to discuss anything or just want to bounce ideas around, please feel free to contact me via the e-mail link at the top of my blog.
July 22, 2006
"Ferris Bueller, You're My Hero..."
Just a quick note that I'm back, at least for a post best filed under "quality of life". I took some time off from blogging to enjoy the summer with my family. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
With that in mind, we took a family vacation in St. Louis, where the weather was absolutely wonderful and a good time was had by all.
Life moves pretty fast...so I'm enjoying a little blogging vacation. See you soon.
December 23, 2005
As you may have noticed, I took a break from posting for two weeks (which nearly feels like an eternity in "blogger years" ;^). I was wrapping things up at work so I could take a nice long holiday break, and spend more time with my family.
This time of year always makes me feel thankful for all the good things in our lives, as well as the many challenges that were encountered, endured, and hopefully overcome during the year. I think about the many people I've met and had the wonderful opportunity to work with and learn from them. I also think of those less fortunate, and have tried to make a difference in their lives, however great or small that difference may be.
So during this holiday season, I wanted to send my warmest wishes to you and your loved ones.
November 28, 2005
It's Amaznig Waht You Can Raed
So you think spelling is important? (I do, particularly as a writer.) This has been floating around the Web for a while. However, when I recently received this forwarded e-mail from a friend, I still found it amazing in terms of how we process words. It's self-explanatory:
Cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!For more information, check out this page. Between this and IM/text messaging "shortcuts", the English language may never be the same. ;^)
September 12, 2005
NY Times: Katrina Left a Legal System in Shambles
For those wondering just what Katrina has done to our legal system in its wake, the New York Times piece, "A Legal System in Shambles" chronicles the many legal problems caused by the devastation as well as the very human impact.
Update: Championed by Ross Kodner, and joined by many legal technology experts, vendors, and more, HelpKatrinaLawyers.org is now online. Ross describes it as a "Resource of volunteers for legal technology, practice management and disaster/data recovery for any law practice affected by Katrina".
The site describes in more detail the type of help they are marshaling across the legal market:
September 02, 2005
Legal/Tech Relief for Katrina Victims
We've all been saddened and shocked by Katrina's devastation, and few words could effectively express our thoughts and emotions regarding those who have been so profoundly affected. While the first priority for the victims will be essential life needs, many will need help in other areas as well.
Over the past few days, many individuals and organizations have stepped up to help pool resources and render aid, particularly in the legal profession:
ILTA, The International Legal Technology Association, has quickly set up a listserv to which anyone can subscribe to request assistance or offer assistance of any kind. They hope to act as a clearing house for information exchange. They've also posted valuable links to numerous aid resources on their home page -- well worth the visit alone.
The ABA has set up a good portal for "Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief". They are asking for legal professionals to donate their services and office space to those displaced by the hurricane.
Seth Rowland of Basha Systems has set up a project forum board to help coordinate efforts of numerous legal technology consultants and service providers who have joined together to help.
Also, many state bars and their Practice Management Advisors (PMA's) have volunteered their time and advice. I'm sure I've only covered a fraction of the efforts being made, but wanted to help get the word out. My friend Dennis Kennedy has also been posting many of these resources over at Between Lawyers.
August 24, 2005
Shut Up, Stop Whining & Get a Life!
While attending the annual ILTA conference (formerly LawNet) this week, I thoroughly enjoyed the keynote by Larry Winget. Larry is perhaps best described as a very humorous and irreverent un-motivational speaker -- or as he likes to say, Irritational Speaker. He's authored the bestseller, "Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life : A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life". The entire audience was in stitches throughout his performance.
While Larry has something like 18 simple rules of success, he shared several of them in the time he had, well worth summarizing here. They apply equally in our business and personal lives. They're a bit blunt, but effective:
It's human nature to avoid taking responsibility. It's easier to say, "It wasn't my fault!" and continuing whining. You're responsible for your own situation in life (who else's fault is it?). I've always had much more respect and appreciation for a person who bravely says, "I did it, it's my fault, and I'll fix it." Playing the blame game just prolongs and stagnates the situation or problem, and everyone just gets increasingly defensive instead of cooperating.
One of the best tips I read many years ago was not to be afraid of proactively taking the blame, even (and especially) when it wasn't truly your fault. Once responsibility is acknowledged, everyone's defensiveness is lowered. Then we're free to focus on actually solving the problem. Give it a try, and you may be surprised with how effective taking responsibility can be.
In some fashion or another, we're all service providers and we all have customers (both professionally and personally). Even a little flexibility goes a long way to solve problems and satisfy your customers. They, in turn, will want to work with you even more. The more you give, the more you get. A happy customer may only tell a few people about their experience you. An unhappy one will tell a lot more. Which one do you want?
Change is hard. It's so much easier to stay within one's established comfort zone. People rarely change when they're comfortable. Most people want to initiate change only when they're uncomfortable or experiencing some kind of pain.
Larry has a different view about attitude than most other motivational speakers: Having a positive attitude will not stop bad things from happening to you. Stuff just happens regardless, that's life. But keeping a good mental outlook will help you cope with them a lot better.
This is a big one in my book -- no, make that HUGE, and I'm going to elaborate with a personal example. Don't take things too seriously and enjoy what you do. If you don't like what you're doing, then by golly, go do something else that you truly enjoy. It's that simple. Period. Don't let ego, status, or even money stop you. You're not doing anyone any favors by being miserable -- not you, not your family, and not your employer, co-workers, organization, or customers.
I sincerely hope this isn't trite, but perhaps my career path is a good example, particularly as I know a good number of professionals read this blog: I started my career out of law school as a Big Eight tax accountant. While I was very good at it technically, aced the CPA exam, etc., I wasn't particularly happy -- not even close. So I practiced law (and practiced and practiced... ;^). Better -- more along the lines of what I wanted to do, and I enjoyed helping people more directly and substantially. But I still wasn't happy. Something was still missing.
So I thought long and hard about what I really liked to do. Then I made the hardest professional decision of my life -- I left the active practice. I melded and morphed my accounting, legal, and computer technology interests and skills, and delved into legal technology with a passion. As a result, I deeply enjoy doing what I do, along with working with some of best people I've ever worked with. I work very hard, even harder than before -- that's why it's called "work". But when it's a labor of love, it's a whole different ball game, sports fans. I've said it here before -- passion counts big time. If you don't have it or it's dormant, find a way to get it back. (Also re-read the last sentence of #3 above.) As Larry shared with us, it's truly hard to excel at something when you hate doing it. Heck, sometimes it's hard enough when you enjoy it. Although he didn't mention this, I think Fun ties in closely with Attitude. Thus I really liked his quote: "Excellence stems from enjoyment."
Also, regardless of how bad something is, I've rarely found a situation that did not have some humorous aspect. Life is tough. Your job is tough. Why go through both if you're not enjoying them? A deficiency or imbalance in one often affects the other. Hey, we're only here once, and there's a lot of funny stuff that happens to us along the way. I've often found that sharing a good laugh with my co-workers is not a time-waster, it's a performance booster. Think about it.
And if I've somehow helped you in even a small way by sharing this, I'm good with that.
June 24, 2005
As I attended an intracompany conference this week, I had an opportunity to speak with various people who have had radically different jobs throughout their careers. I don't believe it's any coincidence they were also some of the most dynamic and engaging people I've met, and that they had advanced well within the organization. Good business people have more than just technical competence, more than just managerial skills. They have a broader perspective gained from diverse experiences.
A few years ago, I attended an insightful keynote by Attorney Christine Edwards of Winston Strawn in Chicago. It was entitled, "Accountability at the Speed of Thought", which addressed the challenges and responsibilities that chief legal officers face today. I blogged it as she made a number of key points, which I summarized:
These points are even truer today, and indeed have risen to become imperatives. Successful organizations need diverse, well-rounded business professionals who understand the technical, business, process, and human issues. To get there, we need to continually reinvent ourselves. While our technical and management competencies are surely important, our overall business savvy, adaptability, and creativity are even more critical in the long run.
So each year, try to do several things you normally wouldn't do within your comfort zone. Get involved in a different kind of project, one that will bring you into contact with others you normally wouldn't see. Get involved in a committee that you otherwise wouldn't consider. Do some volunteer work in your community. Take a trip. Consider additional education, and it doesn't have be formal. Consider things like Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie, or LaMarsh. Change jobs. Heck, it can be something as simple as teaching yourself to juggle. Above all else, I've found it increasingly important to make time to reflect upon what makes you happy, including your life goals (not just career-related), and visualize how you might get there.
Granted, some of these are more easily accomplished than others. But consider that should you fail, you'll likely fail forward -- definitely not to be confused with "failing upward". I'm sure by now you've noticed I'm a firm believer of change or die.
There are many organizations who need your talents in a wide variety of capacities, and you just might discover something about yourself you didn't know. If you're already in a great situation, the experiences and perspective gained will only make you more valuable. In other words, what's the downside?
April 21, 2005
Survey Reveals Most Appealing Career Alternatives for Attorneys
Robert Half Legal recently published some interesting survey results as to what occupations attorneys would consider if they left their current jobs. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of responses indicated a legal-related field. Mediation/ADR counselor came out on top at 54%.
Per the site: "It was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 200 attorneys among the 1,000 largest law firms and corporations in the United States and Canada. All respondents had at least three years of experience in the legal field." Respondents were also allowed more than one answer.
April 17, 2005
LawTech Guru Honored in ABA TECHSHOW "60 Sites"
I'm incredibly honored that LawTech Guru was included in the "60 Sites in 60 Minutes" links which were recently published on the ABA TECHSHOW 2005 site. Web veterans Jim Calloway, Robert Ambrogi, and Jeff Flax listed a cornucopia of cool and interesting sites in the popular TECHSHOW highlight. Thanks guys.
Be sure to check out the other sites listed -- no matter how long you've been on the Web, you'll likely find something worth the visit.
March 01, 2005
True story, good fodder for an SNL parody: Over the weekend, I was testing the WiFi coverage in the living room. When I pointed my WiFi detector in my wife's direction, it lit up. Without missing a beat, she kids me that I have the latest in Wifey seekers. Wow, this thing is good! (Now, if it could only keep me out of trouble when I leave the milk out.)
With a little brand "repurposing", I can see it as a new dating fad: Go into Starbucks, point the thing around and introduce yourself to the person who appears to peg the meter. Gives new meaning to the phrase, "You light up my life." (Thanks Honey. To my savvy readers, if you haven't guessed by now, I have a really cool wife.)
January 25, 2005
“Robert, they can’t eat you!” -- Bob Parsons' Rules for Survival
Bob Parsons is well known for founding/forging several successful companies, among them Parsons Technology and GoDaddy.com. So when he blogs about his life experiences and the 16 rules he tries to live by, it's well worth the read. It's a testament to the power of positive thinking, not taking anything too seriously, and sheer tenacity. Great advice for overcoming challenges, whether in business or one's personal endeavors.
December 24, 2004
I find this season brings reflection of the year gone by, the events that shape us, and the people who made all the difference. It's a time to see friends and family, and bring a little warmth and joy to the world.
This year has been a particularly busy one for me. It's seen me transplant my family, add a puppy, a new job, a new town, and a chance to work with some great people along the way. I'm a better person for it, especially with a caring family who keeps me grounded to realize what's really important. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it." After all of the hustle and bustle, I'm ready to stop and enjoy life for a while. Thus if you don't see me posting much, if anything, over the next week or so, you'll know why.
My warmest wishes to you and your loved ones during this holiday season.
December 02, 2004
LawTech Guru Goes Platinum
Upon returning from the long, snowy drive from the 2004 Midwest Law & Technology Conference in Chicago, I was pleasantly surprised to see my blog surpassed the one million hits mark for the year.
The jury is still out on the statistical reliance on site hits, especially since some of them are caused by web bots, spiders, crawlers, and the like. However, as this site intentionally has very few graphic files, the vast majority of the hits relate to the substantive content. While it may not be a perfect measuring stick, surpassing a million hits is a noteworthy accomplishment, especially on a non-commercial site run by a single person. So say what you will about hits, but I'm pretty excited.
Looking back, what a difference a year makes. For me, the real "sparking moment" for LawTech Guru came during Tom Mighell's and Sabrina Pacifici's incredible blog presentation at the ABA TECHSHOW 2003 -- talk about a valuable take-away. It felt like a 60,000 watt light bulb went on in my head. I already had the domain name, but was seeking something much more dynamic than a conventional web site.
Seeing Rick Klau blog live from TECHSHOW via Wi-Fi clearly illustrated this was a giant leap forward from what came before. Updating a web site was now as easy as sending a lightly HTML-formatted e-mail from any location and device with Internet access. I discovered early on that RSS news feeds added tremendous reach. I think most bloggers will agree that when the heart of a passionate writer meshes with an enabling technology, the result is a quantum leap. That, and it definitely helps to have fantastic colleagues like Dennis Kennedy, Jerry Lawson, Larry Bodine, and Rick Klau. They let me bounce a number of ideas and blog designs off them, gave me plenty of food for thought and a nice introduction into the blogosphere. Thanks guys.
In addition, thanks to all of you who've stopped by this site or downloaded an RSS feed. It's very satisfying for me to give something back through this blog, and I'm glad to see so many are finding it interesting and useful.
October 26, 2004
Men are from MSN, Women are from Google?
I thought this was interesting today: It seems an MSN poll regarding search engine use reveals gender differences.
To sum up the article's main points while cleansing it of any gender bias tone:
In poking a little fun at myself: Do we finally have proof that men actually stop and ask for directions on the information superhighway? ;^)
October 04, 2004
This Way to the Future
BusinessWeek Online has a slew of articles about the Innovation Economy, and where we may likely to see the next round of advances in technology. A great read to get a flavor of what could be. Having read and even participated in my share of predictions articles, I'll err on the side of evolutionary, as opposed to revolutionary, advances over the next few years.
I fully expect that the more we learn, the faster we will learn, and thus the discoveries will progress geometrically as opposed to linearly. While the overall discoveries seem to be coming even more rapidly as technology aids our abilities, it will be the practical application of those discoveries which will make the difference. I'm still reminded of the history of the Post-It Note: The adhesive which stuck to nearly everything (but just not too well) was around for a number of years before another thought of using it on paper to make a bookmark. Those discoveries resulting in innovations that make a difference to us in a cost-effective manner ought to do well.
September 28, 2004
Look Out for the Average Airline Passenger -- We're Armed and Dangerous!
One of the advantages of having a blog is the ability to raise our collective consciousness through analysis and discussion. Today I'd like to try to influence some change. Read this news story about an unfortunate 52-year old special education teacher first, before the rest of this post. It'll make a lot more sense, trust me.
I rarely ever post my indignation at something, but this one just hit closer to home. Just a few weeks ago on my way to LawNet 2004, I had an incident where I packed my shaving kit in the wrong suitcase. I was in a hurry, and I completely forgot I left my tiny mustache-trimmer scissors in my kit, which was in my carry on pullman. Lucky for me, the security person was very astute (I'm sure they see this one all the time) and simply gave me the option to have her throw it away. No problem, I needed a new one anyway. I'm just incredibly glad it wasn't a weighted bookmark, or this lawyer would've needed a lawyer.
Is it getting to the point where we just shouldn't bring anything onboard an airplane any more, not even ourselves? "They probably felt that this item looked fairly dangerous." Well, I could certainly say that of a number of people I've seen on my flights, and much that we bring aboard.
So where do we draw the line? A CD's or DVD's sharp edge (especially if sharpened on purpose) could be used against someone's throat, just like the box knives used on 9/11. A CD player could be used as a well-aimed blunt frisbee to take out a pilot at 20 feet. A good-sized laptop over the head could render someone unconscious. The cord on a set of official airline-issued headphones could be used for strangulation. Yet all of these are allowed onboard, and the latter is even supplied by the airline.
Think that business professionals are always polite? Try sitting on the runway in Phoenix for over an hour or two without air conditioning, and then see if you have the same answer. I'm sure that 52-year old special ed teacher looked real dangerous with her bookmark. My apologies for the added sarcasm, as I'm intentionally wording this a bit on the extreme side to make a point. However, consider this: I've seen the headphone cord being mentioned as a security issue not too long after 9/11, and I believe it was even used in this manner in one of the James Bond films. So it's not a novel idea nor a stretch of the imagination.
Yes, someone could have relieved her of her weighted bookmark and used it as a weapon. Or she could have been a mole for a terrorist group. Or perhaps I'll win the lottery this week and retire. I don't have a problem with security confiscating a potentially dangerous item -- that's their job. I'm just glad to read the charges against her should be dropped soon.
Meanwhile, of course, we're all reading how many traditional weapons and explosives are easily smuggled aboard. Yes we need security. But can we get back to the business of catching the bad guys, and stop picking on the little guy just to justify security jobs and avoid "poor performance" reports? We need well-trained security personnel, not paranoia. Couldn't the security person just have confiscated the bookmark for later review? Or just thrown it away? I've seen courthouses do this when screening people and discovering pocket knives, manicure sets, etc. in people's pockets. The vast majority of us are good people who just forget it's there. I realize it can be difficult to draw the line, and if it was a handgun, then I would definitely want to see the person hauled off in cuffs.
Believe it or not, I'm usually a proponent of personal accountability. With that said, it probably never even occurred to the teacher that this bookmark had a potential to be used as a weapon. So if all these nefarious alternative uses of house goods never occur to people, then how can they possibly avoid this from happening to them even if they wanted to?
I'll be the first to say I don't have all the answers, but we need to begin asking questions. I, for one, believe we need some level of reform in airport security. Otherwise, the next story could be about one of us -- while the real weapons are slipping by right under their noses.
August 17, 2004
When People Ask Me Why I Left the Practice of Law...
Regarding the order, it sounds like all involved need to go on sabbatical with a good dose of self-examination, including the federal judge. On a related note, I'm with Ernie regarding his Worthwhile post. Money isn't enough and life is just too short if you aren't happy in what you're doing. In my case, I didn't have to leap all that far, since I'm still heavily involved in the legal profession -- just from a different angle. Almost ten years ago (my, how time flies), I chose to blend my long-standing computer hobby with my professional career, and am much, much happier and I count myself more successful (I'm not talking about money here, either). Funny thing, as I keep running into more and more tech-savvy lawyers who are doing the same.
My choice taught me that the right kind of passion makes all the difference.
[8.20.04: An update on the above federal case is on the ABA Journal eReport site. The money quote, by the plaintiffs' lead counsel: "It’s important to remember to try your case and not the judge’s patience."]
August 13, 2004
Bust a Myth
PCWorld has a nice article that addresses some of the really tough PC questions:
- Do magnets really zap your data?
You'll have to read it to find out.
June 25, 2004
CDs & Long-term Data Storage Tips
Courtesy of Dave Rakowski, who posted this link today on the ABA-LawTech listserv:
"Long Term Data Storage on CD-R Discs (how to store your data for a long, long time)", while containing some dated references, covers the controversy surrounding just how long one can expect data stored on burned CDs to survive. In this regard, I liked how it colorfully mentioned "Don't Screw Up the Dye Layer". Most people take great care to protect the clear plastic bottom of the CD, the one that the laser reads, and there's even handy devices like the Skip Doctor to help buff out scratches on that side to bring even badly scratched CDs and DVDs back from the dead.
However, what some people may not realize is that your disc's data is stored literally right behind the label, in what's known as the dye layer. So while there's a lot of clear plastic between the laser side and the data, your data is only a hair's breadth away from being rendered partially or completely unreadable by even a small scratch on the label side. The good news is that this makes it very easy to dispose of these discs securely by taking a sharp object like a flat head screwdriver to the label side with a minimum and quick effort (which I've done in well under a minute). The bad news is that once the dye layer is damaged, say hasta la vista to the affected data.
Perhaps even more helpful, the article discusses why some file formats are better than others -- not for storage, but for long term accessibility due to the fact that technology and formats change so frequently. For example, the included file type table suggested various MPEG versions as preferred over more proprietary formats such as AVI, Quicktime, and RealVideo, which may or may not be around in say, five, ten, or more years. Another great suggestion: "To maintain maximum flexibility for your archived data, you might want to store two copies on each disc, one copy in an industry-standard format, and another in the application-specific format of your choice." Lastly, it pays to check your data collection every few years, to make sure they're still readable and to transfer them to new media types as the old ones become obsolete (not to mention the hardware required to read them).
June 12, 2004
Dell's Horrific Tech Support
True story that just happened to me (Warning Will Robinson! -- my first big blog rant lies ahead):
I have a Dell-branded USB Flash Memory Key (a flash memory thumb drive) that was ordered with my new laptop since it doesn't have a floppy drive. It works great, no complaints. However, one of my older PC's runs Win98, so naturally I simply need to download the driver for it.
I head on over to Dell's site, click on Support, go to Downloads and look around. Even after performing over a half dozen well-crafted searches, I come up with nothing even close. So I go to the product page which tells me that no driver is needed after Win98 (but naturally no link for the Win98 driver).
I then call Dell tech support -- twice. Both times I got a heavily-accented person who I could barely understand and both told me they weren't well trained for this area. Lovely, and oh, by the way, could we have your Dell tag number for the memory key? (Hint: There's no tag number on it.)
Windows reports it as a Lexar Digital Film USB Device. So I head on over to Lexar's site. Nope, nothing under their driver downloads that even resembles my drive.
So in a fit of desperation, I did what I should've done in the first place -- gone a-Googlin'. Sure enough, after two failed searches, the third delivers (searched for: dell driver "flash memory key"). It leads me to this wonderful gem of a support forum discussion with a Dell Support Forum Moderator (and you absolutely must read this one -- it puts Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First" routine to shame.) I begin to hear Janice's (from "Friends") voice in my ear: "Oh -- My -- God!" If the Dell forum site is unavailable, here's the Google cached version.
Bottom line, Dell's tech support is truly clueless. Short answer to a long problem: The driver appears to be at memorykeytools.com all along, from the link in the last post of the forum thread above. Surely that's completely self-evident for a Dell-branded product, right? (And no, I didn't order the memory key from Dell myself.) Again, the device works just fine. I just needed the driver. (A driver! My kingdom for a driver!)
Which made me realize that Dell didn't lose me because of the product they delivered. They lost me because of the terrible service and the terrible web site. Relating that back a little closer to home, I think there's a lesson in there for attorneys who believe that competent and affordable representation is enough, and that good content doesn't matter as long as you've got a web site with your name and services on it.
Another lesson learned is that Google is arguably the best way to usefully navigate through a huge commercial web site. I wanted to look at Sony's MicroVault since it includes some nice extras. So I head on over to Sony.com. I look and click and search, but I can't find the exact one I saw in the store. I Google for Sony MicroVault, and bam, it's in the top five or so results. Some of these big commercial sites are fundamentally broken from a usability perspective. If a good product exists in a forest, but no one can see it, does it sell?
Okay, bad computer day, rant over. You may now return to your regularly-scheduled surfing. ;^)
[Update 6.15.04: Thanks to Google, Dell might actually read this. Today, Googling for the words "Dell tech support" returns this site in the top ten results. Actually, a fair amount of the other nine results weren't too complimentary either. If you don't want to speak to a foreign support center, it sounds like your best bet is to go through their corporate support program.]
June 08, 2004
New Position Announcement
Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed my postings were more sporadic than usual. Well, there's been a very good reason for it:
I'm very happy to announce that I've recently joined Caterpillar Inc.'s Legal Services Division as their Legal IT Manager. This is a newly created, senior-ranking IT position for their corporate counsel division. Caterpillar (aka Cat) is a Fortune 100 company with 2003 annual revenue of $22.7 billion. Caterpillar is the world's largest manufacturer of construction equipment. You've probably seen their large earthmoving and mining equipment, and they've diversified into engine production, financial services, logistics and supply chain management, IP licensing, and other areas.
More to the point, Caterpillar has 130 talented in-house attorneys globally, which means they face many of the same challenges and needs as large international law firms, as well as those unique to corporate counsel. As such I've moved to their world headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, to help guide their legal division's technology endeavors. These will include short- and long-term strategic planning, needs and scope assessment, supervising the legal IT staff, product selection, training, knowledge management, collaboration between corporate and outside counsel, coordinating with their global IT department, process and workflow redesign, and implementing new technological solutions.
Cat is very big on Six Sigma, having already derived many benefits from it. We have more than 2,700 trained black belts, who are launching thousands of new projects this year across the entire company. Thus I'm looking forward to participating in the Six Sigma teams.
I'm very excited to join and help guide their legal team's technology development. I've included my new contact information in this vCard which many address book and contact manager programs can import (including various PDAs).
(On a personal note, while I've relocated from Milwaukee, WI, to the friendly Peoria metropolitan area, I'll be forever rooting for our beloved Packers, even against "Da Bears". However, with Peoria being a good trek southwest from Milwaukee, hopefully I'll have a little less "frozen tundra" during the year.)
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 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.
April 20, 2004
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 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.]
March 04, 2004
But Can I Buy a Vowel?
This is probably one of the more politically-oriented posts I've made since the inception of the LawTech Guru blog, but I feel strongly about it and this is my soapbox. Wired News has a report on the proposed "Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act ".
"Ostensibly, the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act (HR3261) makes it a crime for anyone to copy and redistribute a substantial portion of data collected by commercial database companies and list publishers. But critics say the bill would give the companies ownership of facts -- stock quotes, historical health data, sports scores and voter lists. The bill would restrict the kinds of free exchange and shared resources that are essential to an informed citizenry, opponents say."
How much is a "substantial portion"? How will this affect access to otherwise publicly available information?
Not surprisingly, "[t]he bill's biggest backers are the Software and Information Industry Association; Reed Elsevier, which owns the LexisNexis database; and Westlaw, the biggest publisher of legal databases."
Per the article, "...[c]ritics say that letting companies own facts would take information out of the public domain and make it accessible only to those who could afford it. They also say that copyright laws and usage agreements already protect databases."
Don't get me wrong, as database collators and publishers should have reasonable protections. After all, many have invested millions or more to build up their database and service offerings. However, the underlying facts need to be FREE. Here's a potentially scary consequence of this bill:
"But Joe Rubin, executive director of technology and e-commerce for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says the bill's threshold for proving 'commercial harm' is very low.I can think of many researchers and research projects in many contexts that could fun afoul of this logic, and not just in the legal market. Some additional comments are found at John Battelle's Searchblog. If accurate, it certainly sounds like there is much reason for concern. It just goes to show how "disruptive" search engines, news aggregators, and the Internet as a whole has been to the status quo in leveling the playing field. The established giants are probably scared. Hey, if you can't beat 'em under the free market, then change all the rules?
I'm not a copyright lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Instead I'm asserting my right to free speech to discuss and debate the consequences of this proposed legislation: To me it just doesn't pass the smell test. If they're having trouble competing with their already monstrous resources, then just maybe there is a better mousetrap out there, and they need to adapt to survive. Perhaps that's why people like Batelle are saying big businesses should try changing their business models before artificially manipulating laws to retain a stranglehold.
This should sound familiar. Remember the DMCA? On the face of it, HR3261 quacks like a duck regarding the comparisons to the ill-considered DMCA, and look where that got us: amongst others, grandparents and housing project minor children getting sued. One of the problems is the net was cast too wide, and too many "unintended consequences" were the result -- and I'm far from the first one to arrive at that opinion. (For example, one can make an archival backup of normal non-copyprotected audio CDs, but not of CSS-protected DVDs for the same personal purpose. Just ask 321 Studios about that one.)
Vastly improved search tools and news aggregators have finally delivered "equal access" to information, which was one of the founding principles of the Internet. I'm not exactly thrilled that big business once again wants to put their finger in the dyke and hold us back. Changing laws to artificially protect archaic business methods isn't progress. Dinosaurs shouldn't try to change the environment backward -- instead they need to adapt to the new one if they truly wish to survive in the long haul.
February 25, 2004
Just What Did We Learn from the "New Economy"?
Fast Company's March 2004 issue features an interesting look back on the dot.com New Economy, and the lessons learned for moving forward.
For instance, this was perhaps the hardest lesson for most new online businesses to learn:
"Boom-Time Buzz: Move first--or die.I liked this quote most of all: "There have always been advantages to being the first in a market, New Economy or no New Economy. The key is knowing there's a true need for a product, and being able to respond when a competitor jumps in after you. 'If you do it first and you do it right, you can win pretty big,' says Kevin O'Connor, the cofounder of DoubleClick. 'But it's much better to do it right than first.' "
January 21, 2004
Detod Legal Portal For Sale
The My Detod legal portal, my favorite online legal blog portal/aggregator, is up for sale, so they can focus on their core business, e-mail hosting. The portions up for sale include the blawg search engine, legal research, and "my detod" aggregator.
This has been a favorite online stop for me, as it has many innovative features. While I use standalone news aggregator programs, the My Detod site is a great way to check the latest posts on a number of high-caliber and popular legal blogs. I particularly like how their blawg search is automatically tied into the news feeds and stories, again something quite innovative. Other blog aggregator sites have entered the market, but I prefer My Detod because it offered a quick one-stop news update from mainstream and blawg newsfeeds.
While I wish Chad Williamson and the other folks at Detod Communications the best, I sincerely hope that these great features survive online. It would be a shame to lose such a useful service just as it was showing some promising value-adds. I've always thought there was great potential in providing a "neural net" between news stories and associated commentary found in blogs and web sites featuring RSS feeds.
January 07, 2004
Honorable MVP Mention
My humble thanks goes to Jerry Lawson for including LawTech Guru among the blawgs honorably mentioned in his recent post for the 2003 site of the year. My congratulations to Denise Howell's Bag and Baggage blawg, which is well deserved. Denise has helped set the standard and raised the bar (if you'll pardon the pun) for legal blogs.
LawTech Guru was honored as Netlawtools' October MVP Site. I'm honored to be included with such a distinguished group of pioneers. Be it known that Jerry's blogging evangelism, insight, and gracious help had a direct impact on my creating this blog. While Jerry is too humble to admit it, he's definitely an MVP in my book -- and, I suspect, in those of the blawgers mentioned.
December 24, 2003
Among other things, the holidays are naturally an opportunity for reflection and spending more time with family and friends. It's also a time to be thankful for what one has, and wishing others well.
In this context, I'm truly thankful to be a member of the blawging community. Through the generosity of others, I've received many great ideas in putting this blog together. While there are too many to list individually, I'm particularly indebted to Dennis Kennedy, Jerry Lawson, and Larry Bodine for their endless supply of ideas and patience in being solid sounding boards.
I've also greatly appreciated numerous blawgers participating in and supporting this blog by their comments, trackbacks, links, and other recognition (you know who you are ;^). In the professional and competitive world, the blogosphere is conversely a most generous and rewarding place to be. I think most blawgers will say that they've gotten more out of it than they put into it. That certainly has been my experience. Considering the vast amount of time required to design and keep a blog constantly updated, this is truly saying something.
I'm also thankful for having a family which has supported this substantial time investment in blogging and in being a legal technology consultant. Nearly ten years ago, I made the decision to evolve my career from praticing law into helping lawyers understand and use technology smartly so they in turn could better serve their clients.
There wasn't a lot of attorneys doing this, so at first the idea seemed a little crazy, especially in a city the size of Milwaukee (it wasn't exactly NY or L.A.). But I had the fortune to meet up with a good mentor, Ross Kodner at MicroLaw. He helped the transition go a lot easier, and encouraged me to get involved in great organizations like the ABA Law Practice Management section. Thanks Ross.
Along the way, I've worked with great folks on the ABA Techshow, Glasser LegalWorks, and LegalTech planning boards, numerous legal publications, and met up with many legal technology pioneers and luminaries. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of congeniality and collaboration among this incredible group of people. It's been a rewarding ride and I look forward to the rest of the journey. How many attorneys can truly say that on a personal level?
What I'm trying to say is that I have a lot to be thankful for, and I'm not referring to material things. It has been these many individuals who have made the difference.
So while I'm busy spending time with family and friends this week, I just wanted to take the time to thank the many people who have helped me along the way, and to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday. God Bless.
December 10, 2003
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
My youngest son was home sick from school, so along with getting Jello and chicken noodle soup, I went to Blockbuster and rented him some movies to help take his mind off it. We were watching the "special features" portion of the "Cats & Dogs" DVD, including a couple of specials on how they integrated the live animal shots with Henson puppets and some computer graphics (CG) special effects to make the movie.
While I found the craftsmanship of the animal trainers, puppeteers, and the CG teams to be quite fascinating, part of me always regrets watching these "making of..." specials. Why? For the simple reason that they take some of the magic out of the experience. During the movie, we're catapulted into another world, where amazing things happen and we don't really care how they did it as long as it looks real, cool, funny, or whatever. Then I watch "the making of..." and it's a little like showing me, without a doubt, that Santa Claus isn't real, but an incredibly cool CG effect. Bummer.
And then it hit me. When working with legal professionals and technological solutions, I'm often asked to "make it work" for them. Naturally this often results in some behind-the-scenes setup for them, as well as some personal training so they learn how to do certain tasks. It's gratifying to see their "aha" moment, when the light bulb turns on and I see that twinkle in their eyes that tells me they got it.
However, I'm also reminded of the times where I or someone else was explaining a more technical aspect of a program, and unfortunately saw their eyes glaze over. Probably, they didn't want to know quite that much about it, or perhaps it exceeded their personal jargon threshold for the day, and/or they didn't want to waste time hearing about details.
But now I wonder if just some small part of it was because it took some of the magic or coolness out of it for them. After all, part of working with and enjoying technology is the magic when something just works incredibly well, particularly on the first try. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to be a bit more "Oz-like" once in a while. If nothing else, it should be a lot more fun.
November 02, 2003
Christine Edwards on Corporate Governance & Technology Issues
In case you're wondering why I haven't posted in the past several days, I was catching up after returning from LegalTech Chicago. Both of the keynotes were quite good. Christine Edwards, a partner at Winston & Strawn in Chicago, spoke about "Accountability at the Speed of Thought", which addressed the challenges and responsibilities that chief legal officers face today. I jotted down her key points, and found her perspective about corporate technology issues quite refreshing:
Even more important, in my opinion, are hiring and retaining people who "get it", use their heads, and can communicate persuasively. Ms. Edwards' point about many companies' oversight in adressing prior document and e-mail drafts is a perfect example. Those are things which definitely grow fangs of their own if not included in the strategic planning and tactical implementations.
Considering the impact of HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other necessary but burdensome regulation, companies need even more insightful information and technology guidance than ever before. No longer can effective business leaders avoid dealing with it. There's a new breed of business professional in town -- the informed technologist.
[Update: I had the pleasure of sitting next to and meeting Ron Friedmann during the keynote. As Rick Klau recently posted, meeting a fellow blogger is much more congenial than meeting a stranger. Through our blogs, we already knew each other to some degree. As we already had a good idea of the other's interests and skills, our conversation just gained its own momentum.
I just noticed via my news aggregator that Ron also posted his thoughts on her keynote. He focused on Ms. Edwards' comments regarding the main distinction between how lawyers view decisions and how business people do. Having worked in both arenas, I can definitely relate.]
October 13, 2003
And So It Begins...
Just my personal musings on the impact of technology on our lives:
The Great Wireless Debate seems to be growing multiple branches. There are several new developments that have staunch proponents on either side, and they all seem to have genuinely good reasons for their positions. To put a finer point on it, it's a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.
First, there's the group of parents and students who are suing their local school district for installing a Wi-Fi network. They're seeking class action status and it stems from their concern about the effects of exposing their children to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the transmitters. The root question to some would seem to be: Does the benefit of the Wi-Fi network outweigh the potential health risks to the children and others in the vicinity? What are those health risks, and what are the rights of people who want to opt-out of something than can most likely only be practically opted out by shutting it down, segregating it, or moving to a different school district?
Next, Wired News also reports that a Mexican company has launched a service to implant microchips in children as an anti-kidnapping device. One foundation estimates that 133,000 Mexican children have been abducted over the past five years. Likewise, I can certainly see both sides of this one. On one hand, it's certainly a worthy goal to increase the odds of finding an abducted child. On the other, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device) is already a very controversial technology, due to the great potential for abuse at the loss of our personal privacy. Perhaps an Orwellian reference is a clichéd knee-jerk reaction, but it would be all to easy for Big Brother and others to be monitoring people's whereabouts at key access points (these devices generally have a short range due to the low power). I always have flashbacks to the Enemy of the State movie when I think about this. And then there's the entire debate about RFID transmitters incorporated in the very fabric of our existence -- quite literally, in our clothes. Monitoring and correlating consumer buying habits is just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, such a device could not physically prevent an abduction, as it is purely a tracking mechanism -- LoJack for kids. Like most technology, it has the potential for doing great good. It also has the potential to further erode our expectation of privacy. Extending this to its worst use, perhaps it could even be used by pedophiles to seek out children who are left alone and vulnerable? Thus enabling the very thing it was created to combat? And are we prepared to start "tagging" the population?
Both of the "disagreements" above stem from people's desire to provide something of benefit to others. The school is trying to provide advanced computing services, for better efficiency and more flexibility in education -- in essence, to provide a better education to the students. The Mexican company is offering a device to help make it easier to locate abducted children. Again, both are certainly worthy and admirable goals.
And yet, somehow, I sense a disturbing path of choices that lay before us. Perhaps I've seen too many science fiction movies, but doesn't it always start with technology being developed for noble means that is somehow either subverted for more insidious means or ends, or provides a negative result that no one foresaw? Perhaps it's rather ironic that I just watched Johnny Mnemonic again this weekend (I hadn't seen it since I watched its 1995 theatrical release). If you haven't seen it, it's based on a William Gibson story that portrays a future society where masses suffer from NAS (Nerve Attenuation Syndrome), a severe neurological disease/condition which is caused by all of the technology upon which people have become dependent. With the rise of electromagnetic radiation caused by microwaves, computers, cordless phones, cell phones, cell towers, Wi-Fi networks, etc., one can only wonder at what the cumulative effect will be after several generations. I would really like to see some empirical data on this, and from studies funded independently from either side of these debates.
However, more to the present, it seems that a Wi-Fi network emits far lower electromagnetic radiation than home cordless phones, at least according to the Wi-Fi Alliance spokesman. Of course, the argument here is that no one has no choice when located in a Wi-Fi cloud.
The RFID implant definitely has a choice aspect, and it sounds like the subcutaneous device could be more or less easily removed from the person later, say when the person is no longer a child or desires more privacy. Since they are generally low power devices, I'll take an educated guess that the medical risk is low. The main risk here is to one's privacy. Along the same lines, I for one am not thrilled with the prospect of having numerous transmitters incorporated into my clothing, particularly my under-apparel. Is nothing sacred anymore? Again, on the flip side, if it could help save my life in a medical emergency, then it's worthy of consideration, as strange as it may sound.
Without a doubt, one thing is clear: There are profound arguments to be made on both sides of these debates, and there are no easy answers. However, in our rush to improve the human condition, it is my fervent hope that our haste to find solutions does not result in the converse. Is it just me, or do the ultimate ramifications boggle the mind?
October 10, 2003
Crazy Week: Exploding Cell Phones, Stealth Spammers, & Suit Over Shift Key
Is it just me, or are technology and lawsuits getting just a little bit out of hand here?
First there are reports of exploding Nokia and Kyocera cell phones. I can just see the next Verizon commercial: "Can you hear me now?" Kaboom! Slashdot posters have provided many more jabs, many of them quite good if you enjoy the bent humor.
Seriously though, while everyone else is concerned about the well-being of the victims (as am I), Nokia is furiously finding any way to point the finger at someone else -- according to them, it must be the aftermarket batteries, it just has to be (even though one incident involved a brand new Nokia phone and Nokia battery). Some are theorizing that it could be the internal phone batteries are overheating when the phone's metal contacts touch other metallic objects in a person's pocket, like coins and keys. I've had my camera's lithium battery get super hot that way on a business trip once, so it's not that farfetched.
Next, Wired reports how crackers are teaming up with spammers to the tune of $1,500 per month to provide stealthed web sites for spammers. Among other means, the crackers achieved this feat by infecting over 450,000 PC's with trojans. I agree with the quote at the end of the article -- these "people" (and I use that term loosely) need to spend some nice quality time in jail.
Lastly, the Internet is just buzzing over the Princeton student who discovered how to circumvent SunnComm's self-proclaimed "robust and effective" audio CD anti-piracy system. He reported that to bypass it, just hold down the Shift key when inserting the protected CD into a Windows-based PC -- this bypasses any "autorun" feature on any CD. Naturally, SunnComm is suing the student for violating the DMCA and harming the company. In my humble opinion, the only thing that harmed the company was the wingnuts who designed the weak system in the first place.
This ranks right up there with the last audio CD copy protection scheme that was thwarted with a 59-cents felt-tip marker pen. These guys just don't get it: The Shift key thing is a feature of Windows, and I can even set my CD reader or burner to never autorun a CD if I wish via the "auto insert notification" setting. I'd love to see a malicious prosecution claim prevail against SunnComm with nice big punis. Even better, let's see SunComm sue Microsoft for creating a feature "'in a manner which facilitates infringement' in violation of the DMCA or other applicable law." That'll fly like a boat anchor.
After a tech week like this, TGIF.
[10/10/03 11:30 p.m. Update:]
SunnComm has reconsidered and will not sue the Princeton student. Their press release states: "According to SunnComm CEO, legal action would not repair the damage done and could potentially cause a "chilling effect" on the type of research that faculty, staff, and students of institutions of higher learning elect to pursue in the future."
Nice spin doctoring, but who do they think they're kidding? It's very difficult to believe that a litigious-minded DRM developer has suddenly become altruistic overnight. Probable translation for SunnComm: They don't want to make the situation worse by earning the ire and backlash of the general and Internet population, who already despise the RIAA and their file-sharing lawsuits. They also strongly dislike the idea of DRM-controlled audio CD's (which, technically, are not "Compact Discs", if they violate the CD standard). Besides, who wants to buy an audio disc that installs unwanted DRM software on their PC? Remember the Great TurboTax Disaster of 2003? Message to the industry: Windows already has enough problems of its own, we don't need more just for your benefit.
SunnComm's music publishing clients probably also don't want the negative publicity as they're trying to push these non-standard CD's on a less-than-enthusiastic buying public. So they'll collectively let this one pass and lick their wounds. They probably also consulted with their attorneys and found out that their intended lawsuit was on shaky ground to begin with. They have more to lose than win here. In other words, even if they could win the legal battle, they'd lose the war because consumers would probably end up boycotting these audio discs in protest, and/or find even more ways to thwart the DRM protections en masse. Either way, it does their music publishing clients no good. SunnComm is now effectively caught between a rock and a hard place if they do anything overtly.
Please note this is my objective analysis of the situation, nothing more and nothing less.
September 29, 2003
It's the Plugins That Matter
Once again I've learned the strategic importance of choosing and using software products that are fervently supported by their developers and more importantly, by the users themselves:
This weekend I finally got around to installing an MP3Pro decoder plugin for my Winamp 2 Player (it's been on my leisure "to do" list for months). If you haven't tried MP3Pro, you're in for a treat. The idea behind it is simple: Get comparable sound quality from an MP3Pro file that's half the size of its MP3 counterpart. It's easier on bandwidth and storage. At low bitrates (say, < 64 kbps) the sound quality difference between standard MP3's and MP3Pro's is akin to that between AM and FM radio stations. Yes, it's that good, and if you install the necessary decoder, you can easily search Shoutcast for "MP3Pro" to find stations using it and can hear it for yourself. While I listen to higher bandwidth stations for the nicer sound quality, some of the online stations I like are only available at the lower bitrates.
Then I counted all of the plugins I've installed into my Winamp 2 player to achieve results that rival and even exceed some shelf stereo systems. I've customized it with five incredible plugins that I'll mention shortly. If I had chosen any other music player, I wouldn't have had the benefit of Winamp's diverse plugin developer community. When you read my list of plugins, you'll understand why this is so important.
Likewise, when I was comparing blogging systems for creating this blog, I naturally looked at the included features. As you can tell, I chose Movable Type. But not just because it has some very nice features such as multiple category posting and Blogger API support for remote posting. I found out rather quickly that it has a thriving third-party plugin developer community, and that I could easily and freely extend its already impressive features with additional plugins.
And then there's my Palm-based PDA, with no less than 6 installed plugins (also known as "hacks"), to provide functionality not present in the original OS. Not to mention all the great Palm programs I've accumulated over the past several years, many of them freeware or shareware.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the pattern, and so it struck me while I was relaxing to some great classic rock online in glorious 3D surround sound: While these are all very good products in their own right, it really was the developer community and the plugins that made these good products into great ones. It's the plugins (and the people behind them) that contributed to their success just as much, if not more, than the original product itself. Up to a point, it doesn't matter if the platform itself is proprietary, as long as there is a diverse developer community willing to take advantage of its extensibility and push the envelope.
So to all these people who gave us something incredibly useful on their own time, I just wanted to take a moment to extend my thanks: You rock.
As promised, here's my list of indispensable Winamp 2 plugins for creating a great music player on your PC (although it truly helps to have a quality soundcard and speakers, including a subwoofer). This is my small way of giving something back:
1) DFX -- a skinnable* DSP (Digital Signal Processor) that synthesizes and adds back the missing high notes, deep hyperbass, ambience (reverb), and other audio attributes that are removed from MP3's during their compression -- a must-have for all media players;
[*I would be completely remiss in my thanks if I hadn't mentioned all of the graphic artists who painstakingly developed the vast collection of skins or templates for all of the above programs and more. Viva variety, the spice of life!]
2) CD Reader -- enables me to use Winamp's 10-band graphic equalizer when playing normal audio CD's (Winamp 2's equalizer only natively works on MP3 files and streams, not on audio CD's);
3) Bobware Stereo Delay Plugin 2.0 -- a fantastic little 3D sound DSP plugin that generates fully customizable delays between the left and right stereo channels to create a rich "expanded stereo" or "stereo wide" effect, and with very little CPU drag to boot;
4) MP3Pro Winamp Plugin -- discussed above, used to get much better sound quality out of lower bitrate (lower bandwidth) audio streams or files encoded with MP3Pro; and
5) MuchFX2 -- enables me to "stack" or run multiple DSP plugins (such as DFX and Bobware Stereo Delay) simultaneously in Winamp for a custom blended effect. This is necessary because Winamp 2's architecture only allows one DSP to be selected and run at any one time. With MuchFX2, I get the benefit of DFX's sound quality boost along with the expanded stereo effects of the Bobware Stereo Delay plugin. A very cool must-have. (Note: As of 9/27/03, this is MuchFX2's new website for development).
Like Winamp, all of the above plugins were free except for DFX, which cost about $25 at the time for the "master pack" bundle promotion, which works with numerous media players, and is well worth it at twice that price. You'll also note that I'm still using Winamp 2 (aka "Classic") even though Nullsoft released Winamp 3 a while ago. It's for one simple reason alone: Winamp 3 can't run the Winamp 2 plugins natively. You need -- you guessed it -- yet another plugin to do that. Ironic, isn't it? It reminds me of the IBM business consulting commercial about the "universal business adapter", which works with all conceivable devices. However, to use it in Europe, you need an adapter. A classic.
Thus to use some of these plugins with Winamp 3, you need the Winamp 2x Plugin Manager. While it should work with the above plugins, it doesn't support all Winamp 2 plugins, and some users have reported it to be flaky at times. In essence it's a hack or kluge, and I applaud its author for taking time to fill a huge gap for Winamp 3 users. Since Winamp 3 didn't improve much, if any, upon the overall sound quality (mostly just its aesthetics), I decided to stay with Winamp 2's solid support of my plugins. Eventually I'll try these with Winamp 3, but I'll take superior sound quality and program stability any day over more visual bells and whistles.
I've recently discussed how "enablers" should be sought out for great solutions, and all the above certainly qualifies with flying colors. They have reinforced my philosophy of how I look for and choose technology solutions.
September 11, 2003
It's eerie, perhaps fate, and definitely a bit haunting, that on Sept. 11th I should discuss a program named Azure, and then read Dennis Kennedy's moving post about this tragic date and those blue skies. Dennis, well said, and I join in the sentiment.