January 23, 2010
Call for Papers for the Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition
The Legal History and Rare Books Special Interest Section, in cooperation with Gale Cengage Learning, has issued its call of papers for the second annual Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. Entries must be submitted by midnight, April 15, 2010. The entry form and instructions are available on the LH&RB SIS website.
Students currently enrolled in accredited graduate programs in library science, law, history, or related fields are eligible to enter the competition. Both full- and part-time students are eligible and AALL membership is not required.
The winner will be announced by May 15. The winner will receive $500 and up to $1,000 to fund a trip to the 2010 AALL Annual Meeting in Denver. [JH]
January 22, 2010
Judge Reduces Damages in Thomas-Rasset File Sharing CaseIn a preview of what might come in the Joel Tenenbaum case, the Judge in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset case, the only other file sharing case to go to trial, was shocked, shocked, he said, over the damages awarded by the jury. He reduced the damages for sharing 24 songs from $1.92 million to $54,000. The RIAA will have to accept the damage amount or face a new trial. Or they could ultimately appeal, I suppose. $54,000 for 24 songs still may not cut it with digital native advocates. Wired has the story. [MG]
How Dumb (or Smart) Is Your State?
Mainstreet.com, which is part of TheStreet.com ranks states in various categories. Some of these rankings are whimsical, such as the ten drunkest states (New Hampshire is more than the first presidential primary, apparently), and the least drunkest state (Utah, go figure). The site released its assessment of the smartest and dumbest states based on an analysis of various statistics and standards. The dumbest states include the home or birth states of three of the four members of the major party presidential tickets (Alaska, Arizona, and Hawaii), which explains a lot about politics these days. Where is Joe Biden on these listings? Delaware the 5th most debt-ridden state, which probably adds to that explanation. Massachusetts, by the way, is the most debt-ridden state with total state debt listed at some $72 billion. Didn't they just have a special election for senator? And then there is the happiness index, in which Florida comes in dead last. I guess sunshine isn't everything. There is also a table for the most trigger-happy states. Kentucky is number one, and Texas doesn't make it into the top ten (slackers!) for the stereotypical view of that state. The most and least religious states are listed here.
One of the off-hand statements about the dumbest states caught my eye. Alabama has some of the fewest library visits per capita. The number of library visits by state (raw data) is in Table 1116 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States if anyone cares how their state stacks up (no pun intended) on library usage. [MG]
Friday Fun: Spring of Death Not Distroyed!
It's the heroic space-escapades of Buck Jupiter, dynamic Space Lawyer and all round swashbuckling space- adventurer. Here Buck Jupiter makes an appearance in Space Court. [JH]
From Soup to Nuts: Setting an Example for Informing Law Students with Bar Prep Resources
Cleveland-Marshall's recently updated Bar Exam Resources Guide is an excellent example of providing all law school students, not just 3Ls, with information they need to plan their course selections and related bar exam preparation matters. About the 8 web page display, Sue Altmeyer, Electronic Services Librarian, writes in the College of Law Library blog that the guide "contains a Timeline showing what first, second and third year law students should be doing to get ready for the bar. About the Ohio Bar Exam indicates what is tested while Bar Exam Logistics gives you dates, times, grading and contact information. You also will find information on Cleveland Marshall Review Courses/ Workshops as well as Commercial Bar Review Courses."
Cleveland-Marshall's Bar Exam Resources Guide provides a model for what other law schools can and should be doing by providing comprehensive, from soup to nuts, information for all students in one web publication. [JH]
Are You Using Google Wave, Yet?
Google Wave's web-based collaboration tool to manage projects, swap files and communicate in real-time is notoriously difficult to understand and use. Greg Lambert writes "Wave is a great idea that is wrapped in a frame of confusion" in If I Throw a Google Wave Party... And No One Shows Up? Well, it's definitely a BYOB party.
Getting a Grip on Google Wave. The idea behind Wave is that it could replace email or that Wave is some Web 2.0 version of real-time email. Maybe, if you can understand how to use it. The Idiot's Guide to Google Wave on Tech Radar may be a good place to start. The Complete Guide to Google Wave is a free online book that offers step-by-step instruction in some depth. Here's a Google Wave Community for more.
"For Dummies" Version of Properties of the United States Code Citation Network Needed!
Hat tip to Paul Lomio, Legal Research Plus, for calling attention to Properties of the United States Code Citation Network [SSRN] by Michael James Bommarito II and Daniel Martin Katz. I gave it my best shot during the holidays but my small brain just failed. Hopefully Paul or Robert Richards can give me a "for dummies" explanation. Knowing that LLB readers are much smarter than me, here's the paper's abstract:
The United States Code is a body of documents that collectively comprises the statutory law of the United States. In this short paper, we investigate the properties of the network of citations contained within the Code - most notably its degree distribution. Acknowledging the text contained within each of the Code's section nodes, we adjust our interpretation of the nodes to control for section length. Though we find a number of interesting properties in these degree distributions, we demonstrate that a power law distribution is not an appropriate model for this system.
January 21, 2010
Will students soon be texting research requests to librarians?
That's the question posed by this column from Inside Higher Ed:
As students raised on text-messaging begin to populate the halls of academe, a number of libraries have begun making their reference librarians reachable not just via e-mail and live chat, but text messages sent from students' mobile devices.
Mosio, a mobile software company based in San Francisco, claims to be the largest provider to libraries trying to meet students on their own turf with its straightforwardly named Text a Librarian program, which is says is used by 250 libraries nationwide, including many colleges libraries. Mosio is hardly alone in the market; LibraryH3lp, Upside Wireless, and the Australian company Altarama Information Systems think their client bases will continue to expand as texting becomes even more pervasive and sophisticated. These services are generally cheap, running at a few hundred dollars per year.
You can read the rest here.
Does your password make the top 10 list of most "hack-able?"
If your password is on the list below, a recent study suggests that you're providing an open invitation to be hacked:
The consulting firm Imperva has compiled this list based its analysis of 32 million passwords recently exposed during the hacking of a company called Rockyou.com that makes software for social networking sites. Among the findings:
- The shortness and simplicity of passwords means many users select credentials that will make them susceptible to basic forms of cyber attacks known as "brute force attacks."
- Nearly 50% of users used names, slang words, dictionary words or trivial passwords (consecutive digits, adjacent keyboard keys, and so on). The most common password is "123456".
- Recommendations for users and administrators for choosing strong passwords
A company spokesman interviewed by the New York Times in connection with this story said:
about 20 percent of people on the RockYou list picked from the same, relatively small pool of 5,000 passwords.
That suggests that hackers could easily break into many accounts just by trying the most common passwords. Because of the prevalence of fast computers and speedy networks, hackers can fire off thousands of password guesses per minute.
“We tend to think of password guessing as a very time-consuming attack in which I take each account and try a large number of name-and-password combinations,” Mr. Shulman said. “The reality is that you can be very effective by choosing a small number of common passwords.”
You can read the rest herecourtesy of the NYT.
One iPod Touch Per LibrarianA colleague pointed out a post on Eric Rumsey's Seeing the Picture blog called A Mobile Modest Proposal: One iPod Touch Per Librarian (OITPL). Rumsey agrees with others that we are emerging from the "iPod Decade" but also acknowledges librarything.com creator Tim Spalding's statement:
“Resolved: The Os were the ‘Lost Decade’ for library tech — libraries made incremental advances, while others flew past them.” Rumsey interprets this as an explosion in mobile gadgets and technology which has not yet permeated the library world."
It's obvious that our students are on what Rumsey refers to as the "mobile wagon" and this is another example of why we need to go where students are comfortable to offer our services.
Rumsey urges librarians to get on the "mobile wagon" citing accessibility of the iTouch as a the main barrier to librarian experimentation and the development of a vision of services delivered by mobile devices -- hence the OITPL proposal. While many libraries are on or in front of the mobile wagon, I suspect that there are many more of us running to catch up to it. I work on a campus that has taken the first step in providing mobile library services such as online catalog access. What will it take to get us to the next step? Rumsey makes an excellent point about the investments necessary to get on the mobile wagon:
"The cost of an iTouch is in the $150-$200 range, making it practical for most libraries to consider providing each staff member with one. The real investment, I think, is going to be learning how to integrate library services with them. It’s going to take an adventurous, visionary administration to accomodate staff time to 'play around on the new toy' to learn how to use it."
I think Rumsey's assessment -- that unfamiliarity with mobile devices that are familiar to our patrons hinders the vision for delivering new or innovative mobile library services -- is right on target. One iPod Touch Per Librarian is a modest proposal but it's a tall order on a strained budget. A shared pool of iTouches might be more realistic to get us started. [BA]
Law Library GPS wins LibVid Award for Best Narration
My very talented colleagues, Karen Spencer and Nefeli Soteriou, created a law library tour video, "Law Library GPS," that won the LibVid Award for best narration. To avoid confusion, note that LibVid took the liberty of renaming the video "Never get lost in a law library (again)." Take a peek. It's worth a few minutes of your time. Though totally unrelated to law libraries, have you seen Yale's undergraduate admissions video? [BA]
I Found It on the Internet, Your Honor
The case of Woodward v. Commissioner, a summary decision from Tax Court, is worth reading because of the way Google and legal research standards figure into the outcome of the decision. The facts involve a taxpayer who received approximately $150,000 in distributions from an IRA. The taxpayer treated the distribution as a roll-over to a self-directed IRA to be reinvested in private mortgages. There were issues in the case that included the taxpayer being defrauded by a third party as part of an investment, and whether his ex-wife was an innocent spouse (she was) within the transactions at issue. This is mostly a run of the mill case concerning understatement of income on a past return except for the taxpayer's background and the way he researched his tax guidance.
As the Tax Court opinion noted:
Mr. Woodard holds an undergraduate degree in accounting. He earned a master’s of business administration from Harvard Business School. He was a certified public accountant (C.P.A.), but he allowed his C.P.A. license to lapse. He worked as a computer programmer for 20 or more years before trial.
This was relevant as to whether petitioner could deflect a penalty on the understated income if the error was made in good faith. That coupled with petitioner's research methodology was key for the Court's analysis:
Mr. Woodard claims that he relied on information found on unspecified Web sites written by unidentified individuals or organizations. From the record, it is not clear that he questioned the provenance or accuracy of the information he found through the Google search engine. [Note 7] Without knowing the sources of the information, it is impossible for the Court to determine that those sources were competent to provide tax advice. Accordingly, we cannot conclude that Mr. Woodard exercised ordinary business care and prudence in selecting and relying upon the information he found on line. As a result, we find that he has not shown reasonable cause for failing to report the distributions from his IRA on the 2004 Federal income tax return. Not having found reasonable cause, we need not consider whether Mr. Woodard acted in good faith.
[Note 7] We recognize that petitioner had not worked as an accountant for years before filing the 2004 return, but his accounting degree, M.B.A., and C.P.A. training, no matter how stale, undoubtedly taught him what sources could be relied upon as definitive; such as, for example, the Internal Revenue Code and the income tax regulations, both of which are readily available on the Internet.
We tell students constantly that it's important to weigh the accuracy of information from the Internet by evaluating the source and its reputation. The last thing in the world anyone wants in this situation is for a judge to tell you that you should have known better. Another lesson is to document your research. As a summary opinion, it has no precedential value. The point is clear nonetheless. Hat tip to George Baker, Director of the Trumbull County Law Library, Warren, OH, for pointing out the opinion. Thanks, George. [MG]
Cobalt's Name is WestlawNext (But You Didn't Hear That From Me)
Since publication of yesterday's post, Cobalt is Hot, Icy Hot, the Flickr photo links have been set to private. Others not linked in the post also set to private.
Why? It's fairly common knowledge that the powers that control West have issued an edict that no employee, under pain of possible termination, is supposed to publicize what Cobalt is going to be called.It doesn't matter if Thompson Reuters Legal creates ice sculptures displaying the name. No one is supposed to say "WestlawNext" out loud. If it is such a big secret, why commission huge ice sculptures displaying "WestlawNext" (the now private Flickr photos captured the ice sculpture)? Ah, the one-way street that free expression at West is.
Wow, what a name! Like "WestlawNext" is going to last. The marketing department must have really burned the midnight oil over this one -- it's so Cheech & Chong that a bong must have been involved. Are we really going to be calling it that two years from now? What's next for WestlawNext? How's WestlawNextNext, NextWestlawNext, WALT2?
Memo to Censors. Ya think we're all going to be standing outdoors waiting to learn Cobalt's name when a building draped in a huge WestlawNext banner in New York is unveiled? Wait a minute ... perhaps the powers that be are so embarrassed about the asinine rebranding after seeing their rank-and-file's befuddled reaction, they don't want outsiders to know anything. "But you didn't hear that from me..." [JH]
UK's Data.Gov Site Officially Launched
In beta since September, data.gov.uk was officially launched yesterday. See the BBC News story, Tim Berners-Lee unveils government data project. ReadWriteWeb says the UK site puts the US Data.Gov site to shame, noting that the UK site already has more than three times as many data sets than the US site currently offers.
The UK government has been a big supporter of innovation built on top of public data ... The U.S. government, on the other hand, has been lackluster in its move to open data to facilitate outside innovation. If Twitter is the poster child for building a thriving ecosystem around a streaming set of data, then the Obama administration has earned about 140 characters worth of praise for its fledgling efforts so far. The U.S. government's efforts to advance agencies' use of cloud computing may work in conjunction with opening data to the public and thus may improve the state of things, but time will tell.
Perhaps the US Data.Gov developers need to study the UK's Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government which outlined the plans that led to the creation of the new site under Berners-Lee's guidance. [JH]
Supreme Court Strikes Down Campaign Spending LawThe Supreme Court struck down the portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited corporations and unions from spending as much money as they want to influence advocate in an election. The vote was 5-4. The opinion is here. [MG]
Facebook CEO says "Privacy is no longer a social norm"
The 25 year old billionaire and founder of the world's largest soclal networking website declared at the Crunchie Awards in San Francisco that:
'People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people . . . That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."
'When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was, 'why would I want to put any information on the internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?'
'Then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way, and just all these different services that have people sharing all this information.'
Of course, given all the recent controversy surrounding Facebook's unilateral decision to alter the privacy settings for its 350 million users, Mark Zuckerberg's statements may be a bit of a rationalization.
According to those interviewed by The Guardian, not everyone agrees with Zuckerberg's stance on privacy:
Marshall Kirkpatrick, of the technology industry blog ReadWriteWeb, said Zuckerberg's statement was 'not a believeable explanation' and pointed to the company's complicity in changing the way people think about online privacy.
Meanwhile, others have rejected the idea that younger people, in particular, are less concerned about privacy. Last month Microsoft researcher and social networking expert Danah Boyd told the Guardianthat such assumptions often misunderstood the reasons that people put private information online.
'Kids have always cared about privacy, it's just that their notions of privacy look very different than adult notions,' she said.
'As adults, by and large, we think of the home as a very private space … for young people it's not a private space. They have no control over who comes in and out of their room, or who comes in and out of their house. As a result, the online world feels more private because it feels like it has more control.'
You can read the rest here courtesy of The Guardian.
Hat tip to the BNA Internet Law News.
Taxpayers Pick Up the Tab for DOJ's Legal Search: Over $15 Million for WEXIS and PACER
Per a FOIA request by Carl Malamud, the DOJ disclosed that it spent more than $15 million for legal research last year. The DOJ responded on its own behalf as well as on behalf of the DEA and the Office of the Solicitor General. The documents, available here, reveal the terms and costs of the DOJ's contracts for legal research.
From Robert J. Ambrogi's Legal Blog Watch post:
For use of PACER, the DOJ was due to pay the U.S. courts $4 million on Nov. 13. This payment would provide access to PACER in 2010 for all DOJ employees. The cost to the DOJ of PACER access has risen sharply since 2003, the first year covered by these documents, when it was $800,000. For 2004, that more than doubled, to $2 million, and it has risen steadily ever since.
For legal research on WestLaw and LexisNexis, the DOJ entered into contracts with both companies in 2004. Its contract with West was for an initial annual amount of $5 million. With LexisNexis, it contracted to pay $4.4 million for legal research, $500,000 for public records research, and $170,000 for other research services.
The LexisNexis contract provided annual renewal options that would bring the base legal research cost to $5.6 million in 2010 and $5.9 million in 2011. DOJ's total payment to LexisNexis for legal research from fiscal years 2005 to 2011 would be $36 million.
Hat tip to Mitchell Rubinstein, Adjunct Law Prof Blog. [JH]
When It's Been Done So Poorly for So Long, Isn't It About Time to Rethink How Law Schools Teach Legal Research?
It's common knowledge to quote Sarah Valentine, Legal Research Coordinator and Associate Law Library Professor and CUNY School of Law, that most law schools provide "legal research instruction that is not only ineffective in teaching basic research skills but is potentially hazardous to students attempting to learn legal analysis." In Legal Research as a Fundamental Skill: A Lifeboat for Students and Law Schools [SSRN] Valentine argues that current legal research education needs to be reconceptualized "to become a synergistic first year course that supports the learning of doctrine and legal analysis, as well as necessary research skills in accordance with recent suggestions by the ABA, the authors of the Carnegie Report, and other legal commentators."
To say that law firm librarians hope the legal academy will spit out law school grads with some modicum of legal research skills some day would be quite an understatement. Recommended reading for academic law librarians and legal research and writing profs. [JH]
Two Predictions for This Decade
Greg Lambert offered up some very interesting predictions for 2010 earlier this year. I think he's "on the money" for the first nine and hope number 10 comes true too -- "3 Geeks and a Law Blog Cuts Multi-Million Dollar Deal and We All Retire to a Small Caribbean Island" -- so I can be that uninvited guest who never leaves!
I offer up two longer range predictions because, well, it's safer: (1) no one will remember if I'm wrong and (2) I might be on Greg's Caribbean island or trying to grow medical marijuana in a little plot of land on a plateau in the Colorado Rockies my wife inherited (if she doesn't divorce me before I retire) should the predications be way off the mark. Either way, will it matter?
For what it's worth, if worth anything, here they are:
1. Format neutral citation for primary legal materials will be recognized as the official protocol in the US. I know our very expensive legal publishers will fight to oppose this but it is inevitable. Already sort of exists for USC but will officially exist in all jurisdictions for authenticated, more quickly codified statutes and regulations and across-the-board for official court opinions too. Legal primary materials will be liberated from the printed page and from its specific reference to commerical products.
The world will not end; Canada is already format neutral for court opinions and our friends up north remain peace-loving, rule-of-law recognizing, cite-your-authority practitioners of common law.
2. Tethered text appliances and their equally tethered licensed e-content will be a footnote in the history of technological wrong turns. BookServer already makes MOBI versions of most of the The Internet Archives 1.8 million books so how much longer does Amazon think it will be the exclusive purveyor on Kindled-editions. More importantly, how much longer can it sell its Kindle without making it EPUB-friendly? Until Apple releases a touch-screen web tablet that makes the Kindle look so last decade? We may know as soon as 10 a.m. PT on Jan. 27. Tech insiders expect the Apple to unveil a 10.6" touch-screen Wi-Fi tablet for under $1,000 that's been characterized as a hybrid between an iPhone/ipod touch and a mac. Some are calling it "iSlate." And then, eventually, maybe, Microsoft's Courier, which has a hinged dual 7-inch (or so) touch screens.
Apple gave up on its iPod-only file format and Amazon will too. It's bad for sales. Once the craze is over, this will pass. Never underestimate the profit motive; market forces will overtake the gee-whiz gullibility of consumers infected with early adapter syndrome to acquire a larger consumer base. eReaders may have staying power but only to the extent that they provide access to multiple formats and allow readers to more fully manipulate and share e-contents in an open standard mark-up language. In other words, when they become eReaders-eWriters-eCommunicators (aka web tablets or slates) that are more than single purpose appliances. Text is different than audio or video files. .TXT is the new .MP3.
And hopefully XML will replace PDF in Google Books and other repositories of digital text.
Wait 'n see. [JH]
Format Content Online to Look Like an eReader
Give your eyes a break by re-formatting online content into the simple format used by eReaders like the Kindle. Save a bookmarklet like Readability to your browser (drag and drop the link into your browser's bookmarks, and click on Readability when you are reading a page you want to reformat. Before you save the bookmarklet to your browser, you can customize how Readability reformats the text. You can select extra-large font if you wish, change the margins, and select the background color (newspaper style produces a white background, novel style a tan background, eBook a gray background, and terminal produces a dark green background with lighter font). Get Readability here. Another bookmarklet, Readable does the same thing.
There are a couple of drawbacks. One, Readability deletes the pictures in the article--not always a good thing--but you can reformat a slideshow with Readability and retain the pictures. Two, Readability doesn't always work on a page (but sometimes Readability or Readable will work, but not both). And three, readability deletes the comments at the bottom of an article or blog post--again, not always a good thing.
Hat tip to David Pogue's Cleaning Up the Clutter Online post. -- Guest blog post by Iantha Haight, Cornell Law Library.
Editor's Note. Guest blog posts are always welcomed on LLB. Just email Mark or me your copy in the body of an email and we're reply back with a note saying when it will be published. Sure we reserve the right not to publish something, but we'll be happy to work with you if we do and if you want to offer a re-write for publication. Our emails are available in the left sidebar of the blog. [JH]