Tuesday, 28 October 2008

ABA Report on E-Rulemaking

An ABA task force has released a report on E-Rulemaking that finds significant flaws in the federal government's effort to place all agency rulemaking dockets online and calls for a"fundamentally new approach" to the six-year, multimillion dollar project. The task force report examines all aspects of the E-Rulemaking initiative and concludes that the project has failed to achieve its groundbreaking potential because of a series of interrelated problems involving funding, system design, and governance. U.S. Law Week has the full story (subscription required; accessible within the Barco Law Building).

Authors Guild and Google reach settlement

On October 28, 2008 the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and Google announced the landmark settlement of Authors Guild v. Google. The Authors Guild has created a webpage with documents and links including the Settlement Agreement, the official Settlement Website and Roy Blount's Message to Authors Guild Members (he is Presidient of the Authors Guild).
Google will pay $125 million to settle lawsuits that challenged its plan to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books without the explicit consent of the copyright owner. If approved, the agreement will expand online access to millions of in-copyright books from the collections of libraries participating in Google's project. Google's payment will be partially used to establish a program under which holders of U.S. copyrights can register their works and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales and ad revenues.

Interagency website for economic crisis

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez has announced a new interagency Web site led by the Commerce Department. The new site, EconomicRecovery.gov, is a resource for the latest information from government agencies on America’s economic recovery for people to keep their homes, find jobs and protect their savings. Included on the site are a Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure, Consumer Protection Guide, Information about Unemployment Insurance in Your State, Help for People with Disabilities, and more.

FBI hate crime stats for 2007

The FBI has announced the release of hate crime statistics for 2007. Overall, 7,624 hate crime incidents involving 9,006 offenses were reported —incidents that involved bias towards a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability. The report includes information about the types of offenses committed, some traits of the victims and the offenders, and aggregate hate crime offense counts by state and agency type.
Hat tip: beSpacific

Monday, 27 October 2008

Rare recordings of famous authors to be available

The BBC News reports that the British Library has released new CD's of previously unpublished recordings of British and American authors. The recordings include:
  • the sole surviving recording of Virginia Woolf
  • the sole audio recording of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes
  • P G Wodehouse talking about Jeeves and Wooster
  • J R R Tolkien discussing whether he will be remembered for The Lord of the Rings or his academic career
  • Raymond Chandler interviewed by Ian Fleming
  • Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin discussing the position of African-American writers in the United States.
You can buy the CDs from the British Library.

State Election offices

The New Voters Project provides a list of links to all state election office websites. These websites let you see the ballot that you will be voting on, including any referendums - so you can decide if you need to do some additional research before you cast your vote next Tuesday. There are also links to other election-related resources which vary depending on the state. For example, on the Pennsylvania site you can see who's in the Pennsylvania Voter Hall of Fame, and you can even apply to be an inductee (providing you have voted in every General Election you were eligible to vote in for at least fifty years).

Friday, 24 October 2008

Law School gives first class free tuition

The ABA Journal reports that the brand-new U.C. Irvine Law School is offering full-tuition scholarships to all students in its first class. Yes, for all three years, that's a free JD. They hope the offer will attract really high-quality students. No doubt.

Happy Birthday MS Word

PC Magazine has an article complete with historic screenshots that looks back at the history and development of Microsoft Word, which is now 25 years old. It includes links to Clippy's personal Web site and a a video on YouTube of Clippy (the moronic paper clip) being shut down by Office XP.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

What is the worst key on the keyboard?

Sorry to say I completely missed the annual INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY yesterday, where people who really hate the caps lock key can vent all day. I'm not crazy about caps lock, but I do actually use it occasionally (once a month? Less? ) and I don't accidentally hit it all that often (couple of times a week?). Anyway, the key I really really hate is the Insert key, the one that makes everything you type disappear. So in honor of the DAY AFTER CAPS LOCK DAY, for anyone who also hates the Insert key, here's how I permanently disabled mine, with thanks to Steve Bass at PC World who calls the Insert key "as useless as the human appendix":
Open up Microsoft Word. Click Tools, Customize, and in the dialog, choose Keyboard. In Categories, scroll to and click All Commands, and in the Command panel, select "Overtype." Highlight "Insert" in the Current keys box, click Remove, and click Close until all the dialog windows close.
So easy, yet so satisfying.

Friday, 17 October 2008

The Library of your dreams

Words won't work. Check it out in Wired Magazine.

Legal Aspects of the Russia/Georgia conflict

The Law Library of Congress has recently released a report entitled Russian Federation: Legal Aspect of War in Georgia (also available as a 14 page [PDF]). The report gives a historic background of the conflict and then
discusses the legal aspects of Russia's invasion into Georgia in August 2008 and Russia's recognition of Georgia's separatist enclaves' independence. The report includes an analysis of relevant aspects of international law and Russian domestic law, as well as an evaluation of Russia's legal justification for its actions.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Government report shows high rate of fraud in H-1B visas

Business Week has an article highlighting a new study called H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment (15 page pdf) conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on fraud in the H-1B visa program. These are visas that allow U.S. employers to employ foreign guest workers in “specialty occupations” - requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge including architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialities, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum. This visa program is widely used by high-tech companies like Microsoft. Based on a sample size of 246 H-1B petitions (out of 96,827 ), 13.4 percent showed fraud and 7.3 percent showed technical violations, for an overall violation rate of 20.7 percent. In other words, about 20,000 petitions may have some type of fraud or technical violations. There was also evidence of payment below the prevailing wage, offers of non-existent jobs, and fraudulent documentation. "'The report makes it clear that the H-1B program is rife with abuse and misuse,' says Ron Hira, assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

TRAC: Justice Dept. is tracking criminal mortgage fraud cases

TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse U., reports that the DOJ has recently created a category to track current federal efforts to criminally prosecute cases of mortgage fraud. The federal government reports filing 151 criminal mortgage fraud prosecutions in the first ten months of FY 2008. Because of natural court delays, however, the government said that only 37 cases of this type were completed in the same ten-month period. In the months to come, TRAC will be providing regular updates on every referral acted upon by each U.S. Attorney's Office and what the ultimate outcomes are.
Hat tip: beSpacific

Google has always been a verb

Derek Law writes in FreePint (the UK-based publication for information professionals) about how "digital natives" (people who have grown up with computers and internet) use information. In it he pulls factoids from the past 3 Beloit College Mindset lists that help to understand the information environment they have grown up in. For example: They have always had a PIN number. They don't remember when ‘cut and paste' involved scissors. "CTRL" "ALT" "DEL" is as basic as ABC. And today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching TV. Law offers insights into how digital natives do research : "Such users expect research to be easy and feel they can be independent in the process. They don't seek help from librarians and only occasionally from teachers or peers. As a result, when they can't find what they need, they give up and assume that the information cannot be found."

Free speech and school clothing

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article this morning that looks at how schools are establishing a "zero-tolerance" policy towards "controversial clothing" that school administrators feel "incites violence". The article discusses how these policies are being supported by the courts and how "Some think educators may be inadvertently teaching children that suppressing speech is the ready solution to ideological conflict." Examples of court-backed bans include a ban on any depiction of the Confederate flag in a Tennessee school district and the Pennsylvania case that sided with a school district in its decision to bar a student from wearing a T-shirt imprinted with images of guns and phrases such as "Volunteer Homeland Security" and "Terrorist Hunting Permit...No Bag Limit." The teen and his parents said the T-shirt, a gift from an uncle serving in Iraq, was worn in support of the troops.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Fastforwarding through lectures

The Chronicle's Wired Campus Blog has an article describing how students are able to fast forward through videocasts of their professors' lectures so it takes half the time to absorb them. Hmmm.

Blog Action Day: Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day. What's that? Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day- to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. The topic this year is Poverty.
Here are some poverty law resources:

Firefox extension does Bluebook citations

LLRX has a new review of CiteGenie , a new extension for the Firefox web browser that "automagically" creates Bluebook formatted pinpoint citations when copying from Westlaw. If you use Firefox, try it out! It's free. The article offers detailed descriptions of how it handles a variety of citations. The bottom line? "Citegenie is very good. It is not quite perfect, but it does a better job than a lot of lawyers do on their own. And even if it is not better than you, it is undoubtedly faster."

Monday, 13 October 2008

NRC report questions terrorist-spotting measures

The National Research Council recently published a 376 page report entitled "Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment" . The report, written by the Committee on Technical and Privacy Dimensions of Information for Terrorism Prevention and Other National Goals of the National Research Council looks at the science behind data-mining and behavior-detection techniques used by government agencies to spot terrorists. They find these techniques to be questionable, and warn that they could violate privacy of law-abiding Americans. They conclude that all U.S. agencies with counterterrorism programs that collect or "mine" personal data -- such as phone records or Web sites visited -- should be required to evaluate the programs' effectiveness, lawfulness, and impacts on privacy.
BTW, you can read the report for free online and if you go to the Table of Contents there's a nifty little feature that lets you "skim" the various sections of the report.

Laptops in the classroom redux

Jana McCreary from Florida Coastal law school has posted a paper entitled "The Laptop-Free Zone" to SSRN. The article reports and analyzes the data collected through a survey of almost 450 law school students at three different law schools regarding the students' views of laptops and reported distractions caused by laptops. Results? Apparently laptops in the classroom are more of a distraction to people who don't have laptops than to the ones who are using the laptops. The author notes one surprising finding: many students stopped using laptops in class after they had attended a class without one; once they had experienced NOT using a laptop in a law school classroom, they often changed their note-taking methods and reported improved learning & classroom experiences. This leads the author to suggest that instead of completely banning laptops, law professors should ban laptops for a week or two during the first semester so students can make an informed choice about how to take notes in class.

Chinese surveillance

There has been some creepy news about China's massive surveillance of the Chinese Skype VOIP network TOM-Skype. A researcher in Toronto (he calls himself an internet censorship explorer) published a report uncovering the surveillance practices of the Chinese government, which apparently required Skype's partner TOM to participate.
Key findings:
• The full text chat messages of TOM-Skype users, along with Skype users who have communicated with TOM-Skype users, are regularly scanned for sensitive keywords, and if present, the resulting data are uploaded and stored on servers in China.
• These text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information, are stored on insecure publicly-accessible web servers together with the encryption key required to decrypt the data.
• The captured messages contain specific keywords relating to sensitive political topics such as Taiwan independence, the Falun Gong, and political opposition to the Communist Party of China.
• The analysis suggests that the surveillance is not solely keyword-driven. Many of thec aptured messages contain words that are too common for extensive logging, suggesting that there may be criteria, such as specific usernames, that determine whether messages are captured by the system.

More on the e-casebooks meeting

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article this morning about the meeting that took place a couple of weeks ago in Seattle, where the possibilities of e-casebooks and other options were discussed. The article contains these factoids: "in their first year at law school alone, students typically spend more than $1,000 just for casebooks, and the books are up to 1,000 pages long, weigh in at a combined 28 pounds, and run to a combined length of more than 8,700 pages, a sizable portion of which professors never assign and students never read." The law professors at the meeting discussed the possibilities of having e-content available that they would be able to pick and choose from, so that they could custom-build e-books for their courses.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Pittsburgh and hard times

Time Magazine has an article about how Pittsburgh is faring better at weathering the economic storm than the rest of the country. "Pittsburgh is certainly not going to escape a national recession. But it can provide lessons for how to survive it: invest in knowledge, compete globally, rewrite the old rules of business."

Friday, 10 October 2008

"Political Streams" from Microsoft Live Labs

CNET reports that Microsoft Live Labs has released an application called Political Streams that tracks political news and talk from all over the web. According to the Live Labs announcement, "It mines information from all the blogs and Web sites out there, and all on one screen, lets you see the relative popularity of any given story, whether it's trending up or down, and tracks the number of mentions of the people and places mentioned in the story."

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Cyberlaw prof blames computer programs for economic crisis

An interesting article by Prof. Erik Gerding of UNM Law School looks at one of the problems leading to the financial crisis: the proprietary software that financial institutions rely on to make decisions. He looks at how the crash of these computer-based "codes," particularly risk models, triggered the subprime mortgage crisis and on ways to mitigate risks posed by these codes. His study reveals a critical flaw in financial regulation: regulators outsourced vast regulatory authority to the proprietary codes of financial institutions, without examining defects in those codes. One proposal to help solve this problem : open source code.

IRS Releases Audit Data to TRAC - at last

TRAC (the Transactiona Records Access Clearinghouse, a non-partisan research organization associated with Syracuse University) reports that the Internal Revenue Service has finally turned over thousands of pages of agency statistics on audits of all types - including individual, corporate, partnership and S corporation audits - to TRAC, after flouting a series of court orders for over two years. TRAC uses the IRS's statistical data to examine how this powerful agency has been enforcing the nation's tax laws.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Law School rankings: best career prospects

The Princeton Review has a podcast about law schools offering the best career prospects, and how they do it.

You can read more about the Princeton Review law school rankings that just came out on their website

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

e-Textbooks in Texas

Inside Higher Ed. reports that the University of Texas is conducting a pilot project in partnership with with the publisher John Wiley & Sons to shift certain classes entirely to e-textbooks.  The Austin American Statesman says that shifting to e-textbooks will cut the cost of textbooks.  
It should also help ease student back strain!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Federal agencies digitization guidelines initiative

The Web site for the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative recently became publicly accessible . The initiative is intended to establish a common set of guidelines for digitizing historical materials. The initiative has 2 working groups: the Still Image Working Group will focus its efforts on books, manuscripts, maps, and photographic prints and negatives and the Audio-Visual Working Group will address standards and practices for sound, video, and motion picture film. Participants include the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, the National Technical Information Service, the Smithsonian, the U.S.G.S. the GPO, Voice of America and others. A press release providing additional information is available.

Google Blog Search gets an update

Pandia Search Engine News reports that Google Blog Search has been relaunched with a new homepage and new look. The new homepage is more similar to Google News - it puts up popular news topics in the center column. Pandia speculates that Google may be moving towards integrating the news search with the blog search.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Presidential Candidates of 1908

Science News has a feature on the first use of sound recording in a presidential campaign. In 1908, for the first time, presidential candidates recorded their voices on wax cylinders. Their voices could be brought into the home for 35 cents, equivalent to about $8 now. In that pre-radio era, this was the only way, short of hearing a speech at a whistle stop, that you could hear the candidates. The story includes audio recordings from the 1908 candidates, William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft. There are images from the campaign too.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Microsoft LiveSearch offers prizes

Microsoft wants YOU to use Live Search - and is offering prizes if you do. A new MS rewards program, called SearchPerks, lets you earn points for using MS Live Search; the points can then be redeemed for prizes ranging from music downloads to an XBox controller. To participate in the program you need to sign up before December 31 deadline and agree to download a small program tracking your usage. Once this is installed users will get one “ticket” for every Live Search query (but Microsoft is capping the total number per day to 25); when the program ends in April users can trade the tickets in for prizes or donate the rewards to charity.
Oh, and note: you must use Internet Explorer as your browser for the searches. No points if you use Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc.

More on the e-lawbook meeting...

The Law School Innovation blog, part of the Law Professor Blogs Network, has extensive coverage of the conference, including audio. John Palfrey, of the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, was there and blogged about it.