Sunday 28 December 2008

Rating the Web?

The UK Telegraph reports that Andy Burnham, the British Culture Secretary, hopes to work with the new Obama administration to draw up international rules for English-language websites. He would like ISP's to offer child-friendly services to parents, and is also considering a rating system for websites similar to film rating systems. He is quoted as saying "“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

Monday 22 December 2008

Customized news podcasts from NPR

The New York Times reports on a cool new feature from NPR that lets you custom-build podcasts of NPR content for your listening edification. You just pick the topics that interest you (keywords) and podcasts that you would find interesting are sent to your iPod.

Lobbying, government & law blogs, a leading provider of reference information on the government relations and lobbying industry, has put together a list of blogs that may be of interest to lobbyists - or anyone interested in lobbying, government and law. It includes blogs about lobbying, ethics, healthcare policy, educational policy, campaign finance, environment, and telecom/internet policy.

Electronic Frontier Foundation's accomplishments

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was founded in 1990 to work for the public interest in critical legal issues involving new technologies - and continues to defend free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights. For its holiday greeting this year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) produced the Twelve Days of EFF, a music video highlighting some of its accomplishments during the past year, from helping to ensure the integrity of electronic voting to busting bad software patents. Hat tip: Law Librarian Blog and Legal Watch Blog.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Stress relief: flashmob library raves

New ideas for dealing with final exam week stress: flashmob raves at the library. Flashmobs are large groups that quickly assemble, do something, and disperse - they're a phenomenon of the cellphone/textmessaging/tweeting/socialnetworking/chatting culture. First there was a flashmob rave at the undergraduate library at UNC Chapel Hill, immediately available on YouTube of course; then University of VA students responded with their own YouTube video of THEIR flashmob rave at the library. Actually, it looks like fun and like a great stress-reliever. At the library! Where else!
Here's the UNC flashmob rave, then the UVA response:

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Print. Staple. Repeat.

Every semester during the last week of school there is a mad rush on the printers and staplers as all 750 students suddenly have to print up their 20 page papers and take-home exams. And every semester the law school schedule is a week+ longer than the University of Pittsburgh schedule. The result is that the campus computer labs - the ones where students have 900 free pages of printing per semester, and where they do 2-sided printing on superfast printers and have staffers carefully alphabetizing every print job - are either closed or open for a few hours in the middle of the day. Law students with frazzled nerves and time-stamped papers due flock to the law school computer labs to use the law school printers which aren't used to working very hard. Queues build up. Machines overheat. Paper jams. Toner cartridges run out. Paper runs out. Help! Once students manage to print up their papers it's a mad dash to the library staplers, which the circ staff keeps loaded and ready. Sometimes people just fall apart at the staplers. Which one to use? What if I don't staple it right and the staple is askew or raggedy, will the teacher mark me down? Which stapler has the red staples? Library staff offer to do the stapling so the staple will be straight and true. All our staplers have names because we know each one very well. We make signs for the staplers: PUSH DOWN HARD. Students are too rushed to read the signs and push down tentatively. The staples comes halfway out and gets stuck with one prong in the paper, one in the stapler. Oh no!

Stapling is a tiny little engineering feat. Every year at this time, when stapling is at its peak, I get obsessed with finding a really really good stapler, a sturdy and foolproof stapler that will staple even the longest, most footnote-ridden report. Not electric, those things are too scary especially for law students who have been up for 36 hours straight.

There are whole websites devoted to staplers. You can't believe how much a really good stapler can cost. Anyway, my current dream stapler for Barco is the Rapid DUAX® heavy-duty desktop stapler. The manufacturer calls it a Revolution in Stapling. It staples - no joke - from 2 to 170 sheets of 20-lb paper (though there are testimonials saying it has stapled 180 sheets with ease).
Here's what's really cool: "Only one size of DuaX® staple requiredAutomatically sizes staple to thickness of material stapled• Cuts the legs of the DUAX staple for an ultra-flat, clean staple". Wow. Wow. Wow. Apparently it cuts the little extra bits of staple off so that the staple fits the paper thickness perfectly. No more sharp ends sticking through the paper and drawing blood.
There's even a movie demo of the Duax on YouTube. I love it when he staples 170 pages, and he seems very pleased too. A little smug.

US News list a curse

I didn't say it - that's the title of a new article in the National Law Journal, subtitled "Law School Ranking generates more heat than light". The author, Peter Kalis, chairman and global managing partner of K&L Gates, goes on to express his concern that the US News law school rankings creates "mindless competition" that can have negative ramifications all through the legal community. He spells out two problems with the rankings: first, that "nondesigner" law schools - and he uses Pitt Law as his example - have dedicated teachers and researchers, fine student bodies and produce sterling lawyers - but these facts just don't come through in the rankings. Secondly, he feels that the rankings have a negative impact on minority enrollment in law schools, which means a smaller pool of candidates for law firms like K&L Gates to hire.
Mr. Kalis pays some wonderful and well-deserved compliments to Pitt Law and especially our talented faculty and students. And he puts US News in its place: "a magazine develops a ranking using a questionable approach, lets loose with this year's version and then starts reporting on its own pseudo-news as if it's something to which we should pay attention. For the most part, it's not." Hearing the truth about the rankings spoken so boldly is very refreshing. I hope others will be brave enough to stand up and say that the Emperor has no clothes.

Monday 15 December 2008

New: Magazines on Google

Google has announced a new initiative to bring more magazine archives and current magazines online, partnering with publishers to begin digitizing millions of articles. The blogpost mentions several publications by name: New York Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, New York Magazine, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and Ebony - but it doesn't provide a full list. These publications will be searched along with books when you perform a Google Book Search.

Faculty requests for the Commons Collection

The Barco Law Library recently sent out a request to the law school faculty for books that they would suggest we purchase for our Commons Collection. We ask them to suggest good books that they've enjoyed reading and would recommend to others. The replies are coming in, and we've been buying the books. I've created a new web page on the library's website that lists all the books we've added to the Commons Collection through this program. Keep an eye on it - there are more books to come!

Bankruptcies up 30% compared to last year

According to statistics released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts , bankruptcy filings were up more than 30% compared to last year. Bankruptcy cases filed in federal courts totaled 1,042,993 for the 12-month period ending September 30, 2008, compared to the 801,269 filings in Fiscal Year 2007. The US Courts website also has statistics for Business and Non-Business filings, and statistics for Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings.

Sunday 14 December 2008

2008 patents

Today's New York Times sunday magazine is the 8th annual "The Year in Ideas" issue. The Endpaper is "Some of this year's patents - along with how we imagine they might look. " They include an implantable pedometer, a combined watch and telephone, and a rodent euthanasia machine.

Friday 12 December 2008

End-run around PACER?

Wired has a story that "online rebel" Carl Malamud, who runs open-government group Public.Resource.Org, says that "the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system is the most broken part of our federal legal mechanism. They have a mainframe mentality." And he's doing something about it. He's asking lawyers to donate their PACER documents one by one, which he then classifies and bundles into ZIP files published for free at his organization's website. The one-year-old effort has garnered him 20 percent of all the files on PACER, including all decisions from federal appeals courts over the last 50 years. As many of us know, PACER will charge you 8 cents a page to read documents that are in the public domain — a fee that earned the federal judiciary $50 million in profits in 2006.

Hat tip: Nate "the Great" Traurig

Thursday 11 December 2008

All the legal news all the time?

Alltop is a calls itself an “online magazine rack” of popular topics. You pick a topic by searching, news category, or name, and they will gather all the news on that topic deliver it to you 24 x 7 (they update hourly). The law topic has a good selection of legal news sites.

The weirdest cases of 2008

Gary Slapper who is law professor in England and writes a "Weird Cases" column in the Times of London, has compiled his list of the year's 10 weirdest legal cases.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Google Zeitgeist 2008

Google has released its 2008 Zeitgeist list of the most popular search terms for the year. You can view them by country, by topic, and various other iterations. They also list the most popular search terms used in Google Images, Google Books, Google News, and Google Translate. And the top products searched in their Product Search, should you need inspiration for holiday gifts.
The top five terms translated in Google Translate are:
  1. you
  2. what
  3. thank you
  4. please
  5. love.

Genocide Prevention Task Force report released

The Genocide Prevention Task Force of the United States Institute of Peace has released a report entitled "Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers". The report asserts that genocide is preventable, and that making progress toward doing so begins with leadership and political will. The report provides 34 recommendations, starting with the need for high-level attention, standing institutional mechanisms, and strong international partnerships to respond to potential genocidal situations when they arise; it lays out a comprehensive approach, recommending improved early warning mechanisms, early action to prevent crises, timely diplomatic responses to emerging crises, greater preparedness to employ military options, and action to strengthen global norms and institutions.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Draft of the auto industry bailout bill

Here's the draft bill - Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act, December 8, 2008: "The purposes of this Act are
1) to immediately provide authority and facilitate ties to restore liquidity and stability to the domestic automobile industry in the United States; and
2) to ensure that such authority and such facilities are used in a manner that -
(A) stimulates manufacturing and sales of automobiles produced by automobile manufacturers in the United States;
(B) enhances the ability and the capacity of the domestic automobile industry to pursue the timely and aggressive production of energy efficient advanced technology vehicles;
(C) preserves and promotes the jobs of 355,000 workers in the United States directly employed by the automobile industry and an additional 4,500,000 workers in the United States employed in related industries;
(D) safeguards the ability of the domestic automobile industry to provide retirement and health care benefits for 1,000,000 retirees and their dependents; and
(E) results in a viable and competitive domestic automobile industry that minimizes adverse effects on the environment.

hat tip: beSpacific

Monday 8 December 2008

Harvard Business Review content on EBSCO

There's been an interesting discussion on the digital copyright listserv. It started when a librarian from Samford University posted a question: one of her faculty wanted to make permanent links for his course website to a number of articles, some of which were in the Harvard Business Review. The library has a ($$$) subscription to EBSCO's Business Source Premier, which includes the HBR in its content. However, there's a note on the HBR content that limits the ability to link to it; it says that the content can be used by individuals for research, but if you want to use the content for "course reserves" you have to contact them for pricing. The librarian says "This is my first encounter with a restriction on linking. Does this licensing agreement just side-step copyright law and guidelines? Canpublishers really stop educational fair use in this way?" The listserv responses go back and forth, from "contract law trumps" to "You've stumbled upon the famous Harvard Business Review exception to everything." to Harvard's explanation to "The courts are all over the board on this issue. It comes down to the interpretation of Section 301 of the Copyright Act."

Tweeting on Twitter, pro and con

A couple of interesting blogposts about Twitter, the currently hot social networking tool. Municipalist (a blog abouut government blogging)has an entertaining post about the potential of Twitter as a presidential platform. He says that Twitter is the next logical step for a president-elect who has already embraced video, and Twitter would let the public get to know Barack Obama in a way that his videos will never allow. “Could Obama do this? Is it even possible? Certainly it is. We have to make it possible. What kind of democracy is this if the president is literally afraid to…tweet?”
On the negative side, the Technometria blog (authored by Phil Windley, former chief information officer of Utah) points out one of the inherent shortcomings of Twitter as a news source: its lack of context. Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, writers cannot do much more than convey facts or reactions. That was a problem during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, he says. Reading a stream of comments is “like being in the middle of a crowd that you can't see over and you know something’s happening on the edge, but you can't tell what and you’re trying to figure it out from what people around you are saying. In many cases, they can’t see either — it's mostly hearsay.”
Hat tip: Federal Computer Week

Obama team teaches lesson on Government 2.0 etiquette

After receiving thousands of comments through the Web site, Obama's transition team has provided users with tips on participating in the online forums. The tips are intended "to help make our discussions clearer and more valuable," according to the blog entry .
The tips encourage users to read the comment policy, set up an account, stay on topic and to rate other comments. However, in explaining each tip, the Obama team clearly is trying to impress upon readers some rudimentary net etiquette and letting people know that social networking can be an effective governance tool -- but only if the participants are willing to play a constructive part. If not, and devolves into a free-for-all, the potential will be lost.

Law firm billing survey results

The National Law Journal reports on their annual survey of large law firm billing in an article entitled "Law firm fees defy gravity". Interesting factoids: The average of this year's average firmwide billing rates, which include partner and associate rates, climbed by 4.3% to $363 per hour. Partner billing rates broke record highs this year, with one firm exceeding the $1,200 mark and another rising above $1,100 per hour. Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney was one of a few firms to break into 4-figure partner billing, at $1,020 per hour.

Congressional secrecy

The Dec. 1 edition of CQ Weekly (Pitt subscription) has several excellent articles about secrecy in Congress. The cover story is "A Dome Under Lock and Key" which details how much information about Congress is unavailable: "...the secret side of Capitol Hill is not at all limited to military or intelligence policy. For all its apparent openness, its televised debates and public hearings, Congress is more secretive than its reputation suggests. Closed or restricted access to legislative meetings and records may not be the rule, but such behavior is hardly viewed as an exception."
"Sunshine's Irregular Presence at the Capitol" presents a timeline of important dates in attempts to open - and close - Congressional information. "Obama on Openness" reports several steps that the President-elect has promised to take. Finally, "Congress' Tools of Last Resort" discusses ways in which members of Congress can force secret documents to go public.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Amazon public data sets

Earthtimes reports that Amazon just launched its Public Data Sets service (home). The project encourages developers, researchers, universities, and businesses to upload large (non-confidential) data sets to Amazon — things like census data, genomes, etc. — and then let others integrate that data into their own Amazon Web Services (AWS) applications. AWS is hosting the public data sets at no charge for the community, and like all of AWS services, users pay only for the compute and storage they consume with their own applications. Data sets already available include various US Census databases, Labor Statistics, and an annotated form of the Human Genome from Ensembl. Sounds like it could grow into something very useful.

National Security Reform report

The Project on National Security Reform and the Center for the Study of the Presidency has announced the release of their review of the national security interagency system. The report, "Forging a New Shield" (830 page pdf) is the result of Section 1049 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 (PL 110-181) which required a study of the national security interagency system by an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization. A 33-page Executive Summary (pdf) is also available. The members of the committee are unanimous in their sense that the national security of the US is fundamentally at risk, and the report analyzes the problems, causes, and consequences and proposes a set of reforms.
Among the PNSR’s key recommendations are:
  • Establishing a President’s Security Council to replace the National Security Council and Homeland Security.
  • Creating an empowered Director for National Security in the Executive Office of the
  • Initiating the process of shifting highly collaborative, mission-focused interagency teams for priority issues.
  • Mandating annual National Security Planning Guidance and an integrated national security budget.
  • Building an interagency personnel system, including a National Security Professional Corps.
  • Establishing a Chief Knowledge Officer in the PSC Executive Secretariat to ensure that the national security system as a whole can develop, store,retrieve and share knowledge.
  • Forming Select Committees on National Security in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Friday 5 December 2008

Reading Period, Exam, and Holiday hours

The Reading & Exam hours for the Barco Law Library start today. Faculty and students, please note that we are open for 10+ extra hours during the next couple of weeks, with the same number of staffers; be kind to Katie, Nate, Sarah and Brian as they stretch to cover the library desk for the extra time. The library is fortunate to have such excellent, dedicated workers.
Also note that the library is CLOSED from Weds. Dec. 24, 2008 through Thurs. Jan. 1, 2009.
Reading & Exam Period Friday, Dec. 5 - Monday, Dec. 22
Monday - Friday 7:30 A.M. - 11:45 P.M.
Saturday 10:00 A.M. - 10:00 P.M.
Sunday 10:00 A.M. - 11:45 P.M.
Monday December 22 7:30 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Winter Holiday Hours Weds. 12/24/08 - Sun. 1/11/09
Tues. Dec. 23 8:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Weds. Dec. 24, 2008 - Thurs. Jan. 1, 2009 CLOSED
Friday, Jan. 2, 2009 8:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Saturday, Jan. 3 10:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Sunday, January 4 12:00 noon - 5:00 P.M.
Mon. Jan.5-Fri. Jan. 9 8:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Saturday, Jan. 10 10:00 A.M. -5:00 P.M.
Sunday, Jan. 11 12:00 noon -5:00 P.M.

Technology and the Obama administration

Technology Review has an article that discusses how the Obama transition team is already testing new Web-centric communications strategies.

Top Ten things not to say in an e-mail

The Death by Email blog lists ten phrases that you should never use in an email - because they will catch the attention of legal searchers and e-discovery practitioners. Of course there are plenty of other things you should never say in an email. According to Ron Sylvester, blogging from Wichita at What The Judge Ate For Breakfast, you should never put anything in a work e-mail that you don’t want to be shown to 12 strangers on a big movie screen. An excellent tip. His wife practices employment law, including sexual harassment lawsuits, and she said you wouldn’t believe what people put in e-mails that end up being shown to juries in public courtrooms.

Hat tip: the ABA Journal

Thursday 4 December 2008

Emoticons on trial

The Wall Street Journal law blog picked up a story from Nebraska, where the Nebraska Supreme Court is mulling whether emoticons can amount to illegal entrapment. The full story is in the Lincoln, NE Journal Star. The case is an appeal from a James Pischel, a 31-year-old man sent to prison for using his computer to entice a 15-year-old girl who turned out to be a police investigator. Pischel's attorney says the state investigator entrapped Pischel by using emoticons to play with his emotions after he had said no thanks — she was too young — two months earlier. When Pischel said he wouldn’t meet, the investigator sent an angry face >:( emoticon. When Pischel tried to end the chat without contacting the “girl” again, the investigator blew him a “kiss” :-{} . Chief Justice Michael Heavican asked how specifically someone can “blow a kiss” online and got a lesson in emoticons when he was told it was done by typing certain keys that create a picture, similar to a smiley face made by a colon and a parenthesis. Pischel's lawyer argues that this adds up to government inducement.

Monday 1 December 2008

Law firm blawgs

Also in blawg news, "Three Geeks and a Law Blog" have compiled a list of "officially sanctioned" blogs at large law firms. Out of the National Law Journal top 250 law firms, they found 136 blogs from 53 firms. From a cursory glance, some of these blogs are being maintained by several lawyers at different office locations.

Jurist's Paper Chase highlighted as a top blawg by ABA Journal

The ABA Journal has a story about the top 100 legal blogs, or blawgs, on the internet - and once again, Jurist's Paper Chase is on the list. There is also a special related story highlighting the Paper Chase blog, and praising Prof. Bernard Hibbitts and his staff.
You can also vote for your favorite law blog on the ABA journal website. - votes must be in by Jan. 2.