Saturday, 26 June 2010

Browser Extensions (not necessarily legally related)

browser extentionsI’ve made a conscious effort to streamline the number of browser extensions I use of late, getting rid of the trash and keeping just the stuff I really need.  I've always been slightly wary of too many extensions for their unpleasant tendency to absolutely trash the performance of your browser - in a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ kind of way.

So, what extensions do I use regularly ?

Adblock - gets installed immediately with any fresh installation of Firefox & Chrome and is absolutely essential to happy and carefree web browsing.  You only realise its true value when you suddenly don't have it (such as when using a friend or relative's PC and have to suffer trawling through web pages which are cluttered with ungainly ads). 

Smooth Scroll for Chrome (I’m sure there’s an equivalent for Firefox).  It's a kind of, 'what it says on the tin' kind of add-on!

Firebug - fantastic app used for tinkering with web design, allowing you to try out changes 'on the fly'.  The lite version for Chrome is pretty useless but the Firefox version is superb.

LastPass – A fantastically useful add-on for managing passwords and completing forms.

Dictionary Lookup for Chrome – Double clicking on a word whilst holding down Ctrl brings up a definition with no further steps, clicks or mouse movements.

Feedly - a quirky alternative to Google Reader, it's a much better (and more attractive) means of finding and exploring content, but maybe not always as great for whizzing through as many subscriptions as possible to clear the backlog whilst keeping an eye out for interesting content. 

I used to use Aardvark a few years ago  to remove unnecessary elements from a page before printing and have recently discovered the Aardvark bookmarklet which works on any browser and works great.  I found it useful for removing tell-tale elements from the BBC’s live commentary feeds for World Cup matches (and F1 free practice sessions) whilst at work.

In the past, I've tried xmarks to keep my bookmarks in sync across the various computers I use but found it to be problematic and despite constant tinkering and reinstalls, never fully resolved the problems.  Knowing that I use Google Chrome 99% of the time - and knowing how damn well the built-in bookmark synchronization works - I've reverted back to that.  

For what it's worth, I've tried a whole bunch of extensions over the past few years (who hasn't?) but most of them don't last long. They range from highlighting gizmos, scrapbooking stuff, so-called Gmail enhancements, to bibliography-enhancing add-ons for university work - you name it.    The extension ecosystems for both Firefox and Chrome have grown astronomically and it seems there's an extension for just about anything. 

Probably the worst example of extension gluttony, though, is 'nothing' from Chrome.   Yeah, my self-respect for humanity dropped a notch, too, when I realised it does exactly what it says.

chrome - nothing extension 1

Worryingly, it's got great reviews:

chrome - nothing extension comment


If there are any killer add-ons out there you think would enrich my life, go ahead and feel free to shout out about them.  Smile

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Summer of Give

Seeing as it's in a good cause, I agreed to give a shout out for this one.  V, the youth volunteering charity, are giving away free summer festival tickets as part of their 'Summer of Give' campaign.

Essentially, V are looking for 18-25 year olds to volunteer both their time and talents in return for free tickets for 3 festivals this summer: T4 on the Beach at the Isle of Wight, Relentless Boardmasters in Newquay and Creamfields.Summer of Give 1

The idea is for volunteers to show off their talents to other festival goers, skills which I'm reliably informed can include music, dance, photography, writing or even fashion styling.  All talents will be required to pass a judging panel and just have to perform to the festival's crowds for 4 hours a day on the 'BigvBus'.  Given the public's passion for talent show and opportunities to perform, I'm sure it'll go down a storm.

I know there are a bunch of music lovers in the blawgosphere (and a number of philanthropists, too) so if this sounds like something you'd be up for, why not give it a whirl?  Applications can be made via their website at http://vinspired.com/summerofgive

The offer ends on 28th June so anyone who's keen should get their skates on.

Summer of Give 2

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Has Solicitors from hell website sold out?

From Solicitors Journal 02/06/10:

The founder of a website which invites disgruntled clients to vent their spleen has escaped huge damages after his first libel threat ended in settlement.

Solicitor Scott Eason agreed to waive claims for up to £100,000 damages in his High Court action against www.solicitorsfromhell.co.uk in exchange for a full apology.

Leading libel firm Carter-Ruck, representing Mr Eason, published the apology in full and announced the settlement would ensure the website could never publish similar criticisms of the firm again.

In the apology to Mr Eason, website owner Rick Kordowski said: “I did not know at the time of publication that the allegations were false, but I now understand they are.

“On that basis, they should never have been published.

solicitors from hell The website, ‘solicitors from hell’ has grown in prominence of late and although I’ve always understood the basic premise, I’m still not sure I buy into it as a concept.

I get the whole freedom of expression stance and the public good it does through warning would-be clients about certain firms of solicitors they might want to avoid. This too, in many respects, should be regarded as being good for the profession in that it acts an additional watchdog and helps keep law firms on the straight and narrow, with clients’ needs at the forefront of their concern.

But how accountable and dependable is that watchdog? Having a look over the site again, it strikes me as being more akin to a central forum for rants and raves from clients who, after having had a bad day at the office, are looking for a quick and easy avenue to vent their grievances. Clients are rarely renowned for their ability to exercise good judgement and being personally involved in emotional, high value situations in which their personal wealth is on the line, they are even less likely to analyse things objectively.

There are, of course, two sides to every story and whilst there are some crooked solicitors out there, the problem is arguably overstated. Unless there’s a lot of research and validation on the front-end, surely the submission process centres on a take action first and ask questions later kind of set up? What kind of background checks are done?  How substantiated do the allegations need to be.  What’s their takedown policy? You’ll find precious few answers on SFH website.

And talking of their take-down policy, Kordowski freely admits that he’ll remove a law firm after they’ve bought one of his removal ‘packages’. Far be it for me to say, but some cynics might equate this to extortion masquerading as philanthropy. The tiered payment options started at £99 extending to £299 (with the label ‘most popular’ adorning the most expensive option) smacks of a well thought out business model rather than a garage-ran vigilante fight for the cause kind of thing.

And given that the agreements hinge on future mentions being removed also, how does that square with the supposed philanthropic aims being behind the site’s creation?

But I don’t know. On balance, I guess, it’s still good that this site is available. Some of it goes too far in my opinion and does itself a disservice in coming across as petty (the link saying, ‘if you’re from Firm X click here” which opens a pop up window featuring some charmer flipping you the bird, being a case in point).

Plus, it just seems to me that solicitors from hell is veritable honeypot for libel claims. Is running the site really worth the risk, hassle and stress?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Deepwater Horizon fallout: Worker Injury Claims

From Business Insurance 14/06/10:

BP and its contractors face an array of worker injury claims as well as questions over workforce safety practices as they marshal a massive cleanup operation in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sheer volume of workers used in the onshore and offshore cleanup operations and the toxic substances involved make workers compensation claims inevitable, experts say.

A BP spokesman said the company has 22,000 “hirees” and volunteers working on oil cleanup efforts, but he could not say how many are BP employees and how many are workers for contractors, who could be responsible for worker injury claims.

“There is no doubt about it, and then when you toss into the mix the toxicity of the materials they are working with then you have additional claims beyond the normal slipping on the deck of a boat or on the dock. Absolutely, there are going to be claims and that belies the bigger picture of any type of toxic exposure.”

personal injury oil spillI guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. The worst oil spill in US history, an unparalleled clean-up operation, and now a bevy of compensation claims popping up.  This arguably has the potential to sink BP for good.  (If they weren’t already, of course).

But it’s important to remember that two wrongs won’t make a right and low standards of safety for workers trying to limit the scale of the catastrophe will only ever make things worse. 

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Blogging Basics 101: Hosted or Toasted?

Free blogging package, hosted, or VPS? What’s a blogger to do?

I was speaking to another avid blogger the other day about doing the whole ‘hosted’ thing. (Incidentally, they don’t know anything about my Law Actually blog; they just loosely know that I have a blog floating out there somewhere in cyberspace). There were times particularly in the early days that I regretted going the blogspot route, though I’ve found it’s become less of a problem over time as blogger have added featured and removed the odd niggles. Plus, blogspot, is a convenient and straightforward option and it’s a nice price too – free. You get a lot for your money with Google.

Although I bought a domain for law actually back in April 2008, I already considered it too late to migrate everything over as my PageRank would have taken too much of a hit. Sometimes, I regret that decision and if I were doing it again today, I’d probably suffer the short term pain. As it stands, I just use it to forward to lawactually.blogspot.com.

While blogspot not as readily extensible or customizable as say, Wordpress, it’s cheaper and arguably just as flexible if you a) know what you’re doing and b) have a little spare time to experiment. Blogspot also allows you to use your custom domain whilst still being hosted by blogger free of charge, something Wordpress doesn’t allow you to do.

Interestingly, fellow blawger, Technollama, who last year opted to go the hosted route, suffered an outage a back in February after a couple of blog posts resulted in a spike of traffic his host just couldn’t cope with. The painful upshot being his blog effectively died. I also recently discovered that some hosts are very fussy when it comes to which package they’ll let you buy to host your Wordpress blog with, meaning the cheapest package is often not an option.

While the moral of the story might be to choose your host carefully, there might be a better option. For instance, serious bloggers could always look to VPS Hosting as an alternative. While some bloggers could exist just fine on a shared hosting plan, if you’re seriously hardcore, you may need to move out of a shared environment. Sitting nicely in the middle, though, is an option between shared and dedicated hosting called VPS web hosting (Virtual Private Server) and for some bloggers, it may well be the perfect fit.

3 additional reasons why VPS may be right for you:

1) Need SSH/Root Access – No hosting company is going to let you tinker with the server – there are too many sites that could be affected by that. On a VPS, however, you're separated from other sites, and therefore free to customize your server with software that you want and need.

2) Scalability – if your site is growing, or if you want to add more domains, a shared environment may not be able to accommodate you. Growth, whether it's an e-commerce site or a blog, is a major reason to look into a VPS.

3) Cost – A VPS costs much less than the other robust hosting option, i.e. a dedicated server. Before virtualization software made a VPS possible, shared and dedicated were the only options; now that VPS is out there, you can get many of the best features of dedicated hosting at a fraction of the cost with a VPS.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The fall of BarFutures

From The Law Society Gazette 08/06/10:

Experimental virtual chambers BarFutures is to close its doors at the end of June after two years because of a ‘lack of appetite for change within the profession’, the Gazette has learned.

The alternative set was designed to meet the challenges posed by the Legal Services Act 2007 and give barristers a more cost-effective and time-efficient way to practise.

Rather than working in a traditional chambers, BarFutures provided management and marketing services and working accommodation in London and Manchester, to enable barristers to operate remotely and remain fully independent while benefiting from shared support.

It gave solicitors a more cost-effective and streamlined way to instruct barristers, using BarFutures’ own barristers, or the organisation’s nationwide network of affiliated chambers.

If you’re a sceptic of the quality solicitors concept, then you’ll likely not be a fan of this either. In so many ways, I’m not surprised that this has failed to take off, given the deep-seated conservatism of the profession. But this wasn’t really that radical compared to some of the proposals that have been floating about over the last few years, some of which involved barristers essentially becoming home workers who congregated in ‘virtual’ chambers.

barristers-a-go-go2But part of me thinks that the name, ‘BarFutures’ might have been the stumbling block, here. Something a bit more free and easy might have been the answer. How about Barristers-a-Go-Go ?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Cort and Farrell convicted of the murder of Vina Patel

I know that Pooni over at her blog has covered this story as it unfolded but now the verdict’s in, I thought I might as well throw in my two-penneth. As I remember, Pooni suffered a barrage of abuse a few weeks ago from a couple of cyberspatial scumbags, leading her to take some of the posts down.

The story of the murder of Vina Patel is utterly chilling in the audacity of the perpetrators and the cold-bloodedness of the plot.

From BBC News 28/05/10:

John Cort, 54, of Rutland Street, Leicester, was convicted at Nottingham Crown Court of killing Vina Patel so he could claim life insurance.

Hit man Brian Farrell, 37, of Queensborough Terrace, west London, was jailed for a minimum term 27 years.

The body of 51-year-old Mrs Patel was found at the bottom of the stairs at Cort and Co solicitors in Blackbird Road, Leicester, on 15 January 2009.

During the trial, the court heard that debt-ridden Cort hired Farrell to commit the murder in the belief it would lead to a huge insurance pay-out.

Mrs Patel suffered a broken neck as well as other injuries.

The court evidence suggested she had either fallen because she was being attacked or had been attacked then her body arranged to make it look like an accident.

There are undertones of the Michael Peterson story here (which was publicised in the gripping ‘death on the staircase’ documentary and which aired a few years ago in the UK). Here, though, there was always far less doubt as the culpability of the defendants.

The judge said: "That you, Mr Cort, were able to have murdered a close friend of 30 years, erstwhile lover of 20 years and partner prepared to help you with your divorce, reveals your true character.

"You are a controlling person who will stop at nothing to achieve your aims.

"You were the driving force behind the murder."

Hopefully the verdict will at least afford the family of Vina Patel some small degree of closure from this horrible ordeal.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Anatomy of a Law Student Blog

Most law student / graduate blogs tend share common elements – for better or worse, I guess. The infographic that follows is my take on these elements and why, as distinguished -ahem- members the blawgosphere, we should know better.

And yes, before anyone points it out, I realise I’m very guilty of some of these blogging clich├ęs myself.

Anatomy of a law student blogKey:

1.  Cheesy header – the extent of the cheesiness depends on the individual’s taste. Often accompanied by an equally cheesy background pattern/image.

2.  Ridiculous ‘individualistic’ bio – FYI, some of the cornier bios in Twitter give me the absolute squits – e.g. “husband, father, friend,  brother”. Come on! Of course you are. Along with the other hundreds of millions in the world. Seriously… get over yourself; nobody cares.

3.  Calendar – seriously? A calendar? Yeah, I always swing by a law student blog to check what day the 24th of next month is! :p And yes, a clock is equally futile.

4.  Crazy long list of tags/labels - Often times, you’ll create a new one, tag that post and promptly forget all about its existence and never use it again.

5.  Blank space to be filled in the next generation release of you blog (read: when you figure out what next piece of crap to stick in it!).

6.  Wacky list of other blogs – all as crazy as yours!

7.  Facebook /Spotify etc.. links/feeds - ‘Cos there just isn’t enough of your pompous drivel in the blog proper, eh? Seriously, your readers couldn’t give a fat rats about what you’re up to, what you’re currently listening to or what latest cretinous creature you’ve got careering around your Farmville sheep pen!

8.  Follow Me on Twitter graphic - You’re pretty darn desperate for followers and there’s no point hiding it, eh?

9.  The posts proper: (The meat in the blog sandwich) - 75%+ of posts are dedicated to bemoaning about how much work they’ve had/got to do on their course. Around exam period, this skyrockets to near 100%.

10.  Animated Smilies – Often the ultimate insult. For some reason the blogger assumes the reader needs ridiculous yellow blobs offering lecherous winks in the reader’s direction to help convey the message. And, while we’re on the subject, those winks always look more like nervous twitches to me! 

11.  Embarrassing photos – which you’ll often later take down … or if your nerve / bad judgement dictates, leave up.

12.  Ugly ‘Ads by Google’ banner – wow. Talk about taking liberties with your readers. As if force-feeding them your self-righteous drivel isn’t bad enough, you go for the double-whammy by slapping them with an obnoxious (and financially futile) Adwords banner. Ouch. (Has anybody really made any money from these things since, like 2006?)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Daily Computing Routine

At a time when we all seem to be spending more time in front of a computer (or at least online via one of the ever-increasing array of shiny gadgets available out there) this picture seemed highly appropriate:

daily computing routine

Found via Digg (as usual)!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Children to be fingerprinted as part of library loan process

From The Telegraph 28/05/10:

Students in Manchester are having their thumbprints digitally transformed into electronic codes, which can then be recognised by a computer program.

Under the scheme, pupils swipe a bar code inside the book they want borrow then press their thumb on to a scanner to authorise the loan. Books are returned in the same way.

But critics said they were “appalled” at the system, developed by Microsoft which is also being trialled in other parts of the country.

“This is quite clearly appalling,” said Phil Booth, national coordinator of NO2ID, a privacy campaign group.

“For such a trivial issue as taking out of library books the taking of fingerprints is way over the top and wrong.

He added: “The money for such a system could be spent on actual school resources. How about some more books for the library instead?

Things aren’t that simple, of course. If resources are being directed at monitoring loaned books . Potentially, this system could allow for the school library loan processes to be automated to a far greater extent than they are currently.

Overall, I’d say this one isn’t quite as ludicrous as it initially appears. The idea of substituting a library card for a finger print is convenient – particularly for kids. 

"We have researched this scheme thoroughly. It is a biometric recognition system and no image of a fingerprint is ever stored. It is a voluntary system,” she said.

"The thumbprint creates a mathematical template. All parents have been written to and we have told them what the system is all about. From the responses we have had there has been overwhelming support."

If I were a parent, I don’t think I’d have an issue with this.  Moreover, children in schools all around the country are already fingerprinted as part of the payment system for school dinners.  I think NO2ID should focus on frying bigger fish quite frankly.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

UCL fines student for demonstrating entrepreneurial flair

fitfinder

From The Times May 31/05/10: ­­­­­

The founder of a student flirting website has been fined £300 for bringing his university into disrepute.

The FitFinder, set up last month, combines Twitter and Facebook to allow students to exchange saucy messages on campus. The site received four million hits in its first month and has rapidly expanded to universities across the country.

Rich Martell, 21, a final-year computer sciences student at University College London, has taken the site down under pressure from university authorities, who were concerned that it was distracting students from their studies. Staff claim to have been contacted by a number of other universities unhappy about FitFinder.

Really? Why on earth would it concern staff at other universities?

The letter added that non-payment of the fine, which is the maximum that can be awarded by the Dean for misconduct, would result in Mr Martell’s degree results being withheld.

FitFinder has gained national attention since its launch in April for its risque content and its wildfire-like spread.

The same could be said for many Facebook groups and indeed other social networking sites.

The site allows students to “spot” attractive people in libraries, cafes and lecture theatres, and post a message about them on the publicly visible site in the hope of getting a response. The site has been criticised by women’s groups, who cite sexually explicit comments as evidence of its offensive tone, while supporters argue that it is nothing more than friendly banter and a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.

I’m sure women have used FitFinder prolifically to post comments about men. Should men’s groups get their panties in a similar twist?

Mr Martell has vowed to resume the service as soon as the safety of his university degree is guaranteed and said that it was an unfair reaction to a social networking site that he sees as no different to Facebook or Twitter. “If a UCL student posted something offensive on Facebook would they hold Mark Zuckerberg [the site’s founder] responsible?” he asked.

This is utterly ludicrous in my opinion and smacks of an out-dated and overly prudish stance from a university which claims to move with the times. UCL should be encouraging Martell’s entrepreneurial flair and skill – not fining him for his creativity.

Social networking is here and is a reality – for all of the evil it has wrought on the world, it’s done a lot of good too.

Is FitFinder truly any different from a student setting up a facebook group for the same purpose? Plus, with being popular, Martell has only provided a service which people clearly want. Bad show, UCL. Bad show.