Friday, 31 July 2009

The Civil Service is in ‘beta’

I realise that the use of the term ‘beta’ in the development of software has changed out of all recognition during the era of web 2.0, but I still find it vaguely troubling that the civil service is ‘in beta’.

After all, even Gmail has lost its beta tag now.

Civil Service beta 

And no, this isn’t one of my Photoshop jobs. 

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Schumacher to return to Formula One

Michael SchumacherI still can’t believe this is actually happening! The legend Michael Schumacher, greatest F1 driver of all time is returning to racing, substituting for the injured Felipe Massa.

No matter how excited you might think I am at the prospect of Schumi returning, I’m a little bit more!

I actually pondered the (unlikely – or so I thought) prospect of Schumacher returning a couple of days ago when it was clear Massa would not be race fit and I think I described it as “ too exciting to even begin to get my ahead around”. The confirmation that the 7 times world champion will be lining up on the grid at Valenicia has sent me into seventh heaven.

For me, F1 has suddenly become interesting again as had found my interest dwindling markedly since Michael retired. I’ve no doubt he’ll be well up to the job, even though he hasn’t driven an F1 car for 15 months and has never driven a car which conforms to the new regs. It should also be pointed out that Schuey has never raced at the Valencia street circuit which was a new arrival on the F1 calendar last year.

Nonetheless, a racing genius is a racing genius and I still expect him to give the lacklustre Raikkonen a real run for his money. It’s INCREDIBLY exciting!

As I tweeted last night, shortly after discovering the news:

Oh my freaking god.... just heard about Schumacher returning to F1 standing in for Massa!!!! Have I died and gone to heaven???? :D :D

Enough said I think.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

PR 101: How NOT to handle an aggrieved tenant situation

complaint From the Guardian 29/07/09:

A Chicago lettings agency is suing a former tenant for at least $50,000 (£30,000) after she complained on Twitter about mould in her apartment.

Horizon Group Management filed the lawsuit against Amanda Bonnen on Monday in response to what it claimed was her "false and defamatory" message on the microblogging site.

Jeff Michael, whose family runs Horizon, told the Chicago Sun-Times: "The statements are obviously false, and it's our intention to prove that."

He said the company never had a conversation with Bonnen about the post and never asked her to take it down. "We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organisation," he told the paper.

Oh really? Well, unsurprisingly, that approach has gone down a storm across the cyberspatial universe.

The lawsuit has provoked a backlash against Horizon on Twitter and the wider blogosphere. Horizon Group management has become one of the most searched and discussed subjects on Twitter, with posters criticising the company for its legal action and arguing it had made a major PR blunder.

Twitter user charlesthomas wrote: "So Bravo to you, Horizon Group Management! You damaged your rep far more than @abonnen ever could."

Another poster, jvandeboom, tweeted: "What a PR failure by Horizon Group Management ... Makes me believe the mold [sic] claims even more."

Although blogs, twitter and all the other lovely web 2.0 stuff that have become firmly part of the modern vernacular these days, through which grievances are often (and sometimes foolishly) aired, the number of companies who completely fudge their responses and simply exacerbate the situation is amazing.

Without knowing the full facts, here, such as whether the mould claims are true, and if there had been any contact between the tenant and Horizon prior to the tweet in question, it’s impossible to judge the legality of the situation or how rational it might have been. Online defamation, too, is conceptually built on rather shaky ground but the legal issues in play are almost a side-issue given Horizon’s response.

The blogosphere has long been used as tool for making yourself heard and I can think of several situations where bloggers have easily and immediately got a firm’s undivided attention whereupon they were reduced to sycophantic putty in the blogger’s hands. The way Horizon Lettings handled the situation is at the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, and has simply resulted in making things far worse than they need ever have been.

And although I have rather conventional attitude towards online defamation, I’ve very little sympathy with Horizon; that “sue first, ask questions later comment” is just killing me.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Open Source Law Student - Part 1

law actually open source law student For all that I talked up this experiment in the latter part of last year, I realise I’ve been ominously quiet on it since. The plan, for those that don’t remember, was to try and do (at least a phase of, anyway) my LL.M using only open source and free proprietary software. I’m going to split this write-up into two parts, for the sake of brevity.

Given the explosive uptake of netbooks – an immediate hit with ultra mobile and cash-strapped students – I felt the experiment was particularly timely. That said, although Linux was an obvious first choice for netbook operating systems, the somewhat aged Windows XP thereafter became the number one install choice of OEMs.

But is Linux a viable choice for the average student? Based on this experiment, I would have to say yes – even though the transition might prove a touch bumpy if you’ve been brought up with Windows. What I can safely say, however, is that that transition is the smoothest it’s ever been; it has been an acknowledged trend for some time that Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are, broadly speaking, converging from a user experience standpoint.

And cloud computing, of course, continues to gather steam. As such, then, the whole premise of what an operating system is and what it does is being slowly reconceptualised. Computer users are spending more and more time within web browsers, they are storing content in the cloud – not just locally – and their connectivity to the web across various devices and locations is becoming increasingly seamless.

And with Google Chrome OS on the horizon and also potential options to run Android on netbooks, the scene is set to become even more exciting.

The premise of my experiment was simple: to see if a law student could survive using freely available software to turn in the various assignments and preparation that a degree demands.

During the experiment, I ran a variety of software (and I include web-apps in that term) that an average student would need: a browser, an office suite, email, etc. but I also ran a few more obscure items; all students have slightly broader computing needs than just word processing and email.

I focussed on 3 different distros of Linux: Ubuntu (Hardy Heron and Intrepid Ibex – I’ve not tried Jaunty Jackalope), Opensuse 11 and Linux Mint. Because of my testing the beta and RC of Windows 7 on a separate partition, I ended up running the distros in virtual machines within Windows Vista.

Email: I use and love Google’s Gmail and have used it almost exclusively for 5 years solid now. I don’t use a mail client though I did experiment with Mozilla’s excellent Thunderbird for the purposes of the experiment using the IMAP functionality of Gmail. Gmail also makes it easy to have your mail from other services (such as your Uni account your institution supports this function) redirected so checking your email becomes a one-stop-shop. Why anyone would use a mail client now is beyond me – email in the cloud is just the way God intended it to be, quite frankly. I also used Windows Live Hotmail and although I much prefer Gmail, it’s certainly a viable option.

Browser: All browsers are free today, anyway, but under the cloud computing paradigm, browsers essentially become the operating system so the choice has never been so important.  My first choice was Mozilla Firefox, of course, which I’ve used since early 2004 and which offers certain essential add-ons that I couldn’t be without.  As an alternative to Firefox or IE 8 (the latter of which is a credible alternative to FF albeit without the rich ecosystem of ad-ons) I’ve also found Google Chrome to be excellent and love its Spartan look and feel. I use it almost exclusively on my aging laptop which runs it lightening fast and the minimalist UI works great on a smaller screen. To be fair, though, it does take some getting used to and knowing a few keyboard shortcuts makes a huge difference.

Office Suite: My principal choice was Open Office.  I found it surprisingly easy to make the switch, and although I’ve been using MS Office 2007 for over two years, Open Office’s conventional UI didn’t bug me. Their default page layout did, however. If you’re used to a previous version of MS Office, you should have no problem making the jump to Open Office.   I had no problems with file compatibility for .doc or .rtf files, though there are still problems regarding the native Office 2007 .docx files.  The same also applies for the conventional files types for other programs such as spreadsheets and presentations; compatibility is not an issue.

I also tried Abi word and Google Docs – both of which offer footnote functionality and remain credible alternatives to MS Office. Although many students might look to snag MS Office home and student edition for around £70 – or they may simply receive it as part of a new PC – I see no reason why a law student would need to spend money on an office suite to get work done efficiently.  Free options really are that good these days.

Coming in part 2, calendaring, encryption, games, sticking points and my conclusion.

Stay tuned.

Sensationalist Trailers

I think all TV viewers can relate to the corny, melodramatic buzz that programme trailers try to generate, with claims that the forthcoming show is the biggest, best, scariest, most-must-see they’ve ever broadcasted. Nowhere is that more true, of course, than the US.

And this spoof ER trailer from College Humor recognises that brilliantly.


Monday, 27 July 2009

Minxy’s Awards - “I’d just like to thank....”

Yes, this humble blog has been honoured in the first ever ceremony of the Law Minx blawwgies, taking the award for ‘Dynamic Legal Blogger’.

The Dynamic Legal Blogger of the Year Award- goes to Michael over at Law Actually. Law Actually is an incredibly content rich and thought provoking blog, reaching out into serious issues of law as well as the sometimes not so serious when it comes to life as a student. Quite how he finds the time to work so hard on such a wonderful blog AND study for an LLM is beyond me!!

Minxy – you left out ‘working part time to help fund said course’ whilst studying, blawging and all the rest of it! :p

It’s just occurred to me that this might be where I’m supposed to launch into a speech thanking all and sundry and perhaps get a touch weepy too...

But, I won’t.  Still, in all seriousness, I would like to thank Minxy for the mention, though hope she doesn’t take back the award for tinkering with the award picture.  :p 

un-camped law actually award

Friday, 24 July 2009

Dentist dropped not one but two dental tools down patient’s throat

From Fox News 18/07/09:

A central Florida dentist is being sued for allegedly dropping tools down the throat of an elderly patient — twice.

Relatives of 90-year-old Charles Gaal Jr. recently filed the suit in Orange County Circuit Court against Dr. Wesley Meyers for neglience. An answering message at his Winter Park office Saturday said he was on vacation.

The lawsuit says the doctor dropped an "implant screwdriver tool" in 2006 and a "mini-wrench" in 2007.

The suit also says Gaal underwent multiple medical procedures to remove the tools but never fully recovered. He suffered a cardiac event in June 2007 and died a few days later.

Meyers was fined $17,000 by the state a year later. Meyers was found negligent in a settlement.

As Oscar Wilde might have put it, for a dentist to lose one implement down his patient’s throat may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

What I don’t understand is how. I actually did my work experience at various dental practices including an orthodontist and with a maxillofacial surgeon. But even from my observations with regular dentists, when much work was being done, particularly where small implements were going to be used (such as in a root canal treatment) the dentist always fitted a dental dam which isolated the tooth or teeth to be worked on and which prevented anything dropping down the patient’s throat.

Dental Dam I remember being told that dental dams were very ‘big’ in America and it was common practice to use one for anything more complicated than the simplest of fillings. I’m amazed, therefore, that Meyers didn’t make use of a dental dam here which would have prevented this tragic event from ever occurring.

The full story is truly disturbing: the 90 year old patient, Mr Gaal, spent over 50 days in hospital before his death from complications stemming from the second implement dropped down his throat.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Stray Sperm and Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk As I perused the Times’ weird cases this week, they both jumped out at me as being slightly wackier than usual.

Firstly, hat tip to Pooni on this one who flagged this top story up last week or so.

From the Times 17/07/09:

Magdalena Kwiatkowska is seeking compensation having discovered that her 13-year-old daughter, whom she asserts has not had sex, became pregnant while on holiday. The mother says conception occurred after her daughter received a “stray sperm” in an Egyptian hotel swimming pool. Suing the hotel, the mother avows that there is no way her daughter could have met any boys while on the family holiday.

Oh she received a ‘stray sperm’ all right. I’m just not convinced it was casually floating about in the swimming pool. It certainly brings a new dimension to the argument that civil litigation claims are getting ever more fanciful?

And for a touch more legal wackiness:

A woman [from Missouri] had sex, separately, with identical twin brothers on the same day although neither man knew of the other’s sexual encounter with the woman. She gave birth to a daughter but each brother claimed to be the baby’s uncle not her father. The woman identified Raymon Miller as the father but, objecting to making payments of $256 a week in child support, he argued his twin, Richard, was the father. Paternity tests using DNA samples revealed only that both brothers had over a 99.99 percent probability of being the father.

The judge decided that since Raymon had spent the night with the woman and Richard’s sexual encounter had been much briefer; Raymon should be held as the legal father of the child.

The woman presumably knew they were identical twins, seeing as they didn’t know about each other’s assignation with the woman, right?  Or maybe she thought it was the same guy each time and there wasn’t much in the way of pillow talk to give the game away?

I don’t know, but  I do know that it’s truly amazing how people get themselves in these situations.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Baywatch – Series 1

Just for the hell of it, I’ve been re-watching a show I used to love as a kid - Baywatch, series 1.

For the record, I think after series 1 Baywatch quickly degenerated into an absolute joke. The show was cancelled after the first series in the US and the original creators (including David ‘don’t Hassel the Hoff’) clubbed together to fund and shoot a scaled-down 2nd series. Thereafter, complete hilarity ensued from series 3/4 onwards when viewers were insulted by the likes of man-eating octopi and even more fanciful plots. Enough said, I think.Shauni

The first series was corny enough, mind; it was absolute cheese on a plate quite frankly. Yet there was something innocent and wholesome about the storylines. Granted, they were entirely predictable, atrociously overacted and added up to create a show that remains very ‘of its time’. But therein lays its glory: I love the 80s-ness of it all and watching it back now serves up a complete blast from the past every time. From one glorious episode to the next it’s hardcore 80s all the way - from the Hoff’s bouncing 80s hair right down to the super-high-rise bikinis.

Some of the scenes are terribly cringeworthy – particularly the ‘young love’ scenes with Mitch’s son, Hobie (or ‘Nobby’ as my girlfriend seems to refer to him) but it was a classic TV show for a classic era and its corniness is all part of its charm, I suppose. On the downside, the series also seems to become progressively weaker as it wears on – or maybe that’s just the novelty wearing off for me.  It certainly has a patchier feeling than the first 10 episodes or so.

Although I was tempted by the low price of series 1 from, I ultimately ordered the German version from as wanted the unedited version and the one which contained the original title track and in-programme music. The British version, due to IP complications, features a terrible soundtrack which doesn’t do the show justice and much of the original music which accompanies the trademark slow-mos has been replaced. Although many people associate Sunblock’s ‘I’ll Be There’ title song with the show, for me, the Peter Cetra’s ‘Save Me’ was by far and away the best. The montage and soundtrack was, quite rightly, regarded as one of the best ever created for a TV show in the 1980s/90s.

Finally, I remember always having a bit of a ‘thing’ for the lovely Shauni played by the stunning Erika Eleniak pictured above.  Watching the show again all these years later, I can still see why she caught my young eye. Now I have to admit that I’m not much into blondes but Shauni’s the full meal deal and she’s certainly still got it. No one ever did a red swimsuit such justice and even though I was slightly perturbed by noticing this time round that she had a monobrow, I can live with that.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Facebook, Privacy, Risks – you know what’s coming

social media

From 21/07/09:

Jennifer Stoddart's office has investigated the social networking website's use of personal information and has found that Facebook is not clear enough about how users can control their information or restrictive enough in restricting other companies' access to it.*

The Commissioner's office said that the company needed to be more transparent.

"Social networking sites can be a wonderful way to connect. They help us keep up with friends and share ideas and information with people around the globe," said assistant commissioner Elizabeth Denham. It is important for these sites to be in compliance with the law and to maintain users’ trust in how they collect, use and disclose our personal information*.”

The investigation found that users were told on Facebook how to deactivate accounts, but not how to delete them*. Only deleting accounts actually removes personal information from Facebook's servers.

* My emphasis

Seeing as I haven’t engaged in any Facebook-bashing for a while, I thought I’d throw this post up. This topic actually reminds me of a paper I wrote for a competition earlier this year concerning the future of social networking services and the privacy of their respective users. Alas, I didn’t win though still believe I made some excellent arguments throughout (it was probably a touch too forward-thinking and conceptual for them).

In it I argued that for social networking services and privacy to co-exist in any meaningful way together, the first and crucial step was to raise awareness and educate users about the risks they faced and the tools at their disposal to manage those risks.

With informed users, I reckoned, not only would there be less online stupidity with people failing to appreciate the dangers and the full effects of their actions but it would allow for the harnessing of market forces to successfully regulate social networking providers. In short, where users were well-informed enough to choose a service which offered safe connectivity, prized security and respected users’ privacy, the respective social networking services would compete with one another on this front; security would become less of a trade-off with functionality and more of a function in its own right. For the average, less technically au fait user, well, they would be influenced by those in the know and the herd theory would operate to result in an exodus of users from services which didn’t pass muster on the security/privacy front.

There was a lot more to the paper than that, obviously, and it was heavily weighted on the side of regulatory theory rather than black letter law – perhaps that’s why I didn’t win – but I think many of the ideas I advanced are still good. I may publish it myself via Law Actually given time.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Dissertation Update

dreaded dissertation Yes, in between job apps, work, blawging and all the rest, I am managing to get a bit of this damned dissertation done. I’ve written my first 1200 words so have at least got the thing off the ground.

As ever when writing extended papers such as these, my planned structure has evolved  - nearly out of all recognition.  Come to think of it, I think ‘blown out of the water’ might be a more suitable phrase.

But it’s actually all quite positive. I’ve successfully wrestled the myriad of disjointed fragments that my dissertation synopsis consisted off into one (vaguely) harmonious whole. For the most part, I’m very happy that I did choose this topic, despite my somewhat wobbly start.  I feel I know where I’m going with it, have got a rough but logical chapter outline and feel I’ve given myself good scope for whacking plenty of critical analysis in there. Yes, the dissertation seems to be firmly on track, people.

Let’s hope I’m still saying that in a few weeks time.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Texting girl falls down sewer – family threatens to sue

 MR. ariel_wilchek12208.jpgFrom MSNBC 14/07/09:

We all know that walking and texting is a tough combination -- but a Staten Island teen learned the hard way when she fell into an uncovered sewer manhole while trying to send a message.

Now, the family of Alexa Longueira, 15, intends to sue.

The girl suffered a fright and some scrapes on her arms back after she dropped into the hole on Victory Boulevard.

"It was four or five feet, it was very painful. I kind of crawled out and the DEP guys came running and helped me," Longueria told the Staten Island Advance.. "They were just, like, 'I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

For its part, the Department of Environmental Protection said its workers had turned away briefly to grab some cones when the incident occurred.

"We regret that this happened and wish the young woman a speedy recovery," DEP spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla said in a statement. She added that crews were flushing a high-pressure sewer line at the time.

Personally, I hate people who wander aimlessly along in public with their eyes fixated on their mobile and can’t help feeling there was an element of rough justice here.

Sure, the fall could have been nasty but you can certainly argue that by Longueria not looking where she was going, contributory negligence is brought into play. So while it appears the girl’s family will at least attempt to bring a personal injury claim against the Dept of Environmental Protection, you just have to wonder just what kind of nasty stuff she fell into.

And what happened to her phone.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Time to start praying your brother’s a good shot!


Brings tears to my eyes!

Why (some) Windows 7 usability features are useless (to me)

<a href=";playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:3c4e45e3-53e3-4a80-a305-f9a41937a6bd&amp;showPlaylist=true" target="_new" title="Doing Homework in Windows 7">Video: Doing Homework in Windows 7</a>

As a follow up to yesterday’s Windows 7 for Law Students, I thought I’d post a video I found entitled ‘Doing Homework in Windows 7’ designed to showcase time-saving tips and features in Windows 7 for students to be more productive. At least that’s the theory.

Now, I realise we all have different ways of working but I have to say, for me, many of the so-called advances in Windows 7 designed to improve workflow, clarity of content and ease of use would be worthless to me.

When I’m working, I like to have windows maximised to make best use of my widescreen display. That’s one of the chief reasons why I’ve found the sidebar in Vista (essentially now gadgets in 7) to be such a flop which I ended up disabling long ago. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way: I’ve got a big screen so I want to make use of it. Why the heck would I open piddling little windows which obscure much of the content when I could see so much more at a glance and wouldn’t have to shuffle those little windows about like I’m playing solitaire?

The demonstration illustrates aero snap whereby 2 windows are docked at opposite ends of the screen. Nice feature, perhaps, but how useful is this in practice?

Using this feature, the user is left with using a ridiculous pair of narrow windows resembling pillars which would quickly get right on my proverbials. As a result, not only are you scrolling every 5 seconds to move down the page, but you have to scroll horizontally as well to get to the content you need. And this is supposed to make me MORE productive? Go figure.

Please remind me again why is flipping between windows such a big problem – there are even keyboard shortcuts for it? However you do it, switching between windows is surely much more preferable than having to scroll up and down, left and right like you’re a person possessed trying to search for your content in small windows when you can have it all open in front of you in maximised ones?

And what’s the deal with using a minimised window and using a Wikipedia gadget to search for an answer online? With a maximised window and using either a keyboard shortcut or mouse, I could open, say, Firefox (almost certainly open already) and open a new tab with Cntrl + T move the cursor to the built in search box with Cntrl + K and start typing and hit enter. Done. Wikipedia entries are often first in the list of Google results and the added advantage of this method is that I’ve a whole page of other entries within view if I don’t like Wikipedia’s offering without having to do another thing.

So, yeah, I think I’ll give Wikipedia gadgets and similar a wide berth, thanks.

Some of the other so-called tips in the video are pretty esoteric and would represent a long-winded means of working for many people. That said, though, aero peek is an awesome feature and one I found myself using continually; the number I times I go to swipe the ‘show desktop’ button and miss on the Vista taskbar is infuriating.

In short, I’d say Windows 7 does indeed boast a few bona fide productivity enhancements but videos such as these are not only deceptive but detract from the genuine improvements that are present.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Windows 7 for Law Students

Windows 7 for Law Students 2 Windows 7, the successor to the ill-fated Windows Vista, is barrelling towards completion and is due to be released on 22nd October this year.  Back in January, I first sampled Windows 7 in the form of the public Beta - a release which was greeted with almost exclusively high applause.  Back in January, I didn't play around with Windows 7 for long, however, as I found the experience of relying totally on a beta OS for my LLM computing needs a touch unnerving.

The Release Candidate (RC) for Windows 7 has been out for nearly a couple of months now, but because of exams, travelling and a bunch of other stuff, I haven't had a chance to sample it.  Until recently.

Running Windows 7 has also been my first foray into 64 bit computing, a move prompted in no small part because of the 32 bit versions of Windows inability to address more than 3.4 GB of RAM. So far, the switch has been totally seamless and glitch free - and I'm referring to both Windows 7 and 64 bit computing here.  I've come across 1 piece of software thus far which has thrown a technical wobbly at running in a 64 bit environment but on the whole, it’s been a big success.

Many tech pundits have referred to Windows 7 as ‘Vista done right’ and while that’s a bit of a loaded statement, I guess that sentiment is more or less accurate. Yes, it’s got more in the way of eye candy, yes it’s nimbler, cleaner and more highly polished.  There are a few improvements in respect of UI, search and libraries – as well as security features like ‘bit locker’ and ‘bit locker to go’ being pushed out across all major versions of the OS. But for the average user – and certainly the average law student – you would have to be seriously sick of Vista for those reasons alone to justify the cost of upgrading.

That said, there is a tantalising pre-order deal being offered to UK customers presently in which you can order a full copy of Home Premium of £49.99 (Amazon are offering it for £44.97) so this is possibly one of the best ever deals for Microsoft’s arguably greatest OS release of all time.

There’s no escaping the fact this release has a very ‘Vista 2.0’ feel about it and if you’re familiar with Vista, you should be well at home when using 7. Granted, the new style taskbar takes a bit of getting used to which is designed to operate more in the manner of the Apple OS X dock, but it can simply and easily be altered so that it mimics the behaviour and appearance of the conventional Windows taskbar.  There are a few nifty features - aero peek and so on - but the highly touted multi-touch features require specific hardware.

So would I consider upgrading? Well, I like the sound of a faster OS and would like to enjoy the benefits of my OS addressing all of the RAM I’ve installed. Quite frankly, though, on my beefy desktop machine I can’t say I notice any different in speed between Vista and 7, so that in itself is hardly a reason to upgrade. That said, 7 reportedly runs considerably better than Vista on lower-end hardware such as netbooks and seeing as these have quickly become a student favourite, I can imagine there are many law students out there that will soon be running 7 on a such a machine. (Personally, I can’t stand going below a 14 inch screen so don’t see myself jumping on the netbook bandwagon any time soon).

Search in 7 has been tweaked to improve it from Vista which, let’s remember, was a quantum leap over the laughable search functionality built into XP. Search is undoubtedly one of the true day-to-day benefits I have found with using Vista in the context of a law degree.  XP, out of the box, is woefully inadequate by comparison, though I admit, there are several additional apps out there which you can download to mimic much of the search-goodness found in Vista and 7 today – such as Google Desktop and Windows Search.  For me, Vista’s prowess in respect of search really comes into its own when compiling bibliographies and where I'm completing or cross checking their accuracy; I believe that the instant search functionality in Vista has literally saved me hours and hours of time over of the course of the academic year.  Digging files out in a flash, and the ability to open apps by hitting the windows key, typing a couple of letters and tapping enter also makes Vista's (relatively few in my opinion) flaws worth enduring.

So as a law student, would I upgrade - outside of buying a new computer?  To be honest, I would only do so in the form of the excellent pre-order deal and, as great as 7 is, my experience with Vista has been fine so don’t find myself absolutely itching to upgrade. Nonetheless, I’ll probably go ahead and order myself a copy of Windows 7 – I’m just like that, I guess. If you’ve a fairly modern PC and are still running XP, Windows 7 could breathe a whole new sense of life into your computing experience and bring you right up to the present. Other than that, if you want the latest thing, and have a lower end Vista machine - particularly a laptop or netbook – Windows 7 might also be well worth a look this autumn.

Law Actually - Computing for law students 2It’s a shame that 7 won’t be released in time for the start of the new academic year.  Although the install process of Windows 7 is smoother and much faster than ever before, installing a new OS on your indispensable computer during term time is not the faint hearted.  If you aren’t sure what you’re doing – don’t even try it.  If you are feeling brave, set aside plenty of time, have lots of backups and be near to a spare machine with internet access would be my advice.   And whatever you do, make sure you’ve printed out that assignment that’s due in the next day before you start tinkering.

Computing for Law Students

Law Actually - Computing for law students 2 I’ve decided to create this segment on Law Actually to run throughout the summer for two reasons. Firstly, I just love this sort of stuff and I’ve been tinkering about with computers for years. I’m also not convinced that there is a whole lot of material out there in the way of computing advice and tips pitched at law students so intend to fill this gap in the market.

Secondly, my time as a law student will soon be over and I see this as the optimal time to pass on my (relatively few) nuggets of wisdom (such as they are) and general experience to all and sundry out there in cyberspace – including a few potential and current law students who hopefully find this stuff interesting and useful.

So here’s the plan: I intend to publish a series of posts, starting first with a general look at Windows 7 which I’ve tinkered about within the context of the public beta and the release candidate over the past few months. From there, I’ll write up my conclusions from my 'Open Source Law Student' project – yes, shock horror, I haven’t forgotten entirely about that. In addition, I will throw out a few shortish blurbs focussing on specific software, tips and time-saving ways of working which I’ve found useful during my law degrees.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Inkjet Symphony

Recent Kingston University design graduates Tom Wrigglesworth and Matt Robinson take 8 ink jet printers and make them come to life in an award-winning student video for Hewlett Packard.

Seriously impressive, although, just for the record, I’m certainly not a fan of HP printers.

The advocate’s Achilles’ heel – cocktails at lunch


From Gary Slapper’s Weird Cases 03/07/09:

That inappropriate courtroom conduct is, though, trumped by the less than effective representation of attorney Raymond Brownlow who was charged with contempt of court in the District of Columbia in 1968. He had arrived in court in the late morning and had begun to address the judge in a most erratic way in front of a bemused client. This exchange then followed:

JUDGE: Have you been drinking?

BROWNLOW: I had a cocktail at lunch

JUDGE: This morning?


The first thing to draw the suspicion of the judge, however, was the fact that Brownlow was appearing in the wrong case — the opening speech into which he’d loudly launched was for a different trial being held in another courtroom.

Sleeping judges, tweeting magistrates and inebriated advocates? Is it any wonder the legal profession has such a bad reputation?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

“Low Tech Cool”

Lawyer fountain pen desk Continuing with yesterday’s theme, I thought I would publish a blog post I found a few years ago written by a young lawyer who decided to start using a fountain pen at work and documented his observations about it. I stumbled across it quite by chance yet found it funny and intriguing and saved it for some reason. I then re-discovered it just a few weeks ago when I was sifting through some old back-ups.

I’ve searched the net high and low for traces of this post and have sadly concluded that it’s disappeared without trace. I didn’t make a note of the blog name or URL at the time so only have the title of the post and the content.


Monday, August 08, 2005

low tech cool

A couple of months ago I made a decision which has led to me being really cool. I have always hated biros, having been taught in school to use fountain pens. But a couple of years ago, they changed the shape of the standard refill and I could no longer get refills for the lovely pen that my sister bought me some time ago.

Finally, fed up by blotchy biros (and being unable to deal with general office paranoia about stationery which unavoidably leads to me being accused of pen theft several times a day - get over it, work pays for the pens!) I decided to reenter the fountain pen world. I bought a cheap but chic pen from Officeworks and went to work.

I love writing with a real pen purely for my own reasons. What I didn't realise was how cool it would make me in the eyes of virtually everyone I have come into contact with since. Since I switched back to fountain pen, I have experienced the following:


  • - People I barely know asking to have a look at my pen while sitting in court waiting for a case to be heard
  • - a client asked me the "history" of my pen (hmmm, I bought it at officeworks last week)
  • - same client rushing to his office so that he could show me his pen, which was over 50 years old and was a gift from his father
  • different client inquiring after my pen when he came in to swear an affidavit
  • - office clerk asking me what pen I used to sign the mail as it looked really good
  • - same office clerk communicating to other clerks that I had witnessed service affidavits with my special pen
  • - group of clients at a mediation taking it in turns to try out my pen (seriously, hard-nosed commercial business people amused at making the ink come out

Fountain pens are such a novelty these days that my simply owning and using one has made me something of a cult hero (well, almost). My pen could help me to pick up in pubs. It gives me street cred. And class. In a way that typing out an entry on this blog never has.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Lawyers and fountain pens

fountain pen While I’m certainly not a pen connoisseur, I have owned a few nice pens in my time. For whatever reason, I’ve tended to go through alternating spells when I might write with a fountain pen continually for a few weeks, followed by months of reverting to the ubiquitous biro – and usually a cheap and tacky one at that.

Fountain pens are often considered to be the reserve of the traditional professions as well as the more pretentious members of society. Lawyers, on the whole, tend to fall into both of those categories. Throughout my ‘vocational placements’ I’ve witnessed several lawyers using a traditional fountain pen, though, I admit, they are very much the exceptions to the norm.

That said, there are some very funky and modern looking pens out there which won’t break the bank either. Michael’s tip of the day: The Writing Desk stocks an excellent range of pens, paper and inks and I’ve dealt with them on and off over the past few years with excellent service every time.

During my LL.M I’ve witnessed a few students writing with fountain pens – more so than during my LL.B. I even saw a female student answer her competition law paper writing with one. I can’t say I’ve ever answered an exam with a fountain pen – save perhaps for my SATs in way back in year 6 – and I certainly wouldn’t fancy doing it at this level.

I have two fountain pens at present – neither of which has seen much use over the past year: a Faber Castell cheapy and a relatively expensive Sheaffer Legacy.


my fountain pens

I don’t find fountain pens lend themselves to use for scrawling down lecture notes – though I’ve seen a few students this past year try to disprove that theory. It all depends on your writing style, I guess.

People write with a fountain pen for differing reasons. For me, it’s usually because I get fed up with biros. There is also something quite satisfying about writing with a good pen – particularly if you find a quirky coloured ink you like.

My favourite inks to date are a vibrantly rich turquoise/blue and deep green though I’ve experimented with quite a range.   I also found that a bright orange makes for great, striking annotations.

I’d be very interested to hear from members of the blawgosphere who might use fountain pens and for those that don’t, why not?  To those that do, have you ever dared answer an undergrad or postgrad exam with one?!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Orange threaten to fine workers for using Firefox

IE6 Death From The Register 08/07/09:

[T]he corporate world is taking its sweet time upgrading from Microsoft's eight-year-old Internet Explorer 6, a patently insecure web browser that lacks even a tabbed interface. Take, for example, the mobile and broadband giant Orange UK.

According to a support technician working in the company's Bristol call centre ...Orange UK still requires the use of IE6 in all its call centres, forbidding technicians from adopting Mozilla's Firefox or any other browser of a newer vintage.

This technician tells us that about a quarter of the Bristol staff had moved to Firefox after growing increasingly frustrated with IE6's inability to open multiple pages in the same window and overall sluggish performance. But a recent email from management informed call-centre reps that downloading Firefox was verboten and that they would be fined £250 if their PCs experienced problems and had to be rebuilt after running Firefox or any other application downloaded from the net.

"Under no circumstances should Firefox be downloaded," the email read. "Downloading any application from the internet is against Orange policy. There is NO support for Firefox in the operational environment. Orange Web applications are all designed to run on IE6 and therefore there is a likelihood that functionality will be impaired on Firefox."

Oh, you mean because Firefox adheres to acknowledged web standards, for instance? Hmmm. And surely no support for Firefox is preferable over support but for the odious and outdated IE6?

The company for whom I previously worked, like so many others, seemed perfectly satisfied with running IE6 despite its horrendous record for security. Surely enough time has passed since IE 7 launched – now superseded by IE 8, of course – for companies to have found the time to upgrade.

I realise many companies’ intranet sites are pernickety creatures and were written for an era when IE 6 ruled the day – which meant coding around the loathsome browser’s idiosyncrasies. But surely there has to become a point when enough is enough – even if that means making a tweak to your intranet sites?

Interestingly, I read earlier that Digg are planning to stop supporting IE6 for submitting Diggs, though web users may still view using IE6. You know, if they really hated themselves.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Grieving Parent Brands Newquay Unsafe

Cornish cliff

From BBC News 09/07/09:

Parents have urged council chiefs to make a Cornwall resort safer for young revellers after a Berkshire student fell to his death from a cliff.

Paddy Higgins, 16, a pupil at Forest School near Wokingham, was in Newquay celebrating the end of his GCSE exams.

He was declared dead on Tolcarne beach after apparently falling from cliffs.

His step-mother Shireen Higgins has called for parents to boycott the town until action is taken. But the mayor said Newquay ensures children's safety.

..."Newquay is not a safe place for teenagers to go to celebrate their freedom after their exams, the cliffs are too high and too unfenced.

"They are encouraged to party hard and stay out late."

But a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: "Newquay is a safe place as long as you come here with a degree of common sense and a degree of responsibility.

"Two thousand to 3,000 under-18-year-olds visit [the town], however, we have got operation Exodus, which is set up specifically to manage this."

...Paddy was the second teenager to die in a cliff fall in the resort in a week.

On 28 June, the body of 18-year-old Andrew Curwell, from Saddleworth in Greater Manchester, was found at the foot of cliffs at Newquay's Great Western Beach.

He was holidaying with friends to celebrate the end of his A-level exams when he fell.

As tragic as this story is, it surely can’t be said that Newquay’s cliffs are any more dangerous than countless other coastal areas.  Cliffs are typically high, dangerous and yes, unfenced. With that being the case, they don’t mix well with alcohol, questionable judgement and young people looking to party hard. Everyone knows the kind of horseplay that can ensue when students flock together.

Coming as I do from the coast of Cornwall, I’ve grown up constantly within earshot of ‘grokos’ clamouring for safety fences around local harbours and the like. Such measures are supposed solutions to problems which may not exist – or serve as a heavy-handed response at best. Fencing off so-called dangerous areas around the Cornish coast is an entirely impractical exercise - not to mention one that is huge in scope. Working fishing villages or cliff paths are not play-areas for tourists and should never be treated as such and the arrival of fences would inevitably impinge on the unspoilt nature of the place – something which attracts the majority of tourists down there in the first place.

It’s inevitable that grieving parents are looking for someone to blame here but sadly the spokesman quoted in the article was bang-on in his assessment of Newquay’s safety. The message to be sent out from this shouldn’t be that cliffs are high and dangerous – that goes without saying. Rather, the double tragedy should serve as a chilling reminder that being young and on the lookout for a good time doesn’t relieve people of the need to act responsibly wherever they are.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Cow Attack Victim Awarded Damages

Crazy Ku From CPD Webinars 06/07/09:

A police inspector left unable to work for five months after being trampled by a herd of cattle has been awarded more than £10,000 from the landowner.

Inspector Chris Poole suffered a punctured lung, four broken ribs and a severed artery when he was crushed by a herd of some 30 cows, while walking his dog on the Sussex Downs.
The landowner agreed an out-of-court settlement, claiming that not enough was done to protect public footpath users from the animals.

Under common law, farmers have a legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of people lawfully on their land. They can also be liable for failing to take extra safety measures – such as the erection of warning signs or fences – if their animals are behaving aggressively or in an unusual manner.

While generally docile creatures, cows can behave in a threatening way if their maternal instincts are aroused by unusual disturbances such as dogs.

As a child I remember having a run-in with a herd of angry cows which at the time did seem very scary. Anyone who thinks that bulls are the only domestic ruminant which can turn nasty is simply wrong. Living in a rural area, though, meant that I couldn’t exactly avoid our Friesian friends forever and I inevitably learnt that ‘standing one’s ground’ is by far the best means of handling it.

A spokesman for the National Farmers Union gave some sound advice:

"Our advice to walkers is if you have a dog with you, keep it on a lead, but do not hang on to it should a cow or bull start acting aggressively.
"If you feel threatened, just carry on as normal, do not run, move to the edge of the field and if possible find another way round."

Blind panic should only ever be a last resort! 

Monday, 6 July 2009

M&S to stop explaining and start complying?

From The Telegraph 04/07/09:

Roger Lawson, a director at the UK Shareholders' Association (UKSA), said that the body "might well support" the resolution that is being put to shareholders at M&S's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

The backing of M&S's private shareholders – who account for around a fifth of the chain's ownership – could be crucial to the resolution being passed.

The special resolution has been brought by the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), which represents 48 local authority schemes with £95bn in assets. The resolution calls on the M&S board to appoint an independent chairman at M&S by July 2010, a year earlier than planned. Sir Stuart is currently both chief executive and executive chairman.

Mr Lawson said: "There is a corporate governance issue. As an organisation we have always supported the combined code. We would encourage a separation of roles."

The soft-touch ‘comply or explain’ nature of the Combined Code on Corporate Governance essentially allowed M&S to opt out of keeping the roles of heading up the executive and non-executive arms of the company separate. M&S, of course, stands out as one of very few public companies who choose to combine the roles – despite the risks to the robustness of NEDs as corporate watchdogs and the ensuing unrest that may be caused to shareholders.

Stuart Rose

However meritorious the reasons may have been at the time for vesting in the same person ultimate executive and non-executive power, I’m not so convinced they hold much water now. M&S have clearly turned the corner from the dire straits they were in when the decision was made to combine the conflicting roles and at least now have a sense of common direction and brand placement.  While M&S face challenging trading conditions and an uncertain future going forward – not to mention a share price which has dropped through the floor in the last 18 months or so - the same could be said of many high street stores at the moment.


Friday, 3 July 2009

IE 8 Puke Girl Ad Cancelled

Arguably the funniest ad ever to have ever been commissioned for an MS product has been cancelled over fears of causing offence to viewers.  The web ad  focussed on highlighting Private Browsing mode of Internet Explorer 8 and featured a woman projectile vomiting in response to what her male companion had been viewing online.  This feature is now in the latest releases of all mainstream browsers and is colloquially (and perhaps most aptly) referred to as ‘Porn Mode’ in which the browser does not store lists of visited sites, cache or cookies allowing no traces of a surfer’s adventures through the fetishist depths of cyberspace to be found by others who use the same PC.

The ad was allegedly pulled as some viewers found it offensive which, while I can understand, does nothing to detract from the fact that we can all relate to suffering from that OMG IGP feeling sometimes (Oh my God I’m gonna puke).   Let’s face it: people look up some crazy sick stuff on the net.

It’s such a shame MS lost their nerve and pulled this ad though.  Quite who are heading up Microsoft's ads these days, I’m not sure but long may it continue.  Fantastically funny.

- - UPDATE - - There are actually a whole host of funny ads designed to promote IE 8.  You can check them out here.

Googling with Bing


In fairness to Microsoft, their new search engine, Bing, is actually pretty good and a huge step forwards from Windows Live Search. Having tried it on and off for a few weeks now, I’m continually impressed by it and would say that for certain types of searches in particular, it’s actually superior to Google.

Of course, one of Microsoft’s biggest challenges in successfully competing in the online search space is removing the connection people make in their minds about searching online and the name Google; arguably Google is far more than just the industry standard now – their name is synonymous with online search.

And this video from College Humor recognises that.  Brilliantly.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Dissertation Doldrums

Dissertation Doldrums In the past week or so I’ve been somewhat troubled over my apparent lack of motivation to press ahead and crack out this dissertation. Although this could be attributed to pure laziness or post-exam buzz coupled with that summer-of-fun mentality that so often hits students, on reflection, I think my ill-timed inertia might be understandable.

Besides the hot weather we’re experiencing at the moment – exacerbated by my monster PC pumping out serious heat in my office – I think the postgraduate schedule conflicts with the natural yearly rhythm that’s ingrained in all law students.

The final stage of the orthodox academic cycle can be expressed thus:

Hot weather + sunny days = summer

End of exams = summer = (fun + no academic work)

Obviously having the dissertation spread out before me for the rest of the summer – we’re supposedly to spend 10 weeks wrestling with the beast – throws something of a spanner in the works. For every academic year that I can remember, the end of exams always signalled freedom from the shackles of academia – a chunk of downtime in which we could do exactly as our little hearts desired. Facing up to the reality that things are different this year has not be easy.

Fortunately, I’ve already arrived at the conclusion that procrastinating over this final hurdle of the LL.M won’t do me any favours. I’ve already done a chunk of research for it yesterday – adding considerably to my ‘depository’ of resources as well as hitting some proverbial dead ends – and have my first allotted meeting with my dissertation supervisor tomorrow.

Hopefully, that meeting will provide some help in tracking down a couple of killer sources which the university and their myriad of subscriptions seem to have circumvented entirely.  Actually, to be clear, it’s not the tracking down which is proving the problem - it’s the cost of them.  I’ve heard my uni are quite generous when it comes to subsidising sources for postgrad dissertations so fingers crossed I won’t be dipping into my personal funds over this.