Writer’s Block. Gone!!!!!

I am STILL laughing over here about this link. Do you ever get writer’s block? Does it hit so hard that you can’t even move your fingers to type? All you need to do is click this link and dial 911 Writers Block for emergency expert assistance.

The link is to a site hosted by WEBook, an online book publishing company. WEBook claims to do for the writing industry what American Idol did for music, although jury is still out on whether that is a benefit or a drawback. WEBook bills itself as a collaborative creative writing community tasked to assist one another with producing written material for publication. Thus, WEBook resides at the intersection of blogging, social networking and book publishing. The heart of the site is the ability to start a writing project online, invite co-authors to help and solicit feedback from the community. Once the manuscript is submitted, the WEBook committee will vote on it (hence the American Idol reference).

WEBook has produced one collaborative novel: Pandora, which has 17 authors. I am not sure about the intellectual property issues surrounding such an effort and I am certain that lots of interesting legal questions will arise, but those questions are for a later date and a different post.

Back to the hotline: 911 Writers Block is found in the Toolbox link. The graphic shows a payphone keypad. You enter a number from the directory to access a image particular writing element or directive: settings; characters; dramatic effect; dialogue; commiserate; verbs; calisthenics; kill a character; and, endings. The final number, 0, will hook you to a member of the WEBook community for further help.

I, of course, had to try this. Selecting 2 for characters yielded this:

Business owner and amateur pool shark Larry has hired a team of contractors to remodel his home library. Every book he owns tells him how to be better at something he already does well.

Pressing 3 for dramatic entrances brought back memories of President Bush and the shoe-throwing reporter:

An attic room. A man sits at his desk, staring at a blank sheet of paper. A red patent-leather stiletto flies through the open window and lands on the floor with a thud.

Finally, I couldn’t resist the temptation of killing off a character, which gave me the following cryptic clause:

Deep vein thrombosis on a 22-hour flight to Mumbai

Although there appears to be no real limitation on the types of writing projects that can be started, I am not convinced this is the best venue for writing a legal tome. And I don’t think that the 911 Writers Block tool will directly assist you in preparing a brief or motion. Nonetheless, if you find yourself stumped and blocked while engaging in your legal writing project, a quick trip to 911 Writers Block might get you laughing hard enough to fire up some neurons and recharge your pen!

My "List" For 2008 – There Is Still Time for Christmas Delivery

As in all years before it, 2008 included lots of shiny and fun introductions into the marketplace. And since Christmas IS coming and my loved ones SOMETIMES read my blog, I thought I would put together a list of items that I would love to find under my tree. You might have to use the expedited shipping option for delivery by December 25, but you can always stop by and personally deliver the package if you are pressed for time. I might even give you an egg nog.

So, here goes:

1.  Flip Mino HD: Billed as the smallest HD camcorder on the market, this little beauty can film an hours worth of 720p video and can then plug directly into your computer with a little USB swing out arm (hence the “Flip”). It has 4gb of internal memory. It records in a 16 by 9 aspect ratio. And you can even customize the case with a pattern generator on the Flip’s website or with your own uploaded image. Lots of fun in a tiny package.

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2.   iPhone 3G: Now, who doesn’t include this iconic phone in their list? Maybe a few, but the more I research my next cell phone, the more I move towards the iPhone 3G as my weapon of choice. Sure it has its limitations for business use, but the seamless integration of useability and design is compelling. Business apps and features keep popping up, giving me more justification for looking at the iPhone as a potential workhorse. And, there’s no denying its purty physique.

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3.  Gateway XHD3000 Monitor (30-inch): Let’s face it, I am not getting any younger. Years of focusing on these tiny computer screens has taken its toll on my eyes. I would just LOVE a giant monitor for a crystal clear and GINORMOUS image of my articles and computer- generated artwork. This beast from Gateway has been getting decent reviews and would look lovely next to my tiny little 17-inch toy.

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4.  Wacom Cintiq 21UX: Oh, this is really SHINY! Wacom combines an approximately 22″ screen and a very sensitive digital pen to create a near-IRL drawing and drafting experience. The pen works directly on the screen, so the feel is more natural. Its 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity afford amazing line control. Wacom incorporates its trademark programmable express keys and touchstrips for efficient use of commonly employed features. It accepts a classic and airbrush version of the Wacom’s pens for input variety. I want!

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5.  LiveScribe Pulse Smartpen: A pen that converts your writing into digital files? Cool! A pen that converts your writing into digital files and accompanying audio soundtrack? Even cooler! Using the pen on special digital “paper”, you can point back to anywhere on the page and hear back what was being said at the time you wrote the note. The Pulse offers either 1GB or 2GB of internal storage. You also can upload what you wrote into a computer for later searching. This little Swiss Army Knife of digital pens also includes a calculator, translator and a little piano game so you can play notes on a piano drawn on the paper (like I need another angle to my doodling distraction). The notebooks are sold separately and aren’t cheap, but they aren’t exorbitant either – 4 for around $20.

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6.  B&W Zeppelin: As a former high-end audio / video sales consultant (read: mall-worker) and musician, quality sound is important to me. I don’t yet have a speaker dock for my iPod Nano and really would love to just plunk it down and let it play out loud at home. Sure, I could jump on that overpriced Bose bandwagon, but if I am going to shell out between $200 and $300 on a SoundDock, I might as well spend a little more and get this totally awesome Zeppelin. With five speakers including a 50 watt bass, 25 watt mid-range and two 25 watt tweeters, it cranks.

I am biased towards the Zeppelin for a couple reasons. First, I have Bowers & Wilkins speakers in my home audio system and they are truly a well-made, gorgeous-sounding, all-around speaker (of course my Aragon amp doesn’t hurt either). Second, its looks are beyond cool. Third, what could be better than cranking some D’Yer Maker on these little Zeppelin shaped speakers?

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7.  Plastic Logic eReader: Unfortunately, this pretty reader isn’t out yet, but you can give me an envelope with an IOU. The reader is the size of an 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper and is around the thickness of a standard pad. It supports Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, permits viewing of Adobe PDFs, and offers access to newspapers, periodicals and books. The user-interface is gesture-based. Information can be obtained via wires or wirelessly. The beautifully-thin screen uses E Ink technology. Low power consumption, long battery life and room for thousands of documents makes this a total winner in my “book.” The Plastic Logic reader is expected to land in the first half of 2009.

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8.  Wildcharge. This gadget came out in 2007, but I still would love to find it all wrapped in Christmas bows in 2008. The flat pad will charge compatible devices placed on its surface, sans wires. You can charge up to five devices at once, and the list of compatible units includes MP3 players, cell phones and PDAs (who uses those anymore?). It does require adapters for different units, but the base cost of $60 does not offend me for this much tech goodness.

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9.  Sentry Safe Fire Safe / Waterproof Hard Drive: I have a lot of sensitive digital information and one can never know when the next plague, fire, flood or natural disaster will hit. While I don’t have one of those survival bunkers in my basement or backyard, I can see a real benefit to this little armored digital safe. Despite its somewhat smallish capacity, the Sentry Safe is a very tough external drive that can guard your information from everything short of a nuclear explosion. It contains a One-Touch Mini hard drive from Maxtor and connects via USB 2.0. Of course, it offers password protection and data encryption for those more mundane web-based attacks. If you like to see gadgets blended, then hit the jump above to Sentry Safe’s website for some destructive video demos.

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10.  Canon EOS 50D: I am still shooting 35mm film. I know, I know, how can I have any tech credibility when I use such arcane methods of photographic capture? I am on my fourth Canon AE-1 body and I have been reduced to scouring pawn shops and eBay for replacements when I inevitably break the poor things. If I was to switch to digital photography, however, I would definitely remain loyal to Canon and would thoroughly enjoy futzing with this awesome package that blends professional and consumer features. With a 15.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 processor, and up to 12800 ISO for low light imaging, your pictures can’t help but look good. It also has HDMI out so you can maintain the same high quality after transfer to an HDMI-capable TV. There are lots of bells and whistles for us discriminating amateurs, such as Face Detection Live mode, Lens Peripheral Illumination correction and Creative Auto with onscreen setting display. It also sports a very high resolution LCD screen that can convey 640 by 480 RGB pixels. The EOS 50D doesn’t come cheap, but you love me, right?

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More Foreign Legal Resources

Law Librarian Blog has some more foreign legal imageresources to add to your free and accessible legal information tool kit. The list includes: tracing EU working documents; an introduction to Thailand’s legal system and legal  research; the Lebanese legal system and research; a research guide for Scottish legal history; online research resources for the Australian legal system; legal research and overview of the Egyptian legal system; Finnish law; laws and web resources for the Republic of Kazakhstan; a Norway legal research guide; a Turkmenistan legal research guide; and, even an update of the U.S. federal system guide to accessible web resources. Hit the jump above for more descriptions of these resources and applicable links.

A Book That Reads Like A Law Text

Not all legal writers were born to be memoir writers. Abony Homes reviews Rick Lax’s “Lawyer Boy: A Case Study on Growing Up” at Law.com and compares the experience of reading the book to slogging through his law school reading assignments. Although Homes sees some comic potential in the newly-minted writer, he chafes at the footnotes (what????) and the tedious experience of following someone though law school.

I haven’t read the book, so I will refrain from commenting on the quality, but I have a couple of thoughts on Mr. Lax and his personal writing venture. First, I applaud him for actually finding the time to record his memoirs while attending law school, which happens to be DePaul in Chicago – a few short blocks from where I lived.  Second, I am of the opinion that any writing practice is good writing practice and using his skill in this way is an investment in his writing prowess and his creative muscle.

Apparently, Mr. Lax is not alone. One of my Twitter follows, law student Omar Ha-Redeye, has just published a textbook on Population Health, Communities and Health Promotion that will be used in Australian universities. Now, THAT is impressive under anyone’s definition of the word.

While I am wowed by the sheer magnitude of the task of writing a book while negotiating Torts, Constitutional Law, Evidence and Commercial Paper, I am not surprised. I believe an interest in writing necessarily precedes an interest in pursuing law. Check out my Civil Procedure professor Jeremiah Healy (the scourge of my first year) and his web site, devoted to his popular crime novels. After all, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “a lawyer without books would be a workman without tools.”

Run For Your Lives!!! Godzilla & King Kong Tag- Team The Social Networking Scene

Like two giant creatures squashing the Tokyo skyline into oblivion, Adam Ostrow at Mashable tipped me off to the union of Google Friend Connect and Twitter. The Google blog explains what the combination can do for you:

This means that when you join a Friend Connected site, you can choose to use your Twitter profile, discover people you follow on Twitter who are also members of the site, and quickly tweet that you have found a cool website.

The how-to is as follows:

To send a tweet about a site you have joined, click the invite link in the members gadget, then click the Twitter icon on the share tab. The next time your followers sign in to Twitter, they’ll see a your tweet containing a link to the interesting site you’ve found.

Pretty soon, we will be one big, happy family! Imagine THOSE holiday gatherings.

Free & Of General Use For Writers. Did I Say Free?

Marie Scheider of http://editorunleashed.com has a handy list of free on-line resources for writers over at WritetoDone. I have the list and her comments taken directly from her post copied below, for your clicking ease and convenience:

1. U.S. Copyright Office

This is the spot to quench your copyright concerns and even register your work for a copyright.

2. Merriam-Webster

This is the most reliable online dictionary and it’s also the house standard for many magazines and publishers. There’s also a handy thesaurus so you can find just the right word.

3. ASJA

Timely information on writers’ rights, including the quickly changing landscape of electronic rights courtesy of the American Association of Journalists and Authors.

4. Purdue University Online Writing Lab

If you’re a little fuzzy on passive tense or your commas are out of control, check out the OWL brought to you by Purdue.

5. Folio Literary Management

Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting published, with explanations of every step along the way from writing a book to acceptance (not rejection—think positive!)

6. Query Tracker.net

An indispensable free resource for finding a literary agent. They also offer a handy query tracker.

7. Duotrope’s digest

This site offers a searchable database of 2300 current poetry and fiction markets.

8. Shaw Guides

A comprehensive listing of writers conferences, searchable by location, date and genre.

9. Elements of Style

The classic writing style guide by William Strunk, Jr. is now freely available online. Even if you studied it in college, read it again, you’ll take away something new that will refresh your writing.

10. Poets & Writers

The website of the venerable writing journal provides the most comprehensive guide to writing contests and grants.

It’s like the Twelve Days (Less Two) of Christmas for writers. I will add the five golden rings and the partridge in a pear tree to bring it up to Code. Enjoy!

This is NOT the Way to Use Ghostwriters (Such as Myself)

We ghostwriters can be a shadowy lot, lurking in the corners of that published article or white paper or web-site blurb. However, we ghostwriters should have some integrity too and should not exploit the shadows for illicit purposes. The New York Times reports on a more than questionable use of ghostwriters in its article on December 12, 2008 entitled Drug Makers Said to Pay Ghostwriters for Journal Articles. The culprits are Wyeth Laboratories and DesignWriter, a medical writing firm, and the drug is Prempro, a female hormone replacement therapy. The charge is that Wyeth and the firm concealed their roles from readers of the medical journals into which the articles were placed, allegedly misleading readers by adopting a pro-Prempro agenda at the outset. One article was published after a federal study found that Prempro increased the risk of breast cancer. Use of the ghostwriters in medical journals generally is considered a no-no:

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors says authorship means “substantive intellectual contributions” including conception or analysis of the subject and drafting or critical revision of the document. The World Association of Medical Editors says ghost authorship — which it defines as a substantial contribution not mentioned in the manuscript — is “dishonest and unacceptable.”

Congress got a sniff and is now seeking more information from these entities about the specifics. The articles identifies the crux of the problem:

The articles all involve reviews of clinical studies and other research. While such reviews are common in medical publishing, what Mr. Grassley contends happened with the Wyeth-commissioned articles is that that expert authors whose names appear on the articles became involved only after outlines or drafts of the articles were already written.

It is my opinion that ghostwriting in any technical field could skirt ethical, if not legal, obligations, depending upon the tone of the article and the context in which it is placed. Lawyers are adept at affixing disclaimers on their writings in order to avoid a mistaken impression that their writing be relied upon as legal advice when such reliance is not intended. Similar pitfalls are apparent in the ghostwriting scenario.

At a minimum, lawyers looking to use ghostwriters for legal drafting should remember the plight of Wyeth and its firm. Consider using attorney-drafters and ensure that your in-firm author is heavily involved in the drafting process or be prepared to disclose the identity of your ghostwriter as a co-author.

Justia Offers Free Legal Directory

Aviva Cuyler at JDSupra reports that Justia, one of the champions of free on-line legal resources, is launching a free Legal Directory of lawyers, firms and non-profit organizations. JDSupra contributors, myself included, will be able to stream JDSupra docs into their profile at Justia for even greater web exposure. I didn’t know this, but Justia also provides free websites, blogging platforms and  SEO consulting. Nice package of tools for the on-line lawyer!

Work Break – Time To Look At Something Pretty

Lifehacker has collected some absolutely gorgeous desktop mods, with descriptions and details on how they were done. Some are really stellar. You and I both spend some time each day staring at our computer screens. It would be nice to fix up the office, so to speak, along the lines of some of these beauties. The Two-Faced Mac-like Windows Desktop in the upper left corner is, well, just crazy.

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